The dimensions of the Google ranking
The ranking factors at Google have become more and more multidimensional and diverse over the years, which makes search engine optimization appear more and more complex. This article is about the development of ranking factors in search engine optimization (SEO) from the document level to meta-factors at the domain and source entity level. In addition, the three evaluation dimensions for the Google ranking are explained and which ranking factors act on the document, domain and source entity levels.
More and more ranking factors at meta level
Search engine optimization used to consist primarily of optimizing individual documents. The focus of SEO has long been on the document level. In 2009, Google began introducing more and more domain and site-wide factors with the Vince Update, also known as the Brand Update.
- 2009: Vince Update (Brand Update): Well-known brand domains get ranking advantages
- 2011: Panda update: content quality as a sitewide factor
- 2012: Google Exact Match Domain (EMD) Update
- 2014: Presentation of E-A-T in the Quality Rater Guidelines. Sitewide content quality on topics and trust of source (publisher/author)
- 2021: Page Experience System: The page experience of entire website areas is included in the ranking.
- 2022: Helpful Content System: Evaluation of content quality via sitewide qualifiers
- 2018 to date: Various core updates: Among other things, with a focus on E-E-A-T
Document relevance scoring vs. entity or domain quality evaluation
In the information retrieval process, a distinction must be made between scoring at the document level and evaluating the domain, website area, topic or originator entity.
Scoring at document level is primarily based on the search query and its search intention and evaluates the relevance of content to the search query.
Ratings on a meta level are independent of search queries. They rate the quality of the source in general or in relation to a topic.
More on that in the article Relevance, pertinence and quality in search engines
The importance of the origin of content is growing
Long before (E-)E-A-T, Google tried to include the rating of the source of content in the ranking. The Vince update from 2009, for example, should be mentioned, in which the content of brands was given an advantage in the ranking.
Through projects like Knol or Google+, which have long since ended, Google has tried to collect signals for author ratings, e.g. via a social graph and user ratings.
In the last 20 years, for example, there have been a number of Google patents that directly or indirectly refer to content platforms such as Knol or social networks such as Google+. I will address some of them as the article progresses.
Evaluating the origin or author of content according to the E-E-A-T criteria is an important step and a fundamental advancement in the ranking of search results.
It is also an important step in view of the abundance of AI-generated content, but also classic spam. It makes no sense for Google to include inferior content in the search index. The more content Google indexes and has to process in the information retrieval process, the more computing power is required.
E-E-A-T can help Google rank based on entity or domain and source level at big scale without having to crawl every piece of content. At this macro level, content can be classified according to the originator entity and equipped with more or less crawling budget. In addition, Google can use this method to exclude entire content groups from indexing.
The three evaluation dimensions for the Google ranking
For SEO, it is important to understand at which levels and according to which ranking factors the search results are determined. Therefore, a brief explanation of the three dimensions follows.
A distinction must be made between document-specific ranking factors and more general meta-factors.
Ranking factors responsible for assessing relevance usually work at the document level. Something is relevant for search engines if a document or content is significant in relation to the search query and its search intention. Here are some of the ranking factors applied at the document level:
- Keyword usage in headlines, content and page titles
- Internal and external linking and anchor texts
- Content Scope
- Meeting the search intention
- Neural Matching
- Passage Based Indexing
- Knowledge Based Trust (E-E-A-T)
Domains are digital representations of originator entities. However, entity-independent ranking factors also apply at domain level. Therefore, this dimension should be viewed in segments. Sitewide or domain-related ranking factors can have an effect on the overall domain level, website area level or topic level and are not relevance but quality factors. Here are some domain-level ranking factors:
- Top Level Domains (TLDs)
- Internal and external linking and anchor texts
- Content quality overall or per topic (E-E-A-T)
- Page Experience (Core Web Vitals)
- Helpful Content
- Coati (Panda) (E-E-A-T)
- Distance to Trust Seed Sites in Linkgraph (E-E-A-T)
- Transparency to the authors and publishers (E-E-A-T)
Source Entity Level
The evaluation of originator entities (authors, organizations) according to E-E-A-T is a relatively new dimension in Google ranking. It is also a thematic or general quality rating that can also be used independently of a domain. The basis was created in 2013 by the Hummingbird Update and the Knowledge Graph. You can find more about this here in the blog or if you look for Olaf Kopp E-E-A-T googlest.
Ranking factors for evaluating the originator entity include:
- author’s experience
- Co-occurrences of the entity name with thematically relevant terms in search queries and content
- sentiment about the entity
- Number of published content on a topic
- Percentage of content within a thematic document corpus
- Mention of the entity in best of and award lists
In search engine optimization, it is important to distinguish between document-level scoring and domain, site section, topic, or originator entity scoring. Document-level scoring relates to the search query and evaluates the relevance of content to the search query. Ratings on a meta level are independent of the search query and rate the quality of the source in general or in relation to a topic.
Assessing the source of content has long been an important ranking factor for Google. With E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness), Google evaluates the originator entity of a content and makes it possible to classify and evaluate content according to the originator entity. This is particularly important given the abundance of AI-generated content and classic spam.
There are three dimensions by which the search results are determined: document level, domain level and originator entity level. Document level refers to the rating of a piece of content’s relevance, domain level to the rating of quality scores, and source entity level to the rating of the source entity itself. It is important to understand at which levels, according to which ranking factors, the search results be determined.
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