We did some research recently looking accurately at the question “how does Google rank websites?” and we found some interesting results.
Did you know that 75.1% of clicks go to the top 3 Google Search results?
To get an increase in inbound leads you need to be high up on the SERP (Search Engine Results Page). The SEO world is constantly evolving and changing and if you don’t stay up to speed with Google updates, you won’t ever get those organic visitors to your website.
Why Are We Focused on Google Over Other Search Engines?
With over 92.51% of the search engine market share, Google is by far the largest search engine platform. You’d be crazy not to focus on the Google updates and algorithms that push websites to the front page of its SERP.
So if you want to be easily found, you need to know what factors Google will be marking you on. So, how does Google rank websites?
How Does Google Rank Websites: 1. Relevancy
The relevance of your content is what will give you the big scores. You need to focus your copy and keywords exactly around your business (what your selling). This is because Google is driven to deliver searchers exactly what it is they want to know.
How does Google measure relevance?
Google Hummingbird was launched in September 2013 with the intention to completely overhaul the search algorithm, being a more sophisticated matching of search queries intent to relevant results.
So rather than taking each search keyword and matching these to websites. Hummingbird was designed to consider the whole query- taking in the meaning behind the words.
The hummingbird algorithm focused on semantic search in particular. – This is the intent of searches and how it relates in terms of the context. Wordstream gives a great explanation of this by searching the term ‘weather’. The intent of someone searching for weather is most likely to find out the weather forecast. But without semantic searching, Google may bring search results based on an explanation behind how the weather works.
So the hummingbird algorithm focuses on the intent behind the search.
With Google’s need to understand the context of people’s searches even further, they introduced RankBrain in 2015.
RankBrain (part of the Google Hummingbird algorithm) is a machine learning AI that is constantly adapting to understand the meaning behind searches. For example, if you’re searching for Clinton do you mean Hilary Clinton or Clinton Cards?
Google’s RankBrain learns from the actions taken from people. So if the majority of people searching Clinton select links to sources about Hilary Clinton, these will gain in popularity and Clinton cards results will fall further down the SERP.
Rank Brain is literally learning from the intent of users over time, delivering exactly what people are intending to find.
BERT, Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers was introduced by Google in October 2019. This is it’s latest search algorithm that works on NLP – natural language process. Basically it’s a way for computers to understand language like humans do. In particular, the context of words and nuances that alter the meaning of phrases. This makes the search results much more relevant to the searcher.
So with this in mind, your website needs to be:
- Really useful
- Relevant to the exact phrases people are searching
How Does Google Rank Websites: 2. Indexing
Google sends bots to crawl your website, reading words and images to generate a good idea of what your website is all about. This is called indexing.
It’s important to note that Google only indexes certain pages. These are pages that are
- Constantly being updated with lots of activity
- Websites that are getting high traffic
So for your pages to actually show up on the first page of Google it needs to qualify for indexing.
As we mentioned relevancy is super important to Google. What you sell must match the copy and keywords on your website. This is to ensure you’re getting a high CTR.
CTR – Click-Through Rate
An aspect of Google’s algorithm measures your CTR. Your CTR is the percentage rate reflecting the number of clicks onto your website from the total number of people searching for that particular phrase you rank for.
Essentially, you need to think of each visitor and their actions on your website as essentially an up-vote or down-vote. The higher your CTR percentage, the higher up you’ll land on the SERP as it’s the algorithms way of detecting searchers prefer your listing.
However, having a high CTR isn’t enough, as people could cheat this by having detailed meta descriptions and title tags to increase results. So Google also measures your bounce rate. – Your bounce rate is how long (or short) someone stays on your page.
So for example, if someone clicks on your website leave instantly by hitting the back button, it signifies to Google that your website isn’t relevant. Therefore, resulting in it ‘down-voting’ your link. This is called- Bouncing back to SERP – which essentially harms websites ranking.
You need to aim for a high CTR, and a low bounce rate to get a good ranking from Google.
