Does it feel like competitors’ sites always rank above yours?
Or, are you looking to reach more new customers online?
Navigating the world of Google can be difficult.
But, how does Google rank websites?
Google, currently the most used search engine, will order websites in search results based on a series of ranking factors.
But, to keep things tricky the factors and the weighting of them are kept unknown – it is the task of SEO specialists to determine the factors and create strategies to help sites to rank.
Here we will talk you through how to start ranking in Google and introduce you to the all-important Google Algorithm.
What Is My Google Page Rank?
The first place to start when you want to rank a website is to see how it currently performs.
Unfortunately, checking where your site ranks is not as simple as searching for a keyword and counting the results.
Each individual search results are personalized by what they’ve previously viewed, their location and other demographic information.
This will skew the results, especially if you’re searching from your own business’ location.
These tools take a generalized view of your rankings and will compare them over time if you set up ongoing tracking.
The benefit of a paid tool is the ability to input the keywords which are important to your business to track.
You can also monitor your keyword rankings through Google Search Console (GSC).
Creating a GSC account is free for any site and can be simply authorized through a snippet of code on the site or a tag manager.
Through the Search Analytics section of the Google Search Console, you’ll see a selection of keywords which your domain ranks for and the average ranking position over a specified time period.
However, this data is sometimes limited and subject to Google providing it.
Finally, for a quick spot check on rankings, you can switch your browser to incognito mode.
Doing a search in incognito will slightly remove the personalization of the results for you to get a rough guide to your ranking.
This is key as rankings can fluctuate from tools based on Google’s tests.
If you see anomalies in any of your tools, complete a manual spot check to see if you’re still seeing this position before investigating further.
Key Things to Remember:
- Your own search results will be extremely personalized.
- Data in tools can be limited, so use manual checks on anomalies in the data.
- Desktop and mobile rankings vary so tools are the best way to monitor rankings
The Google Algorithm
The Google Algorithm is the name for the combination and importance of all ranking factors.
It utilizes machine learning to understand the user’s intent and provide what it believes to be the best search results.
How many ranking factors are there?
There are over 200 ranking factors which make up the Google algorithm, with the importance of each factor varies depending on website and sector.
No one, including those within Google, knows the exact number or combination of ranking factors as it uses such a combination of machine learning that it continually changes.
What Are the Google Search Ranking Factors?
The factors which make up Google’s Algorithm can be controversial.
Some of them are widely accepted whilst others are frequently debated. The main ranking factors can be described as:
The number and quality of backlinks which point to the entire domain, as well as on a page level are important for ranking.
Links need to be natural into a site and useful for consumers, which means they come from a relevant source and you’re adding extra information for them.
Links can be measured and monitored via tools or GSC and should be checked to safeguard the site from penalties from malicious links too.
The content, name of the domain and how keywords are used across the site will impact how individual pages will perform in the search results.
It’s important that your site has topical relevance to the keywords you are trying to rank for.
On individual pages, you can optimize them for specific keywords by including the keyword in your Page Title, URL, Headings and written content. It’s important for the keyword to appear natural in the content to users, whilst still being present for search engines to understand what the page is about.
One of the more recent ranking factors, Google now takes into account the speed at which your website loads content.
A web page should load in under 2 seconds, which means it needs the appropriate technical foundations to work on all browsers and connection speeds quickly.
The most hotly debated ranking factor is how strong the brand is and if people expect that brand to appear on the keyword.
This is the most difficult factor to quantify and to optimize for as it will involve utilizing offline advertising as well as online tactics.
None of these ranking factors will work independently on your website so you’ll need to optimize across the whole range to ensure the highest performance.
A mixture of good links acquisition tactics, keyword optimization, strong technical performance and a well-respected brand will be the most successful way of ranking.
What Are the Most Important Google Ranking Factors
It is not clear what the most important ranking factor is and it is something which is frequently debated in SEO.
Historically, links have always been the most significant ranking factor and many websites would manipulate their link profile by buying links.
However, Google has become more intelligent in how it assesses the quality of a site and has introduced many more important factors, including penalizing sites for manipulation and breaching their guidelines.
This makes it harder to determine the most significant ranking factor and it now is much more dependent on what other results appear and the industry you’re working within.
Instead, it’s now important to optimize across all the different ranking factors, rather than just focusing on one.
This makes it much harder to rank your website.
How Often Do Google Ranking Factors Change?
Google makes continual tweaks to their algorithm, frequently making small changes to the weighting of it rather large updates. However, there have been some historic updates which are important to note when optimizing your site.
This is the most recent update which has rolled out to most websites now, it changed the importance of the mobile site which now is prioritized in ranking over the desktop.
Sites which were slow to load began to rank lower than those with a quick on-page experience.
This update focused on quality content, hindering the ability of sites to rank who had duplicate or thin content.
Penguin penalized websites with manipulated link profiles, this meant if you’d paid for or traded links just to improve your rankings your site risked not appearing in the search results.
This update adapted rankings for local search to provide more relevant, localized results when appropriate.
In 2013, Hummingbird was introduced for Google to look closer at semantic search and understanding the context around each search, not just the keywords.
The most common theme of all of these algorithmic updates is that Google is putting users and their experience on a website first.
Each update aims to provide better results and information for those shopping or browsing.
Ensure you’re providing the best information for your customers and enabling them to find an answer to their query when they land on your site.
Google Featured Snippets (Position 0)
There is a new ranking position that we’re seeing in the search results called Position 0.
Position 0 is when Google provides the answer to the user’s question directly in the search results. For example, if you search ‘what time is it in New York’ the correct time will appear above the rest of the search results. This is known as an answer box and is part of Google’s Knowledge Graph.
Optimizing for this result is much harder to do than for standard listings but is a great way to generate brand awareness and provide information for customers.
Structure your content clearly, use schema mark-up and write your content in a Q&A format to give yourself the best opportunity of ranking for these boxes.
There are hundreds of factors in the Google Algorithm which you can optimize your site for.
Monitor Google updates to see how they’re changing and what other websites have seen happen.
Focus on making your website the best for users, not search engines.
This is just an introduction to the basics of the Google Algorithm and ranking a website.
It’s crucial to understand that no one knows for certain how the algorithm works and that testing and measuring the impact is important.
When optimizing your site be patient as it can take over 3 to six months for the impact of your changes to be seen in Google results.
If you’re in doubt of what to do, there are a range of useful sources online and you should follow the golden rule of putting users first.
Your website is there to serve customers, and Google is just a means of them finding your site, so remember to put your visitors first in how you display content and which content you produce. Good Luck!