Google’s decision-making process for ranking you and your competitors
You may have noticed that whenever we talk about “getting to position zero”, “appearing on the map listings”, “increasing you ranking on Google”, or any other topic, we always say “we will show you how to encourage Google rank you here”. Why encourage? Why encourage?
People who ask this question treat Google like a pet dog. It is possible to train and discipline a dog, and it will obey. Your friends will be impressed by your well-behaved pet. Google behaves more like a cat. Although you can discipline and train your cat, it will not obey you unless it believes it is in a position to gain a lot. Even if the cat thinks it has something to gain, sometimes it will just ignore you.
When we are trying to improve a website’s ranking or aim for a zero listing, all we can do is give Google the information it needs to show your website there. Google must convince us that our website is the best and most logical option for this piece of visibility. Your website must be perfect to rank at the top of search results.
Imagine that you searched for “online encyclopedia” on Google and that Wikipedia didn’t show up. It would be a frustrating thought to ask Google “What’s the deal with Google?”. You might even try Bing (bing.com) if you really need the URL. This is not what Google wants.
All we do in SEO is to show Google that your website deserves to rank at the top. We can crack the code if we do this.
Google’s decision on which website ranks first and which second is the big question.
It uses complex algorithms to prioritise and measure over 200 ranking factors. Each one of them is complex and not easily understood by anyone. Instead, they can be broken down into three broad “ranking pillars”:
1. Relevance of a website to the search
2. Website authority and popularity on the internet
3. Website quality
Let’s take a look at each one individually.
Ranking Pillar 1 – Relevance
This is more than any other word. It’s the key to Google’s success. If the search results Google provided weren’t the most relevant to the business, the book would be called How to Get to the Top of Lycos. Google wasn’t the first search engine to come to market or the one with the best advertising. Google’s dominance is due to the fact that Google’s results are more relevant. This means that users continue to return to Google.
Google technologies such as RankBrain or BERT are often mentioned in the SEO world. RankBrain, a machine-learning AI that aids Google in understanding what we mean when we search for something, is called RankBrain. Are you expecting to find Top Trumps, news, background information, or some other thing when you search for “Trump”? BERT assists Google’s algorithms to understand the context and pick up on nuances which can alter the meaning or sentences.
What is the point of all this? It matters because Google cares about what people search for and providing the best possible results. You must make sure that your website is relevant and useful to the search you are trying to rank it.
Google How does it Measure Relevance
Your website’s content is at the top of the list. This includes the words, and to a certain extent, the images. Google uses software called “robots” that constantly scans the web for new information. These robots crawl your website and make a note of every word that appears. This is known as indexing. Google indexes a search that someone does on Google. It searches for the word in the index and then looks up websites that contain those words.
If you want to increase your website rank, you will immediately see how important text is. Google can’t justify serving your website to searchers if you don’t use the keywords you want to rank for.
Myth Buster: Indexing
Indexing does NOT mean saving your entire website. Google does not store your whole website. However, it does log instances of specific words and phrases.
Google doesn’t index every page it finds. Google doesn’t index every page it finds because there are many web pages that don’t get visitors. These pages are skipped by Google because it prefers not to index them. Unfortunately, if your pages don’t get indexed they won’t be appearing in search results.
Let’s get back to relevancy. Relevance is not only measured by the content of your website. It also includes how searchers interact. You want to purchase a new satchel. Go to Google and search for “designer satchels”. The search engine results page (or SERP) will appear.
Imagine that you are interacting with three websites from this point:
1. First, you check the Google results to see that one site listed has an ambiguous title, which makes it seem like it isn’t about designer satchels. You can click on other sites that are more relevant, but there are many.
2. You can have a quick look at this website and see many bags, but not many satchels or designer satchels. Then you hit the “back” button to return to the SERP.
3. Click on another website. This page shows you that the store offers a wide selection of designer satchels. Click on the ones you like and then click through to purchase.
The big question: If you were Google, which one of these websites would you choose to be the first result when someone searches for “designer-satchels” next time they search?
The third website is the answer.
The search engine deemed the first website irrelevant to the search as it was ignored. If a small number of people search “designer satchels”, click on the first website, the low click-through rate or CTR will affect the site’s ranking. Searchers are effectively ‘downvoting it’ each time they ignore it, and choosing another website.
