Written by Merlijn Broersma 10 April 2017
In March 2016, a session of questions organized by Google revealed the main factors that influence their Google rankings

These rankings constitute the order in which search results are listed by the search engine, and thus which websites the user will see first. Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google, Andrey Lipattsev, revealed that the most important factors that determine the top search results are backlinks, the content of the webpages, and RankBrain – a Google algorithm based on AI (artificial intelligence).

What are backlinks and what is their role in your Google Ranking?

Backlinks are links that direct to the target site. Backlinks are viewed as a sign of interconnectivity. In the “mind” of search engines, they constitute the imago of the target site or, rather, the perception of other websites on the target site.

Not all backlinks are equally valuable: In order to count in the rankings, the backlinks must come from websites that feature similar topics, and the ones that are on websites with a high Google rank weigh in heavier. As the number of quality backlinks increases, the website's Google ranking improves. (Default: Creating more backlinks to your website will increase its search engine rankings, which, in effect, will increase the number of visitors to your website).

Thus, backlinks are important because their volume and quality counts in your rankings and hence increase your website’s reputation. In establishing a link building strategy, the following aspects are important:

  1. Quality and relevance of the web pages that send links to your website
  2. Authority of the websites that promote your website
  3. Placement of the backlink on the page
  • 1
    Specialized expertise in the field of activity
  • 2
    Recognized authority in the field by a team of well-trained and experienced professionals
  • 3
    Website visitors' trust of the information, products or services provided by the website/organization
About Google's RankBrain AI and the Google Hummingbird algorithm

Google's RankBrain is a robot that is programmed to learn web user behavior on the Internet. Through AI, this robot learns to think like humans that search the Internet for information. In this, it analyzes how search requests are formulated, what types of websites people like and visit more often, and, especially, why some websites are preferred over others. The robot learns to make associations between synonyms, words, entire expressions, and it can even learn emotional associations. However, RankBrain does not work autonomously, rather, it is part of Google's ranking algorithm named “Hummingbird”.

Hummingbird is different than most Google algorithms. With Google's Penguin and Panda algorithms, for example, Google analyzes websites in order to “understand” or “interpret” the content of web pages. Hummingbird, on the other hand, affects medium and long phrase searches (long tail searches). “Long tail” searches are longer, specifically formulated, searches that imply that the user is looking for a precise answer, for example "What are the steps for designing a website?".

According to Google statistics, these long-tail searches generally occupy a volume of 20–40% (and increasingly reach up to 50%!) of all the searches done via the Google search engine. The volume of very long and very specific search phrases (“extremely long tail”) is currently about 18% - 20% of all the search requests on Google.