How Google Chooses Where You Appear in Their Search Results & the Secrets of Improving Your Position
by James @HelpYard - View Comments
Everyone knows the potential power of Google to be a hose-pipe of traffic for your site - if only your darned link would appear higher than page 372..
But, if we're going to tackle this problem successfully, we need to know how Google works in order to improve our results: Knowledge is power, prepared is forewarned, know thine enemy, blah, blah..
So, we'll start with first principles:
- What is the web?
- Move on to Google's place in it: What it's trying to do, and how it tries to do it?
- Then, using that knowledge, look at what we can do to improve our chances of placing well in Google's search results
Without further ado:
What is the Web?
- the web is made up of pages
- each page has an address (called a url)
- pages are joined to other pages by links that point to their address
- links can be followed from page to page to move around the web
- groups of pages with similar addresses form sites
What is Google trying to do with the web?
Google's ultimate goal is to provide the perfect result:
To show you the 1 page, out of the billions on the internet, that is the best match for your search.
This impossible task is made all the harder because Google has to guess what you are really searching for based upon the 2 or 3 keywords that you type into the search box.
Creating Google's Search Results List
(Ignoring the 'easy' bit: Finding and making a copy of every page on the whole internet - well.. 99% of them)
In their journey towards the ultimate goal Google have had to compromise by showing you a list of pages that might be what you are looking for, with their best guess page at the top, second-best next, and so on.
To work out what pages should appear in what order, Google has to make certain decisions about every page it has stored:
- what the page is about - it's topic
- how closely it's topic matches what you searched for
- how good it is - it's quality
- how trustworthy it is
- it's 'authority' - what other people think of the page
Google 'scores' each page based on these to determine a score-order.
What the Page is About - Content & Keywords
Google works out what a page is about in 3 ways:
They look for keywords - these are words and phrases that occur naturally in the text on the page and give an idea of what the page is about. For example - keywords on this page probably include: 'Google', 'search results', 'pages', and 'links'.
They look at what other pages on the internet say when they link to the page. In particular keywords that appear in the text that makes up the link.
They look at the topics of other pages on the internet that link to the page (in the same way as number 1).
So, if there's a page that:
- is titled 'All about Green Beans'
- has 'Green Beans' mentioned in it's content
- has other pages that link to it using the words 'another site about Green Beans', who themselves contain mentions of 'Green Beans'
..then Google takes a guess that your page is about: 'Green Beans'.
The closer Google thinks a page's topic matches your search, the higher it's score
Links as Votes
Google has made a decision about the page's topic - now, what about it's quality, trust, and authority?
To do this they use the structure of the web as an election:
- pages link to one another
- a link to a page is like one page voting for the other
- pages with a lot of votes (incoming-links) are given higher scores (because they have more authority and are more likely to be of high quality)
- not all links/votes are equal - some are worth more than others
- a link from a page that itself is high scoring (has lots of quality incoming links so is high authority) is worth more than links from other pages
- a link from a page that is spammy, or otherwise considered poor quality/untrustworthy, can act like a negative vote - reducing the page's score
- a link from a page on a similar topic is worth more than links from pages about other topics
Although less important, Google also looks at where a page links out to:
- a link out to a high-quality, authority page can increase a page's score
- a link out to a poor-quality, spammy page can decrease a page's score
Lots of incoming-links, from high-quality sites, on similar topics, means a high score for the page
How Trustworthy is the Page?
Other items that affect a page's score include:
- the 'freshness' of the content - does it get updated regularly?
- how old the page is - how long it and it's parent website have been around
- how long the site's domain name is registered for - the longer the better
All of which are signals to Google about how trustworthy a page is:
- it's owners care about it enough to update it often
- it's been around for a long time, and it's staying around - untrustworthy/spammy pages tend to be short-lived
So a page's final score is a combination of:
- how closely matched it's topic is to the search keywords
- how many quality incoming-links it has from other high-quality pages on similar topics
- trustworthy signals of freshness and age
The Search Result List
Scores are calculated for every page Google knows about, and these are then listed in score-order to produce Google's search results.
Given what we now know, how can we improve our page's position?
The Secret to Improving Your Search Results Position
- Make Google's job easier for them - create pages that deserve to top the rankings
- Make improvements in areas Google pays attention to
And how do you do that?
- create really good content that you keep fresh by regularly updating
- link-building - get lots of links from quality sources
Things to avoid:
- linking to, or getting links from 'spammy' pages, e.g. free directories, throwaway blogs, link-swaps, link 'farms', paid placement offers - anything that feels fishy
- 'stuffing' your page with keywords unrelated to the page's topic in the hope of showing up for those searches
- overusing keywords in general - just write naturally and your keywords will be there
If Google catches you doing anything it considers 'spammy' the consequences are severe - your page will be banned from showing up in search results any more, and other pages on your site may also be penalised.
It's not worth the effort of trying to game the system - Google changes and tweaks the way it ranks pages all day, every day. By using underhand tactics to try and force your page to rank higher than it deserves you are in direct competition with Google's ultimate goal of finding the best possible result for any given search. Guess who's going to win that fight!
Put your effort into making your page worthy of being at the top-of-the-pile in Google, and, every day Google will be working to put you there.
Look out for future posts where we'll go into greater detail about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) tactics, including how to create good content and how to link-build
If you have any questions, or want anything clarifying, please let us know in the comments below, and we'll do our best to answer them for you!