Although the second website was clicked by the searcher, it failed to capture their attention. This behavior, known as “bouncing back to search engine results page”, can cause website ranking problems.
The searcher clicked on the third website, which kept their attention and led to a sale. This business made money, and if it does this often, Google will notice that visitors to that website are less likely to return for the same search. This means that they will find the information they are looking for when they visit this website. The site will soon be ranked higher. This will increase traffic and lead to increased sales. This positive feedback loop results in increased visibility, traffic, and profit.
Ranking Pillar 2 – Popularity and Authority
Google also uses popularity and authority to determine where to rank websites. Google uses a very basic term to explain how authority and popularity are determined. This term is quite useful in this case, however, so we’ll leave SEO snobbery aside and talk about ‘link juice.
Google’s secret sauce to determine the relative authority and popularity of every page on the internet is called link juice, or simply link equity. This is how it works:
A strange set of circumstances forces you to recommend a restaurant in your in-laws’ hometown. They will be grateful for a recommendation that is good. Bad recommendations can result in you being taken off their Christmas card list. There are no better stakes.
How do you create a list of restaurants to recommend? You haven’t been to any of these restaurants and don’t even know the area.
Ask your friends in the area to recommend restaurants. You’ll probably find that certain recommendations keep coming up repeatedly over time. It is possible to keep track of all these votes. This would give you an idea of the league table. The more votes a restaurant gets, the higher the chance that they will be a solid recommendation.
You can now build a reliable league table of restaurants in the town using all the information about the number of recommendations. This is a basic ranking algorithm. You can create your own ranking algorithm that ranks recommendations based on the likelihood that your contact will like them.
Google aims to achieve exactly this. Google’s link juice algorithm does not measure word-of mouth recommendations, but the virtual equivalent of each website’s links. Google uses PageRank to measure each website’s authority.
Website A is more popular if there are many websites linking to it, but not webpage B. This would mean that webpage A has a higher PageRank. It’s likely that it is a more popular and useful webpage, so if everything else was equal, it should rank higher in Google.
Fun fact: PageRank’s ‘Page’ does not refer to webpages. It is named after Larry Page (the total super geek Google co-founder who devised the mathematical algorithm to measure it).
It’s not only the number of links that point to a website that determines page value. It also depends on the quality of these links (i.e. The PageRank of these websites is also important.
If we go back to the restaurant recommendation example, this makes perfect sense.
Instead of focusing on how many people recommend each restaurant, it might be worth considering the opinions of your most experienced friends who are foodies. You might consider your friends who eat out regularly to be an authority on restaurant recommendations, so their votes should be considered more important. Your in-laws might love Thai food so you might give more weight to their votes.
You can increase your chances of finding a restaurant that your parents love by taking into account the ‘authority and ‘topical knowledge’ of each vote.
Let’s take a look at an alternative website example:
My website is linked by a spammy comment on www.terriblespamz.biz. This site has no visitors and is considered a garbage site. Your website also gets a link from Harvard University’s homepage..edu addresses are more likely to be taken over by spammers, so they have particular weight in Google. Which link is more important? Which link is more reliable in assessing the quality of our websites’ content? The link from a large-authority institution is obviously more important.
This would reflect in the PageRank of the websites that have the links. Your website will get more PageRank from the Harvard hyperlink, while mine will get very little from spammy blog comments.
PageRank flows through links. The Harvard website has a high PageRank due to the many websites linking to it. Your webpage would then have PageRank. However, the low-quality blog linking to my site would have a lower PageRank since no one links to junk websites. Therefore, it would have less PageRank to pass on.
You should note that just as head lice spreads through primary schools, passing PageRank on to other websites through a link does not mean your site loses PageRank for linking to them. PageRank isn’t a zero sum game. There are plenty of options.
Last thing: The PageRank that a webpage transmits is shared among all outbound links to that page. The PageRank of a linked page is generally determined by how high it appears on a page.
Let’s take, for example, that your website was the only link on the Harvard homepage. Your site would get a lot of PageRank in this unlikely scenario. Imagine Harvard saying “This webpage is the real thing.” This is what you have to see. You don’t need to think about anything else. Just look at this.
