Google Rankings Explained – How Does Google Decide Which Websites To Rank When Searching

In order for any website to be successful, it has to rank highly with Google. If a website doesn’t rank highly amongst Google rankings, it can expect fewer page views, fewer visitors, fewer conversions, and of course fewer first-page rankings. 

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Google crawls and scans websites on a daily basis, looking at various things that will impact how well the website ranks.

Google Rankings Explained

It doesn’t matter if you have a small blog that you share with your followers or a professional business website that provides a service for your customers, your website will be crawled and indexed, so you need to make sure that it’s up to standard.

With that in mind, we’ve decided to help you. In this article, we’re going to tell you everything you need to know about Google rankings. We’ll look at what Google rankings are, how they work, and what you can do to climb up the rankings in your niche.

If that sounds like something that can help you, be sure to stick around!

What Are Google Rankings?

Before we get into the main parts of this article, it’s a good idea to have a better understanding of what Google’s rankings are. Therefore, we’ll give you a brief description before we get started.

Since Google was first released in 1998, its mission has been to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. With such a vast amount of information on the web, this was never going to be an easy feat. 

That’s where Google’s Google rankings system came into play. The Google rankings system is a highly specialized algorithm designed to effectively sort through billions of web pages to find the most useful and relevant results. 

Done in no time at all, this algorithm uses a range of tools to identify the best web pages before displaying them further up the page rankings. The aim amongst website owners is to get as many of their web pages to the top of Google as possible. 

Websites with the most relevant web pages are seen more favorably by Google which is why it is so important. 

How Does Google’s Ranking System Rank Websites?

So, how does Google’s ranking system rank your website? Well, to rank websites, Google’s algorithm uses something called web crawlers to find, scan, and finally index pages.

During this process, the pages crawled are given a rating based on Google’s opinion of their usefulness to its users and authority. 

Once this process is complete, the algorithm uses over 210 factors to order each page on Google’s search result page. 

If your web pages fit what Google likes, they are more likely to appear higher in Google search results for specific queries. If your web page does rank highly, it means your page is the most authoritative and relevant result according to Google.

The web pages that sit at the top of the search result pages are there because they answer specific queries that are made up of phrases and keywords.

Google’s intelligent AI system is capable of understanding the meaning behind each search query, making it much easier to process information in concepts, not just individual words. 

The algorithm doesn’t work too differently from how we understand and process language. Therefore, it has been called Natural Language Processing (NLP).

Factors We Don’t Know About

That may seem like the end of things but it isn’t. Despite knowing about 210 factors, a lot of factors that influence our web page rankings aren’t known. 

Some of these factors remain a mystery because they are created and then adjusted by Google’s AI algorithms. 

While understanding how Google thinks may seem like an impossible task, there are still a number of clear things we can do to improve search rankings. We’ll touch on these later!

Does Google Ever Change Its Ranking System?

One of the main reasons ranking a website highly on Google can be quite tedious and frustrating is down to the fact Google’s ranking system changes regularly. 

Usually called algorithmic updates, Google makes changes to the way they rank websites every day. However, these updates are normally very minor and won’t change too much for you.

Having said that, every so often, and normally out of the blue, Google will release a bigger algorithmic update that can change a lot of things. In fact, after bigger updates, it isn’t unusual for a lot of websites to experience a large drop in visitors and page views. 

While this may seem unnecessary, when you consider that Sergey Brin and Larry Page first developed Google and its ranking system in 1996, it’s quite clear that things have to change over time.

Algorithms have to evolve to take new factors into consideration. Google once released a statement stating that its algorithms can sometimes change up to several times a day.

Smaller changes usually consist of improved search results and tailored pages.

Bigger changes that occur every 3 to 6 months or so have a much bigger impact on millions of websites. Known as “Broad Core Algorithm Updates” these updates are normally done because Google is becoming smarter. 

How Often Do Specific Updates Occur And What Issues Do They Present?

With Google regularly changing the way in which it ranks websites, knowing if and when they might perform an update that affects your website is virtually impossible.

However, by looking at past data, we can start to develop a better understanding of how often these updates happen and what issues they might bring with them.