How Does Google Rank Websites: 3. Popularity and Authority
Page Rank – (named after Google co-founder Larry Page) considers all ‘recommendations’ (aka links) directed to a particular website. These are otherwise known as Referring Domains.
But it’s not the quantity of the links that matter, it’s the quality.
Links from high authority websites are higher quality ‘recommendations’ and therefore are more valuable to Google’s PageRank. Think of it like having a restaurant recommendation from Gordon Ramsay over recommendations from your work colleagues or buddies from your local pub. Whose opinion on fine dining would you trust more? (providing your colleagues or buddies aren’t experts in fine dining!)
By working on your off-page links is a great way for Google to rank your website. We have a detailed post on how to complete your off-page linking in this blog post, Off-Page SEO.
But heed our warning, through the Google Panda and Penguin updates, websites will be penalised for using ‘Black Hat’ SEO linking techniques. So, ensure your links are of high quality and are genuine referral links. You can read more of which SEO linking techniques to avoid in the above article link on Off-Page SEO.
How Does Google Rank Websites: 4. Quality
Google has admitted that content and links are their number one priority when ranking websites.
That’s why the quality of both your website’s content and links must be spot on to get that top space on the search results.
The main areas to focus your quality is:
- Website content
- Errors and broken links
- Mobile optimisation
As we’ve mentioned, your content must be relevant to get a high CTR and low bounce rate. But that isn’t all. Your content also needs to be better than your competitors so that searchers are favouring your links over theirs.
This means you need to have lots of description, information and basically to answer all search queries around your topic.
By focusing on high-quality content you can become (in time) a thought leader in your market. You’ll then see the backlinks, organic traffic and even inbound sales skyrocket as people look to you as the experts in your industry.
In case you need it, we’ve written a past post on how to increase your website’s quality here.
Google also likes content of around 1k- 1.5k words per page. So blog posts need to be digestible, but also descriptive and helpful to answer search queries. Your content needs to have considered keywords that are competitive. For more help on finding the right keywords, check out our blog post here.
With each page on your website, you need to make sure all the technical aspects are optimised.
- Headings, tags, metadata, title and description
- Website Speed
- Website structure (pillar content)
- HTTP Secure (HTTPS)
Headings, Tags etc..
To ensure Google can read your website efficiently you should have keywords in your title, header 1, header 2, featured image and somewhere in the text.
By only using one H1 you’ll strengthen your SEO.
You need to also include meta description tags. This is so that searchers can easily see what is in your body of text to increase that all-important CTR. This is your opportunity to advertise in short the relevant content to the keyword you want to rank for.
A great free tool to improve your on-page optimisation is a browser extension called SEOquake.
It has a diagnosis feature which gives you an SEO audit with tips on how to improve your on-page score.
Errors and Broken Links
Keeping on top of your broken links and website errors is crucial to maintaining a high-quality website.
It’s extremely important that throughout your website you don’t have any errors or broken links. Or even your blog post external links are up to date and not leading your readers to a 404 error page!
A really great broken link monitor to install on your website is OhDear. it continuously crawls your website notifying you of any broken links.
The most common error pages you’ll come across are:
- 404- not found
- 403- forbidden
- 401- unauthorised
- 500- internal server error
Increasing your website speed is also an important part of your website quality. As you would have done yourself if a website takes too long to load your pressing the back button and finding another source!
If your website takes up to 5 seconds to lead the probability of visitors bouncing increases by a huge 90%!
Why are mobile-friendly websites important to Google?
50% of all Google’s search traffic comes from mobile, we are sure to see this percentage increase as the technology for mobile develops.
But it doesn’t stop there. Google now labels websites who are mobile-friendly in the SERP. With Google already admitting to downgrade sites misconfigured for smartphones.
We will be writing a blog post soon on how to make your website mobile-friendly. But for now, you can do a quick test to see if your website is mobile-friendly here.
Good luck on your SEO journey to get those higher rankings on Google. Subscribe to our blog using the form on the right-hand-side (or below on a mobile) to make sure you don’t miss out on more SEO tips.