If there were hundreds of links to Harvard’s homepage, and yours was one of them all, the PageRank that is passed on would be shared by all of the links to that page.
To create PageRank, you must create a new webpage. Every page has it, and it shares that sweet nectar with all pages it links to.
Because all pages are linked to one another, this means that larger websites have a higher chance to achieve greater page value.
We will be discussing why your website should have many pages and how to fill them. Consider many pages orbiting around your homepage, all adding link juice.
Let’s not talk about PageRank and link juice. These will be briefly discussed when we discuss links later. But for now, remember that the authority of a webpage has a significant impact on its ranking in the Google search results. We’ll be discussing many ways to get other websites linking to you in Section 3. This will increase your PageRank as well as your Google ranking.
Ranking Pillar 3 – Quality
Without mentioning quality, any discussion about Google ranking factors wouldn’t be complete. Google wants to provide searchers with the best results so it is obvious that your website’s quality will be an important factor. It’s so crucial that Google published the internal guide to help users understand what it considers a website of “high quality”.
Section 2 will take a look at Google’s quality guidelines to ensure your website meets all requirements. Here’s a great question you can ask any website that you want to rank high on Google.
“Does this website really deserve to rank number one for this phrase?”
While there are many things that can be done to improve ranking for unworthy websites, it is a lot of work and time. However, improving the quality and functionality of your website can often help you achieve the ranking improvement that you have been striving for.
Let’s take a look at these important quality areas.
Upgrade 1: The Content of Your Website
Websites with poor content (low word count or pages with very little text) will struggle to rank. The fastest way to improve a site’s ranking is to increase its content. Google strives to match searchers’ needs with websites that best meet them. Ever thought, “What I really need right now is a badly written website with insufficient information?”
Sometimes people resist the suggestion to increase the content on their site. People will say things like “I don’t want to ruin my site’s aesthetic with text.” This is the wrong way to look at it. Think about shopping for a new chair. As you walk into the shop, you spot the one that appeals to your eye and ask the sales associate about it. Surprised, the sales associate only had one word to say about the armchair: “This is a fabric chair and it comes with a light gray chenille.” What number would you like?
What authority would you consider this person to be on the subject of armchairs. What are your chances of buying the chair? The sales associate could be the greatest armchair expert in the world, and they may have built this chair entirely with their own hands. Without further information, your perception of the sales assistant and the chair are limited.
However, furniture eCommerce websites online are often guilty of this very crime.
There are many eCommerce websites that try to sell every product you can imagine. They believe that a few photos and a line of text is enough to get people to buy. It’s not only commercially insane, but it won’t help their ranking.
Google is looking for websites that are experts and knowledgeable in their field. Google can’t tell if a website has a lot of information about the topic.
While we’ll be discussing content quality in the future, it’s worth noting for now that Google has made significant investments in its ability fact-check content. It’s now more important than ever that your website contains accurate information.
Google NYC published a detailed research paper that explained how it checks the accuracy of claims. It is very lengthy and, frankly, boring. Instead, Exposure Ninja’s Head SEO Andy Tuxford explained the key takeaways in a podcast episode. It can be found by searching for “Exposure Ninja What Google Thinks” on any podcast site.
Upgrade 2: Errors & Broken Links
You’d be shocked if you clicked on the top search result only to find that it was filled with errors and broken links. You wouldn’t be patient if the website took more than 20 seconds to load.
Websites of high quality don’t have these issues. It is therefore unlikely that sites with these issues are of high quality. Technical issues will be discussed in Section 2. However, discovering that your website has some serious technical issues is great news. This means that you can sometimes make simple changes to improve the site’s performance.
Upgrade 3: Mobile friendliness
Mobile friendliness is an accepted fact these days, but there are many types of mobile websites with different SEO pitfalls. These are just a few of the many SEO pitfalls that we will be discussing and help you navigate through them. You need to have a plan for mobile-friendly websites. Talk to your developer to add mobile functionality to your website. However, it doesn’t matter what, you must cater to the 50 percent+ internet users who use their mobiles. This is an essential aspect that cannot be ignored.