Google’s #1 Ranking Factor And How To Leverage It

#1 ranking factor

What’s the #1 ranking factor?

It’s not links. It’s not “quality content”. So what is it?

It’s relevance to the query. It’s by far the #1 ranking factor. It always has been and always will be.

This may sound obvious but relevance is critically overlooked when it comes to SEO.

In this post, I’m going to cover how I think about and use search relevance. Let’s jump in!


Why relevance is the #1 ranking factor

Without relevant search results, no one would use Google. Delivering highly relevant search results is Google’s bread and butter. They made $209 Billion in 2021 by delivering relevant ads, because advertisers want to show ads for specific searches and audiences.

Naturally, it’s the same for organic search results. The most relevant results are likely to outrank less relevant results. Regardless of authority, links, EEAT, etc.


Increasing Search Eligibility With Query Relevance

Query relevance is important because you need specific content on your website to be eligible to show up for a query.

Here’s an example for car accident lawyers in Edmonton:

If you run a site on personal injury law and you don’t have any content related to car accident lawyers, you’re going to have a hard time showing up for those searches.

car accident lawyers
Top 3 search results in Edmonton for “car accident lawyers”

If someone in your area searches for “car accident lawyers”, Google is going to choose to show local pages that talk about car accident lawyers in your city instead of a general page about personal injury law.


While these two topics may seem like the same thing to a law firm. As far as Google is concerned, they have more relevant content than yours, probably enough to fill up 2-3 pages of search results.


So a law firm without that specific content is going to have a hard time ranking highly on that SERP.


Here’s an example of a lawyer that’s on page 2 for that search:

Search result on page 2 for "car accident lawyers" in Edmonton
Search result on page 2 for “car accident lawyers” in Edmonton


Here’s a law firm called Diamon and Diamond. Their personal injury lawyer shows up for the search term “car accident lawyers” but it ranks poorly on page 2.


This page probably ranks better for “personal injury lawyer” related searches, but as far as a search term like “car accident lawyer” goes, they are on page 2 and will likely not see any clicks for this query.


Their personal injury page is the most relevant page the site has to offer for people searching for this term.


While other law firms have much more relevant pages for this search. Diamond and Diamond might have more links, authority, and other influencing factors than some of the sites on page 1, but at the end of the day, relevance wins this SERP.


More often than not, relevance wins.


Not to mention that having dedicated pages on your site for local searches can also increase your rankings in Google’s coveted map pack results:

Map pack result for car accident lawyers
See the “their website mentions car accident lawyer” bit in the screenshot above?


A lot of people would look at a situation like this and say “oh you need better authority links” or “your content isn’t high quality”.

And sure that stuff might help if they already had a car accident lawyer page.

In reality, this is simply a relevance problem.

Diamond’s content isn’t as relevant as the other results for that term, so they are buried on page 2.

page 2 meme


How to determine what pages you need to rank for query relevance

Ok, so we’re now on the same page that you need specific content to rank for specific queries.

So how do you determine what pages you will need?


A lot of people will immediately dive into a keyword research tool and think that each of those keywords deserves a page.

But if you were to actually Google those keywords you will find that many of them will show the same search results.

So keyword research isn’t very useful just by itself.

How I do keyword research to determine the pages needed

I use keyword research as one step in a multi-step strategy for determining what pages are needed.

I first like to start with a word map. Here’s an example of one I recently did for a therapist in California:

Word map

It’s just a plain old spreadsheet, but what I’m doing here is finding the common search terms used for the specialties this therapist offers.

They want to rank for specific types of therapy that are relevant to their business instead of just general terms.


Step 1: I find various terms for types of therapy. In a different example, this could be the types of services you offer or even problems your customers have that your product solves.


Step 2: I find the different terms used to find therapists. People who are looking for a therapist will search for counselors, psychologists, etc.


Step 3: I list the locations that are relevant to their business. They want to work with people in their immediate area, not all of California.


Step 4: I combine all the variants with kombinator or a similar tool. It will mix and match all these words to create all the keyword variations.


The end result is a really random list of combined words. To clean this up, I run my keyword list through Google Keyword planner and pull the search volume for the area I’m working in.

The keywords with the highest search volume are shortlisted for focus keywords and are used for title tags.

Therapy kws

Afterward, I have a nice keyword list. I also did a bit of segmenting to organize them. This method has the benefit of ensuring that you didn’t miss any variations.


You know exactly which keywords to go after. For example, if I were using a keyword research tool I might not have remembered to check for “therapists” vs “counselors”.


I was also surprised to see a high search volume for “shrinks”.


If you only use keyword research, your current knowledge and bias can easily result in missed keyword opportunities.


I still like to check keyword research tools for ideas, but this method allows you to get much more coverage and ensure you didn’t miss any search term variations.


Verify keywords to confirm what pages you need

Once you have a keyword list you simply need to look up the search term in that location.


To do that I’ll use a tool like isearchfrom. It’s a simple free site built by a Google employee that lets you search for a term in specific locations and on specific devices.


There are lots of other sites and tools that do the same thing though. The goal is to emulate search results in a specific location. Whether that’s one city or an entire country.

emdr search san jose


In this example, I’m searching from San Jose in California to verify if I need a page for “EMDR therapy in San Jose”.  I’m seeing lots of other sites with an “EMDR therapy in San Jose” page.


So if I want to rank for that term I’ll need a page about EMDR therapy in San Jose too.


