How does Google rank websites? If you want an exact, complete and permanent answer to that question, prepare to be disappointed:
- It’s an inexact science. Google uses an extremely complicated formula called a search algorithm to rank website content. Google does not reveal the specifics of its algorithm, because if it did, everybody would game the system rather than produce high-quality content. So, nobody outside Google knows specifically how rankings are calculated. The same is true for other search engines.
- Too many variables for a complete answer. Everybody wants to know, “How does Google rank my site?” Even if you knew Google’s algorithm exactly, which you really can’t, you still wouldn’t know how Google ranks your company’s web content — because no two websites have the same SEO starting point. Depending on variables such as how strong in SEO your competition is, how old your domain is, how well your content is written, and much more, your site’s performance within Google’s algorithmic system will vary from page to page and from month to month.
- The ranking algorithm is always changing. Google and other search engines continually refine and alter their search algorithms. Sometimes changes are made to prevent abuse from unethical SEO practitioners; others are made to adapt to changes in user habits and technical advances on the Internet. The things that were deemed important for high rankings five years ago are not the same as today’s, and five years from now SEO best practices will undoubtedly look nothing like today’s.
How Does Google Search Ranking Work?
Google deploys “Googlebots” (also referred to as crawlers or spiders) to websites to analyze the content and evaluate its quality. Think of Googlebots as virtual website critics who take in your website as if it were a theatrical play, analyze it, and report their findings to the audience — which for Googlebots is users of the Google search engine.
Googlebots judge your website using criteria and weighting from Google’s algorithm. There are many, many factors involved, but these are among the most important:
- The overall quality of a web page’s content
- The number of high-quality links pointing to the website
- How mobile-friendly the website is
- How quickly web pages load.
- Ease of navigating the website.
- How well-structured your website, in terms of helping Googlebots navigate and understand what the website is all about
So, if your business sells brown widgets, and your website impresses the heck out of Googlebots, when a Google user searches for “brown widgets,” the page of your website that focuses most on “brown widgets” will receive a high ranking.
How Does Google Rank Content? — The Importance of Keywords
“Brown widgets” is referred to in SEO as a keyword or keyword phrase. An extremely important part of SEO is matching important keywords — search terms people use when looking for what you sell — with specific pages of content on your website.
Keyword research and keyword strategy are the starting points for successful SEO. If you’re asking, how do search engines rank web pages, you’ll be a long way toward the answer if you understand the nature of keywords. A lot of companies that don’t understand keywords try to optimize their web pages for the keywords with the highest search volume. This is usually a mistake.
- Keywords with high volume tend to be the focus of huge companies with huge SEO budgets. No matter how well you execute your SEO campaign, you’ll never achieve high rankings because your competitors are doing SEO bigger and better.
- Keywords with high volume tend to be too general, too vague. You may succeed in getting more website traffic from Google, but not the type of traffic that converts into prospects or customers. User intent is important for keywords, which is why “brown widgets” may not be as good a target keyword as “economy brown widgets on sale.” The latter keyword definitely shows the intent of a purchase.
The Ins and Outs of Link Building
To answer the question, how does Google rank pages, understanding link building is as important as understanding keywords. Link building, the art and science of producing links from other websites to your own, is one of the most misunderstood aspects of SEO.
Some people think link building is a dirty word, an unethical practice to be avoided at all costs. This misconception arises from highly publicized incidents involving unethical SEO practitioners using link building practices that violate Google’s policies. The fact is, however, that link building is a legitimate and very important part of SEO — but it must be done according to the rules and in a tactically efficient and strategically sophisticated manner.
It is well established that Google’s algorithm relies heavily on inbound links in determining the ranking of web pages. This makes sense: If Googlebots see a lot of high-quality websites linking to your content, then your content must be valuable.
From that statement you can infer quite a bit about how to approach link building:
- You should cultivate links from quality websites — websites with a good reputation, a lot of traffic, a lot of their own links, and with high-quality content.
- To obtain such links, the quality of your website’s content must be very high. What does that mean? High-quality content is content that is easy to read, useful, unique, and with sufficient relevance, depth and substance to match the theme of its associated keywords.
- You should avoid trying to get links from websites that are not relevant to your business, that do not have high-quality content, or are shady in any respect. If Googlebots see links such as these coming to your website, they will conclude you are trying to play games with Google’s algorithm or that your website isn’t very good.
Other Important Factors in Search Rankings
How do search engines work, Google in particular? In term of ranking, a key thing to understand is that there is no universal ranking. It used to be the case in the early days of search engines that web pages were #1 or #5 or whatever on Google across the board. That has changed. Now, rankings vary from day to day, hour to hour, user to user. Variables determining how your content will rank include the geographic location of the Google user, the search history of a Google user and whether the search is being done on a mobile device or desktop computer.
Over time, steady improvement in the quality of content and steady growth in the quality and quantity of inbound links will lead to higher search engine rankings. Other aspects of your website need attention as well, but without those first two items, progress will be slow or nonexistent.
To discuss how to improve your website rankings in more detail, contact us now or call 855-883-0011.