Google SEO trends in 2023 – What is common between 50 top ranking websites

Notice: Article is being updated and in the following days will contain more precise data from analysis of 100 websites

What is trending in SEO this year? What makes a website to be in TOP positions on Google? With these questions in mind I conducted a case study of analyzing 50 websites which appear in Google TOP 10 positions for highly competitive search terms and here’s my findings:

CloudFlare is SEO friendly

55 of 100 websites are behind CloudFlare (also in top1, top2, top3 positions). Few years ago there were some rumours on the internet that CloudFlare ruins ranking positions in Google, but in practice as you see it is simply not true. Moreover 38 of these 55 websites are using CloudFlare paid plan. Conclusion is clear – CloudFlare as it is today with all the content delivery optimizations only helps to reach good search engine ranking positions in Google and personally I recommend to take advantage of every possible option it offers.

Chart - CloudFlare free and premium plan usage on high ranking websites in 2023
Chart which shows CloudFlare free and premium plan usage accross 100 tested high ranking websites. Second bar shows CloudFlare usage specifically for 100 tested high ranking WordPress websites.

66 out of 100 websites which are using WordPress are behind the CloudFlare from which 41 are using the CloudFlare premium plan.

Domain age matters greatly

33 of 37 websites are registered before 2020, from which 19 are registered before 2011. The youngest domain in Top 1 is registered on 2017. The youngest in Top 3 is registered on 2020.

All TOP50 websites has a valid SSL certificate installed. 28 of websites has a free DV SSL certificate installed (issued by various vendors – Let’s Encrypt, Google Trust Services, Amazon, GoDaddy, cPanel. GlobalSign). 16 of the websites has a free OV certificate installed (technically fake OV) from CloudFlare, 2 has EV certificate from DigiCert and 4 has a legit OV certificate.

From 15 of Top3 websites: 

6 use CloudFlare fake OV certificate
2 use DigiCert EV certificates (both of them in TOP3)
7 use basic DV certificates (two of them in TOP1)

Although it is too less of samples to make some conclusions, but it seems that only option where a paid SSL could noticeably improve SERP is if you order an Extended Validation SSL certificate which is the most expensive and hardest-to-get one (highest standart in Internet trust / highest number of identity checks). EV certificates which are used by websites I tested cost 1.7k USD per year each.

Also it seems that Google generally does not care about OV SSL certificates, so apparently no reason to spend money to them.

HTTP Strict Transport Security? Meh….

With only 15 of 50 websites having it, only one is in the TOP3 and only 2 of these 15 websites has it in the Google HSTS preload list. If even there is some positive impact on technical SEO from it, it is far too small to give a noticable improvements in SERP. HSTS is good for security, but apparently does not matter for SEO.

Old TLS protocol support (1.0/1.1) – 50/50

53 of 100 websites has it completely disabled (good for SSL security), from which 47 also supports the newest and most secure TLS 1.3 protocol.

TLS usage accross 100 tested high ranking websites.
Chart which shows that from 100 tested high ranking websites there is only a little dominance in sites with properly configured TLS

Disabling the old TLS is certainly not a game changer, but by seeing that a little over than half of the high ranking websites have the TLS support more or less properly configured, it could play a role in SERP rankings.

Domain Privacy disabled? – Could work

It is no wonder that only 11 of the 50 tested TOP10 websites has a legit WHOIS information – everyone likes to hide, but those who don’t Google seems to respect – 6 of these 11 are in the TOP3 positions (15 websites). While it is still possible to gain TOP1 with Domain WHOIS privacy enabled, along with other missing factors, showing legit WHOIS info seems small – but still a signal of trust.

Core Web Vitals – Questionable Impact

Core Web Vitals test results out of 100 high ranking websites in 2023
Chart which shows Core Web Vitals test results out of 100 tested high ranking websites. Passed CWV test has only a minor dominance in the high ranking websites.

While there is some minor correlation between high ranking websites and good Core Web Vitals, it is for sure that this is not a metric which will get you in search engine TOP results on by its own. Out of 100 tested websites, only 40 fully passed both – mobile and desktop CWV test with additional 22 websites passing it only partially. 35 of websites were completely failing CWV and 3 did not have any collected metrics. I can conclude that either Core Web Vitals plays very minimal role in Google search rankings or it is a VERY SIGNIFICANT factor if all you need to do is pass the CWV test only partially.

Domain Expiration dates – How TOP10 handles them?

  • 4 of 36 website domains expire next quarter (two of them hold the TOP3 positions).
  • 16 of 36 website domains expire next year.
  • 16 of 36 websites domain expiration date is 2 or more years away (each TOP3 has at least 1 of such domain, except Australia websites).
  • 7 of 36 websites domain expiration date is 5 or more years away (there is only one website in TOP3 with such long domain expiration date)
  • 7 of 12 TOP3 websites domain expiration date is less than a year away.

It seems that there is not a direct link between a good SERP and well-extended domain registration periods. Most of the domain owners choose not to renew them for more than a year and usually pays “when the time comes”, however there is a significant 45% part of them who really cares.

Average word count on page – 2500+

Out of 67 websites which I managed to test, I got an average word count of 3755 on the main page. Almost all of the websites had textual content more than 900 words long. 37 of 67 sites had a word count of more than 2500 on their main page, while only 16 of them had a content with more than 5000 words. While a Google representative few years ago has said indirectly on Twitter (post now deleted) that word count will not get you to the first positions, long articles today still play a significance in the SERP top, according to my analysis.

RSS Feeds – No longer actual

Out of 100 analyzed high ranking websites only 34 are using RSS feeds. While many people still encourage to enable RSS feeds on websites, some SEO specialists believe that RSS feeds today are used for nothing more but spam and content stealing. This is a clear conclusion that it is safe to disable RSS feed support on the website.

Web App support – Very rare

Only 12 of 100 tested and high ranking websites has some kind of web application support. It is hard to believe that “having no web app support” will positively affect SEO rankings – I would say that this is just an indiciator of many using outdated technology or not paying attention to the technical side so much. From my point of view – you should have a web app support for your website, well… at least your website should meet the requirements for it, so users can install it optionally if they want to (without the annoying popup on mobile).

Open Graph Images – Used widely

61 out of 100 websites have an Open Graph Image specified on their home page which means that the largest part of the top ranking website owners care about website appearance on social media and instant messaging platforms.

Read on how to create a perfect Open Graph image here

How about WordPress itself?

46 of 100 sites use it as their content management system, which is approximately the same as global market share stats for WordPress by W3Techs. There is no doubt that with WordPress you can reach good SERP in Google.

Yoast SEO – The most used WordPress SEO plugin

Market share of WordPress seo plugins 2023 - which is used most
Chart representing the “market share” of popular WordPress SEO plugins out of data gathered from 100 WordPress based websites which are ranking high in SERP

72 of 100 WordPress based high ranking websites use Yoast SEO as their SEO plugin with only 13 of them using the premium version. Out of remaining 28 websites 10 use Rank Math SEO as their plugin – 6 of which are using premium version of the Rank Math plugin.


About the author
I'm a full-stack WordPress developer with a 10+ years of solid experience in the core web development languages, development processes / techniques, web security, Linux server management and with pretty good understanding about proper semantics, UX/UI, technical SEO, good design and basic knowledge of company leadership. On top of that - a distant 5+ years experience as a computer and electronics repair technician which often enables me to understand also how the things work at the hardware level.