Minor changes occur daily, whilst bigger updates typically occur on a quarterly basis. While minor updates normally don’t impact websites too much, both types of updates still play a part in what positions your web pages fall on Google’s search results page.

Bigger updates tend to have a massive impact on rankings. The effects of bigger updates also last much longer. Most of the SEO process after a bigger Google update focuses on recovering your page rankings.

Websites that are well maintained aren’t usually as heavily impacted, but no website is fully safe. 

Minor Algorithmic Updates

Google’s algorithm gets anywhere between 5 and 9 minor algorithmic updates every day. The more advanced Google’s algorithm gets, the more frequent these updates are.

Based on the frequency of the updates and how web page positions change throughout each day, we can start to estimate how volatile and big updates are.

Only 10 years ago, one update would occur per day. Fast forward to 2018 and 3,200 updates occurred. That works out at 9 updates per day. This number continues to grow.

Broad Core Algorithm Updates

Bigger Google algorithmic updates are carried out every 3 to 4 months. This usually works out approximately 5 times a year. You can identify one of Google’s Broad Core Algorithm Updates by looking out for their unique names. 

In the past, we’ve had updates called “Penguin”, “Panda”, “Medic”, and “Bert”. Some updates will also have a generic name like “May 2020 Core Update” etc.

What Makes Google Decide To Update Its Ranking Algorithms? 

There isn’t one thing that specifically tells Google that they need to update their ranking algorithms. Instead, there are a number of key factors that play an important role in the decision process. 

Primarily, Google will rely on user signals and webmaster signals when deciding if it’s time for an update. Google monitors how users react to content and what webmasters do with their pages. 

By monitoring both closely, Google can identify any problems and swiftly put a solution in place. 

This is incredibly important to Google because they pride themselves on offering users the best content. Therefore, they need to keep an eye out for bad content and webmasters trying to get an advantage over the algorithm.

An example of an update that targeted negative results was the “Reviews Rich Snippets Schema Update”. This update targeted businesses that were posting untruthful reviews, review stars, and biased in an attempt to draw more customers in.

This ensured that only reliable reviews would rank highly on Google.

There have even been updates to target content that can be potentially damaging for uses. The “Your-Money-Or-Your-Life” update set stricter guidelines for content that would negatively impact a user’s happiness, health, and financial position. 

What Does Google Love?

There are a lot of things Google loves so try your best to do as many of them as you can if you want to improve your Google rankings. 

To give you a good idea of some of the things Google loves from a website, we’ve listed the most important below. If you can ensure at least one or two of these things are done perfectly, you’ll be on to a winner in Google’s eyes.

Content

Google absolutely loves content and lots of it.

Whilst Google used to focus heavily on keywords and still does in some respects, they are now much more interested in comprehensive, well-written content that provides a genuine and reliable answer to the user’s question.

If your website contains lots of relevant, detailed content, you can expect to have a much higher chance of ranking well.

Optimization

Google really appreciates a well-optimized website. A well-optimized website will at least have basic metadata, meta descriptions, meta title, and on-page H1 and H2 tags. 

These short tags give you the chance to advertise your content and present each page better on Google’s search results.

High-Quality Backlinks

Google will love your website if it has plenty of good backlinks. In fact, the more you have, the more credit and authority Google will give your web pages. This gives your website more popularity and enhanced SEO performance. 

A Clean Website

Websites that are attractive, clean, and easy to navigate will always be looked at more highly by Google. This is because it makes it much easier for them to crawl your site, and makes the experience for their users more enjoyable.

Google Rankings Explained

What Key Factors Does Google Take Into Consideration When Ranking Websites?

If you’re hoping to rank your website higher up Google’s search results pages you need to know everything there is to know about the key factors Google takes into consideration when ranking a website.

Simply put, the key factors Google considers when deciding where to rank a website are how well-rounded the site is technically, how useful the content is, and how authoritative the website is in relation to links it has from other websites.

We’ll look at these factors and others now!

On-Page Content

On-page content factors mainly refer to the overall appearance of your website and its pages.

