Perhaps one of the most asked questions in the world of marketing (after the yearly round of “Is SEO dead?”, of course) is “How does Google rank search results?”
The journey to rank on Google can be frustrating and elusive at times. There are over 190 million active websites as of late 2022. Somehow, Google is able to determine which websites deserve the spotlight and which don’t.
This is mainly due to Google’s main mission, which is to organise the world’s information and make it both universally accessible and useful. And in order to achieve this, Google utilises some of the world’s most advanced algorithms to sort through the billions of web pages and find the ones relevant for anyone doing a search.
So, how does Google rank search results?
Google has web crawlers that scan and index pages across the world wide web. Once they do that, they create rankings for a site based on the information gathered. Each and every page gets rated based on trustworthiness, usefulness, and more.
If a page meets all the right criteria, it’ll be displayed on SERPs or search engine results pages for users after they do their search. For instance, if you’re running a clothing business out of London and your website is well-built and managed, you can come up as one of the results when someone types up “clothes shop London” in their Google search bar.
And being one of the top results on these SERPs usually communicates authority and usefulness for both your website and your business as a whole. And the higher the rank a webpage has, the more traffic it’ll get. Obviously, the more traffic to that webpage, the higher the chances to generate leads and potential customers.
So, it perhaps comes as no surprise that the goal of many businesses online, if not all, is to win such a prize.
How does Google rank search results? The algorithm
Google has well over 200 known factors that make up its ranking algorithm. One other important determiner of how search results rank is Google’s PageRank algorithm – developed by their own internal team.
Think of PageRank as a calculation that values websites based on both the quantity and quality of links to a webpage, as well as other important factors. So, when a webmaster links to your website on their page, Google sees that as an endorsement of authority of your website.
And unsurprisingly enough, the more established the website linking to you is, the better it is in the eyes of Google.
This sounds like a pretty straightforward ordeal, right? You just get as many high-quality backlinks as possible. However, do keep in mind Google never publishes information about the true workings of its PageRank algorithm – or whether or not it’s the only factor in play.
This led third-party agencies such as Moz to develop metrics that try and mimic some of the PageRank properties (more on domain authority).
When does Google update the ranking algorithm?
Google often updates its ranking algorithm based on trends, and what they see in the user base. And by user base, we mean both webmasters and regular day-to-day users. Google closely monitors what webmasters do with their pages and how users react to such changes.
And, of course, Google’s main purpose, in this case, is to provide as much value to the user as possible. And that includes protecting them from bad pages and content that isn’t truly valuable to them.
In other words, if the search engine giant notices that a webmaster is trying to alter the algorithm in one way or another to get an unfair advantage over the competition, it’ll take action about it.
For example, in late 2021, Google updated its rich snippets schema. Why? You might wonder. Well, in short, businesses were relying on biased and untruthful reviews to attract more customers. Google specifically pointed out the fact that numerous businesses were using self-serving tactics to gain an advantage and rank higher.
So, to put it simply, when a certain behaviour gets exploited by webmasters to gain an advantage in search results, Google will sooner remedy the exploit and penalise whoever relies on it.
How to improve your chances of ranking
The fact that the majority of us marketers don’t truly understand how Google ranks didn’t stop us from figuring out how to improve our chances of doing so. Read along as we discuss some tips and tricks that you can follow to help increase your chances of ranking.
Note: these four tricks are just the very basics of this. They are in no way the only ones that you should pay attention to.
Draw your keyword theme
Before you even start drawing up your keyword theme, you first need to discover your “seed keywords”. These are usually the basic and obvious phrases that anyone can think of. More often than not, these seed keywords are phrases that you think you want to rank for.
For instance, if you’re running a shop that sells car parts, your first seed keyword is more than likely going to be “buy car parts”. Alas, finding good keyword seeds is, more often than not, a combination of brainstorming and research.
You know that what you have on your hands is a good keyword theme when it answers the following questions:
- What is my website/webpage, and what do I offer?
- What keywords do I deem important for my business to thrive?
- Which keywords deserve running ads for them?
So basically, think of keyword theme as a group of related (key)words or phrases that share a search intent. You can use a theme to build new content for your website or optimise the existing one.
Say, for example, you have a plumbing business, and you want to target people googling about a leak. Instead of just targeting singular terms like “stop a leak”, you want to tag the whole lot of them. So, your page content should be optimised for “stop a leak”, “stopping a leak”, “water leak”, “how to stop a leak”, and more. In other words, you want to avoid having separate pages that revolve around single keywords. Instead, try to group as many semantically related keywords with one another as possible.
Many marketers nowadays think of content as a commodity, something that is done for SEO’s sake. And while that is partially true, you have to keep in mind that content without value for the end users is spam.
And Google recognises that. So, if you really want to rank, you must answer this question: How can my content be better than the content currently ranking for the keyword?
Because if your content doesn’t succeed at satisfying the user in a more effective way than existing content, why would Google rank you higher? Start with your keyword, and ask yourself how you can create value.
And in the eyes of Google, value comes in many forms. It’s a mix of user experience, utility, authority, trust, and more. In other words, making sure your content is the absolute best not only satisfies the end users but also helps you to build links and improve engagement and your ranking.
Improve your on-page SEO
Whilst we have already covered this topic extensively in other blog posts, let’s go through it briefly again. Making the purpose of your page or pages clear to Google as well as end users is usually the job of on-page SEO.
Think of it as the cherry on top that highlights all the work and effort you put into making your content worth it. Here are a few simple ways to improve your on-page SEO:
- Use HTML tags. Google recommends using H1 to H6 tags to structure your content in a clear and visible hierarchy. For example, in this article, our title is an H1, our sub-headings are H2s, while our sub-subheadings are H3s, etc
- Use Simple URLs that convey information. Additionally, Google recommends that you use short and meaningful URLs for your pages. For example, instead of using: https://www.brandonsbaseballcards.com/folder1/22447478/x2/14032015.html
- Use compelling meta titles and descriptions. Well-written meta titles and descriptions will help you get more attention from Google
- Optimise your images. Moreover, Google recommends using brief and description filenames for your images. It’s also worth compressing your images to improve page speed—usually achievable by using .png instead of .jpeg, for instance
- Write good copy. Google appreciates content that is well-written and easy to follow. In other words, make sure you write with good grammar, avoid long paragraphs and do everything in your power to keep readers engaged—whether through humour or anything similar
As confirmed by a Google search quality senior back in 2016, backlinks are one of Google’s most important ranking factors.
Backlinks, for those of you living under a rock, are links from one website to a page on another website (preferably yours, in this case). Google, as well as other major search engines, think of backlinks as “votes of confidence” given by websites to one another.
It’s another way of saying to search engines that “This content here is valuable, credible and useful”, which makes it worthy of my linking. In other words, if your website has a lot of links from trustworthy sources, it’s likely to rank better organically and vice-versa.
Unfortunately, building high-quality backlinks is one of the most challenging parts of SEO. This is because it’s not something that’s totally under your control. The first and most important step to earning good backlinks is creating content worthy of it.
For more information, check out our blog post on the truth about backlinks.
Need help ranking on Google?
As you’ve seen, there are a lot of factors that come into play when it comes to ranking on Google. If you feel a bit overwhelmed, don’t worry, because you’re not alone. Just book a discovery call with us today, and we’ll show you how we can help your business dominate the SERPs.