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How Google Ranks Websites
In today’s hyper-competitive online landscape, businesses and websites that appear higher on Google will undoubtedly get the most attention from potential customers and readers. Ultimately, everyone is trying to get to that coveted number one ranking space. After an analysis of over 5 million Google search results, it’s easy to see why:
- The #1 search result has (on average) a 31.7% click-through rate and is 10 times more likely to earn a click compared to the #10 spot
- The #2 search result has a 24.71% click-through rate
- The #3 result has an 18.66% click-through-rate
- Only 0.78% of searchers clicked something on the second page
The fact that the first three positions on Google garner roughly 75% of the total click volume really should not surprise you that much. Think back to when you last Googled something. It’s a safe bet to assume that unless you were looking for a specific website, you probably only looked at the first three options and perhaps only clicked on the first result.
How Does Google Search Work?
The primary purpose of Google has always been the same: to help users find what they want on the internet.
They accomplish this by providing the best possible results for any particular query in the form of ranking system, where the most relevant websites are shown first. Before we can explore how Google actually ranks the results, it’s important to understand what exactly happens when you search something within Google.
A common assumption is that the results shown on the search engine results pages (SERPs) are live websites and that results are given “in the moment.” However, that is not the case. According to Google, its search works using a simple three-step method:
- Crawling: In order for Google to rank websites, it has to download the contents directly to the Google servers. This is accomplished with its system of web crawlers dubbed Googlebots. Googlebots will effectively scan your website and download the contents to their servers. The crawlers are able to simulate both desktop and mobile searches. These scans happen periodically at any interval.
- Indexing: Once Google has all the contents, it analyzes the content of the site. If the website is deemed safe and relevant, the contents of the website get stored to Google’s Index database, ready and waiting to be served to users on search results.
- Displaying the Results: When someone searches on Google, Google’s algorithm will take that search and sift through the Google Index for all relevant websites that match the query. It will then display the sites in order of relevancy and importance as deemed from the algorithm.
The results that are shown within the Google SERPs are really just a copy of the website as it appeared at the time of indexing. Sometimes, indexed results don’t reflect the live site. If you have ever clicked on a result and received a 404 error, this is why!
Want to learn more about how Google search works? Check out this five-minute video straight from the source.
How Does the Google Algorithm Work?
If you have spent any time with a digital marketer, you have undoubtedly heard about the Google algorithm. The algorithm is the single most important thing that any digital marketing professional or website owner needs to understand.
When a user types in a search, the algorithm will instantaneously scan and analyze trillions of websites within their index based on over 200 different factors. Some of these factors include:
- Domain factors (age, registration length, keyword matches in the domain, etc.)
- Page-level factors (title tags, H1 tags, content length and helpfulness, LSI keywords, internal links, page load speed, schema data, etc.)
- Site-level factors (contact information, domain authority, sitemap, site architecture, SSL certificate, mobile-friendliness, EAT, etc.)
- Backlink factors (number of backlinks, backlink quality)
- User interaction (Click-through rates, bounce rates, etc.)
- Off-page factors (citations, NAP consistency, etc.)
Once Google analyzes all of its websites against the 200+ different factors, it will return results that ideally match what the user is looking for. All of this happens within a fraction of a second.
We know that the results in the SERPs are just clones of websites taken at the time of indexing, but when it comes to how exactly those results are shown to users and how the 200 ranking factors are used, the waters get a bit murky. Google is notorious for hiding the exact details of how its algorithm works, so it can often feel like a game of cat and mouse when trying to set up a website for success.
How Does Google Rank Websites?
Despite Google hiding the fine details of its secret algorithmic formula, it certainly has not been secretive about the top-ranking factors that influence how ranking results work.
When you type in a search on Google, the Google AI takes your query and determines the proper meaning behind your search. While this sounds like a simple concept, the science behind it goes beyond the scope of this article. All we need to know is that Google has the ability to take a search with a few simple words and extrapolate meaning and intent behind them, like in the sample below.
From there, Google will show results that are firstly deemed as relevant to the search.
Relevance is determined by analyzing on-page content for both short- and long-tail keywords and phrases that match the query. This is perhaps the most basic signal of content relevancy and the simplest to understand. For example, if you are searching for “AC Repair in Phoenix,” the page should ideally contain “AC Repair in Phoenix” or some derivative.
Quality of Content
If we only look at content relevancy based on keywords, blank websites that feature “AC Repair in Phoenix” nonstop would be ranking higher than actual pages with informative content. To avoid this, Google determines the overall quality of the content.
There are numerous factors that go into ranking content quality, but the basic idea is that websites that demonstrate expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (EAT) are deemed to have higher content quality than those without.
Additionally, websites that have a strong system of referring backlinks are deemed to be higher quality. The more trustworthy sites that refer back to your content, the more trustworthy your site will seem.
All things considered, content that is easier to find and interact with often performs better. For example, a website that has not been optimized for mobile devices is going to have a difficult time ranking over a site that has been optimized effectively for phones and tablets.
Another factor that comes into play here is page architecture and design. Breaking content into sections with headers/pictures and an overall organized hierarchy of information is going to be far more accessible than a page that features nonstop text.
Page speed also factors in here. If a page refuses to load within a certain time frame, accessibility is hurt. As an example, according to a study, 53% of people will leave a mobile page if it takes longer than three seconds to load.
The last way that Google ranks a page has to do with overall context.
Information contained within your search history, settings, and location all factor into what you are presented.
For local businesses, this is important to understand. A user who is looking for a plumber is more likely to get shown results from their geographic area. Google can determine geographic areas from a website if the geographic keywords are present within the content or the metadata.
No One Factor Determines Rankings
The way in which Google ranks websites is relatively simple to understand, but so much goes into it. As we mentioned before, there are over 200 different signals that Google uses to rank websites, so it’s impossible to determine one or two key ranking factors that are a silver bullet.
It’s important to remember that websites that consistently rank in the top three spots for different keywords are constantly working on their content, site technical, and off-page optimizations to achieve those high rankings.
In this business, it’s a race to the top, but oftentimes, it’s easy to get lost in the weeds with all the different ranking factors.
At the end of the day, by focusing on content relevancy and content quality, page accessibility, and understanding context — you should be able to consistently achieve your ranking goals.
About The Author: Jason is a Senior SEO Analyst at Blue Corona. His expertise in data analytics and experience in website development & digital marketing are leveraged to create customized and effective SEO strategies for some of Blue Corona's largest clients. In his free time, Jason enjoys spending time with his wife and two daughters on the beaches of Hilton Head Island and watching college sports (especially basketball - Boiler Up!).
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The information on this website is for informational purposes only; it is deemed accurate but not guaranteed. It does not constitute professional advice. All information is subject to change at any time without notice. Contact us for complete details.