This doesn’t just relate to the font you decide to use within pages and posts, but instead refers to several different measurements Google takes into account when analyzing your content.

The most important of these factors are:

  • How Unique Is The Content – Google will compare your website’s content to other websites in your niche. It will look out how unique each web page is and what you offer to the subject. If you recycle other pages’ information, expect a lower ranking.
  • How Helpful The Content Is – Google will take into account how long users read your information and how quickly they head back to the results page. This is because these signals give an indication of how useful the content is. They will also look at how often people follow links to other pages. If users aren’t engaging with the information, that tells Google that the content isn’t helpful.
  • How Detailed Is The Content – Google bases this factor on how long your content is and how relevant it is to the topic. Most likely measured by Google’s NLP algorithms, writing that is deemed excessive or not enough doesn’t have a good look. Finding the perfect balance of words and keywords leads to a good Google ranking.
  • How Attractive Is The Page To Google’s End Users – Google will look at how well a web page is presented to its end users. If the web page doesn’t look good and hasn’t been optimized, it won’t rank highly. Web pages should have a relevant meta description, a well-optimized title tag, and branding that offers relevancy. 

Off-Page Factors

Until now, we’ve only looked at factors that you can directly control on your own website. Off-page factors refer to things that happen away from your website. Instead, these factors relate to what happens on other websites.

The most common off-page factors Google considers are:

  • The Authority of Your Website – Google takes how much authority a website has into consideration when deciding where to rank it. To do this, they look at how many websites link to it, how much authority those links have, and how relevant they are to the specific industry and topic.
  • How Authoritative A Specific Page Is – Quite similar to the factor above, Google will look at whether you have any inbound links that point to a specific page. If so, do those pages link to relevant websites and contain descriptive and clear anchor texts?
  • How Much Authority Competitor Websites Have – Google will also look at how many links competitor websites have linking to them. They will then look at how strong those links are and whether they are relevant or considered spam content.
  • How Relevant Competitor Websites Are Compared To Search Results – Google always takes your competitor’s relevance into account when ranking your website. If a website writes about traveling, a website about pets won’t gain a good ranking (unless it somehow relates to traveling).

All of the above factors are the main signals Google uses to decide how reliable, relevant, and worthy your website is. There are more factors that play a part but these are arguably the ones that make the biggest difference.

What Are Considered Bad Pages By Google’s Algorithm?

When it comes to getting your website and web pages to rank higher up Google’s search results pages, it is important to make sure that none of your pages are considered bad by Google’s algorithm. 

If a page is considered to be a “bad page” by Google’s algorithm, it won’t rank very high. In fact, there’s a good chance it won’t rank at all. “Bad pages” are usually pages that are not optimized for Google’s algorithm. 

To help you avoid this problem, we’ve listed some of the key things to avoid below. Each of the points we have listed leads to a page being considered bad.

Pages With A High Bounce Rate

Pages that have a high bounce rate aren’t usually looked on very highly by Google’s algorithm. While this may seem strange, when we look at bounce rates in more detail the reason why Google looks at this unfavorably is quite fair.

If a user searches Google with a specific keyword and finds your web page, Google will look at how long they stayed there.

If the user opens the page and then swiftly leaves it to search for something else, this is a sign that the page isn’t relevant or useful. This interaction is then counted as a “bounce”. 

An increase in bounce rate is a sign that users are leaving your page unsatisfied. Most of the time, an increased bounce rate is simply down to the quality of content.

Pages With Slow Load Speeds

If you have a web page that takes too long to load, Google’s users might think the page is broken. In a world of advanced technology where we can find anything in a matter of seconds, this can massively impact your Google rankings.

Generally speaking, a web page that takes more than 3 seconds to load is slow. A page with this loading speed won’t score highly with Google’s algorithm. It may even be categorized as a bad page.

Web page loading speed is even more important when it comes to mobile users because they are already using a device that’s slower. Things that could slow your web pages down include large images, scripts, and videos.

These factors usually take longer to load than others so if they’re too large they could cause some issues. 

If your website has slower loading times, the chances are users won’t engage with your content. Not only does this tell Google that your page is bad, but it also gives the impression that your content isn’t relevant.