That’s not always the case though. Sometimes you’ll find two search terms that give the same search results. That’s why it’s good to check.


After that, you just need to rinse and repeat for other keywords and group all the search terms that produce the same results.

keyword group


That’s all!

This post is just the tip of the relevance iceberg. But it’s important to remember query relevance and search eligibility whenever you’re doing SEO.


Relevance is and always will be the #1 ranking factor.


If you want to learn how to turn one keyword into hundreds of blog topics, check out this post.

How to turn one keyword into hundreds of blog topics

How to turn one keyword into hundreds of blog topics

Are you using keyword research tools to come up with ideas for blog posts?

This is one of the worst ways to find content topics these days. All those topics are likely already highly saturated by high authority sites. Relying on keyword research tools for topic ideation results in creating generic blog posts that have already been covered by hundreds of other sites. You have no shot at ranking for these terms unless you’re running an insanely powerful site.


The solution is to get more granular with the topics you write.

In this post, I’ll show you how to turn one keyword into hundreds of topic ideas that your site can easily rank for and get traffic from. This method would take countless hours if you did it manually. Fortunately, with the help of some simple tools and spreadsheet formulas, you can generate topic ideas in a few minutes.


A lot of SEOs are talking about zero search volume keywords or ZSV. I’m a believer in this trend because I’ve seen for myself that search volume in keyword tools is indeed a poor indicator of the potential traffic you can acquire from a post.

If you’re not sold on ZSV keywords, try this with Ahrefs or SEMrush:

  1. Search for a ZSV keyword
  2. Find the #1 ranking organic result
  3. copy/paste the #1 result’s URL into Ahrefs or SEMrush
  4. Look at all the different keywords it ranks for

Or you could look in Google Search Console:

  1. find a page that you’re ranking for
  2. Filter to that URL in search performance
  3. Go to Queries
  4. Look at all the search terms people used to find your content

Both methods say the same thing: pages rank for a wide variety of search terms. Many of those search terms wouldn’t show up on a keyword research tool.


Instead of picking one keyword and trying to make one post to rank for it, here’s a great strategy you can use to expand that keyword into tons of content topic ideas.


The strategy: PAA mining

PAA, or People Also Asked mining is a technique I first learned from the legendary Steve Toth. It works great! Here’s how to do it step-by-step:

Why PAA mining works:

  • You will rank for and receive traffic from tons of different keywords on one page
  • You get to create much more unique content that hasn’t been done hundreds of times already
  • You will build topical authority which will help your money pages rank for that topic’s more competative queries

Step 0: Get the SEO minion chrome extension

This free tool is amazing. It will save you countless hours by scraping as many FAQs as you want from search results. Download it here

Step 1: Pick a keyword and download PAAs

SEO minion chrome extension

For this example, I’ll use the keyword “link building strategies”. Simply enter your keyword into Google and select Download PAA  (6 levels – 10 min), Don’t worry, It usually doesn’t actually take 10 minutes.

You usually just need to wait a few minutes for SEO minion to scrape your PAA results. When it’s done it will automatically download a spreadsheet with all the PAA details.


Step 2: Open your sheet and clean the data

PAA sheet

You now have a spreadsheet full of juicy PAA data. In my 10-minute crawl for link building strategies, I got 608 PAAs. But I need to clean it up because URLs will often rank for multiple PAA questions. To clean up your data, create two new tabs and copy/paste the URLS and PAAs into the two new tabs.


Step 3: Remove duplicates

Next up you want your list of URLS and PAAs to be unqiue, so simply remove duplicates on both of those tabs.


Step 4: Ninja formula 1

On the URLs tab do a vlookup to pull in the URL title. My formula looked like this:


Vlookup 1

Note that I renamed my original tab to “DATA” just to keep it simple.

Then you want to do the same Vlookup formula to pull in URLS to the PAAs. This two tab method ensures you get no duplicate URLS or PAAs.


Step 5: Ninja formula 2

Head over to the URLS tab and it’s time for our second ninja formula. We want to pull in the PAAs from the PAA tab for matching URLs. We can do this with a transpose + filter formula.

My formula looks like this:


transpose filter keyword research


Step 6: Filter out irrelevant queries

Next up we want to remove anything not related to our main topic. In my example, I filter the URL title for anything that doesn’t contain “link”. You can filter out your list however you like.


Step 7: Analysis and content planning

Now that you have a list of URLS and the PAAs that they rank for you just need to figure out which topics you’re going to go after. I like to use the bulk analysis tool in Ahrefs to help me figure out what content I will short-list. For example, I might select all the content that is ranking on a domain with a lower domain rating than my site. That’s the original method that Steve Toth recommended.

You can also look at how closely the URL title relates to the PAA. If you see opportunities where the PAA’s being asked result in an answer that isn’t very relevant, you could have a good opportunity to create content that is much more relevant, which will likely result in you ranking for handful of related searches.


Step 8: Answer PAAs

Once you have planned your blog topics, be sure to answer each PAA your competing page is ranking for in order to make sure your content covers everything people are asking about your topic.



That’s it! Hundreds of great content ideas produced in a few clicks and you only used up one of your precious keywords. Once you get the formulas down this method is super easy. Would you beleive this is just one way to find long tail content opportunities? There are many more methods for finding these gems. I’ll cover another one of my favorite strategies in my next post about the Alphabet Soup method.