Tools That Can Help Fix Bad Page Issues

Luckily, Google has a number of useful tools that can help you determine whether or not you’re following the best practices. Despite having a primary focus on making ad revenue, Google prides itself on offering support to both small and large businesses. 

To help you achieve higher rankings amongst organic search results, Google has great tools like Google Analytics, Google Search Console, and PageSpeed Insights.

All three of these tools will help you monitor and correct any issues your website has, so we strongly recommend using all three. 

However, out of the three, Google Search Console is the most important if you have specific issues you want to fix. Google Search Console is tied in directly to how Google sees your website.

Here you will be shown any errors Google has found. You’ll also have access to information showing you how to correct them. 

Which Google Ranking Factors Can You Improve To Rank Higher?

Now you know more about how Google rankings work and some of the key factors that impact how highly your web pages will rank, we can start to look at how you can go about improving the factors.

The easiest factors you can improve when trying to rank your website higher in Google search results are the quality of your content, the general usability of your website, website performance, and your website’s backlink profile. 

Of course, how you go about improving each of these factors varies quite a lot depending on the type of website you run and the business you’re in. However, no matter what website you have, you always need to start by improving these factors first.

In the next part of this article, we’ll show you how to approach each step. 

Before we start though, here are some of the things you need to think about in relation to your website.

How Does Your Website Look And Feel?

  • Does it look attractive and fresh?
  • Does it look well organized?
  • Is it easy to use?
  • Are pages clear and easy to follow?

Is Your Content Helpful And Unique?

  • Are your web pages comprehensive and detailed?
  • Is your content unique?
  • Is your content more helpful than competitors’ web pages?
  • Does your content show benefits and features?

Are Your Keywords Well Organized?

  • Does every web page target specific keywords?
  • Do you have a unique page for every one of your products?
  • Are your content and keywords ordered in an intuitive hierarchy?
  • Are your most important pages easily accessible?
  • Does your website target a specific niche?

Admittedly, some of these questions are much easier to answer than others. In fact, for some of them, there is no right or wrong answer. 

To answer the harder questions, we need to get a little more technical and come up with an effective strategy. To help you do just that, we’ve put together 4 different strategies that will help you rank your website higher and answer the above questions.

Let’s take a look at the step-by-step process you should follow!

Step 1 – Keyword Strategy – Honing In On The Best Optimizations

If there’s one thing you need to change to ensure you rank higher in Google’s search results it’s your keywords. The pinnacle of Google ranking, this factor defines what your website is and what you need to focus on.

Google will use your keywords to form an understanding of what your pages are about. It will help them show your web pages for the most suitable search queries. 

In all honesty, keyword research can take a while to get used to, so you might decide to join an online course to improve your knowledge further.

However, to put it simply, you need to build a spreadsheet with a column containing all the keywords you plan on targeting for each web page. 

You can then use those keywords to improve the focus of your web pages and give Google a clear indication of what the page is trying to achieve. 

Step 2 – Competitor Research – Stand Out From The Crowd

Next, you need to take a good look at what your competitors are doing and what their web pages look like. 

The best way to do this is to search for your main keywords in the Google search engine and take a closer look at the first 4 or 5 results.

This will give you a much better indication of what you need to work on in order to compete and better your competitor’s work. You can also learn what page structures work better and compare your web pages with theirs.

When analyzing each competitor page, note down any improvements you could make.

It is also important to make sure that your content isn’t duplicating the content published by your competitors. On top of that, you should try and identify things your competitors haven’t done to gain a competitive edge.

Step 3 – On-Page Optimizations – Optimizing Your Site

Step three is where the nitty-gritty begins as it’s time to start optimizing your website. You should start by adding more detail and information to your content using the list of keywords you mapped out in step 1. 

When that’s done, you can start to expand and work on other areas of your website that need improving. 

To make this easier for you, we’ve listed the most important and simple improvements you can make to your website below:

Text Improvements

  • Write more about each service or product.
  • Include FAQs, services, and category pages.
  • Add in helpful resources. This includes external and internal links.
  • Include your keywords in page titles, product descriptions, and headings.

Visual Improvements

  • Include better images and videos related to your content.
  • Include customer reviews and images.
  • Make the most of graphics and charts.
  • Include video reviews.
  • Include tables with specific product specifications.
  • Make comparisons with other products.
  • Include 360 videos showcasing your products.

The best thing about this step is that it won’t only improve your ranking with Google, but it will also increase Conversion Rate Optimization. This essentially means the improvements made to your website will lead to more visitors becoming customers.

Step 4 – Backlink Building – Make Your Website An Authority

Backlinking is easily the best thing you can do to increase your website’s authority. For those that don’t know, backlinks are links that are put on a web page that link to another website. 

If a website decides to link your site, then you have a backlink from them. If you link a web page to another website, they have a backlink from you.

This is important because Google looks at links as a signal that a website is important and relevant to that topic.

For example, if one of your pages is linked to 10 different websites, that shows Google that the page must be content users want to engage with, hence giving that page and your website more authority.

Below, you’ll find four easy ways to gain more authority and build backlinks. These four methods are all perfect for beginners.

Feature Your Website Or Company In Business Registers

These links may not be critical to your SEO score and might not help you get to the top of Google search page results but they are a great place to start. 

This method involves building citations and links across websites that offer business listings. These links are particularly useful for local businesses. In terms of how they help your authority, they essentially tell Google that your website is active. 

Ask For A Favor From Business Partners

An easy way to build authority with Google is to build links on business partner websites. This helps you leverage their SEO efforts through link juice. 

This is where the value of the link gets passed on from one site to another. This in turn helps both websites gain more authority.

Simply get in touch with your closest business partners and talk to their marketing team to see if you can work something out. You could always put a link to their website on one of your pages in return. 

Piggyback Off Competitor Backlinks

This method is a great way to expand your link-building. You have the opportunity to find links from various competitors.

If you have a number of competitors that rank higher than you, the likelihood is they’ve already done some SEO work in the past. All you have to do is try and follow the breadcrumb trail. 

By exploring your competitor’s backlink profile, you can find where they got their links from and use them to your advantage. 

Build Links Through Digital PR

Finally, you can build links by asking for guest segments on various forms of digital media. Whether a network runs a magazine, blog, news website, or podcast, adding your experience to a segment is a great way to get links back to your website.

Share something insightful, relevant, and relatable before asking if you could perhaps have a backlink to your site. 

Be careful though, Google looks down on websites that ask for links. You have to provide value first. You might even need to do some work expecting not to receive a link in return.  

Over time and with more practice, you’ll develop a much better understanding of SEO and backlinking, but for now, simply focus on the paths that follow the least resistance.  Keep things simple and then move on to more advanced methods. 

Rushing into the more advanced SEO strategies will lead to silly mistakes being made. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Does It Take Google To Index A New Web Page?

It can take Google anything from one day to a few weeks to index a new web page. This is because the page must first be crawled before being indexed. 

Does Location Affect Google Search Results?

Location does play a small part in what you see first on your Google search results pages. This is particularly true from country to country. A search result for one query could bring up different results in various countries. 

Are Google Search Results Personalized?

Generally speaking, no, Google search results aren’t personalized. They are only ever personalized on very rare and limited occasions. This could relate to your location. 

Final Thoughts

There you have it, everything you need to know about Google rankings.

You should now have a much better understanding of what Google rankings are, how they are determined, what impacts your score, how you can improve your rankings, and much more.

As you can see from this article, the world of Google rankings is forever evolving and changing. With new updates daily and quarterly, it is important that we all stay ahead of the game when ensuring our websites follow the best practices.

While this may seem hard at first, you should now know exactly what to do to improve the way Google sees your website.

Remember the strategies we have looked at, ensure your website is clear and attractive, publish keyword-rich content, and always keep things original. 

While we can’t guarantee which direction Google’s ranking system and AI will go in the future, if you follow these key things and use this article to your advantage, you should be able to move up the Google search results pages with success and handle any setbacks comfortably.

                    

Justin Shaw
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