How Does Google Rank Webpages?

May 27, 2011 by  Filed under: SEO 

The way Google decides the order sites appear in searches is often seen as intriguing and mysterious, yet a lot of it comes down to practical common sense.

What we do know about Google ranking is that it takes several variables into account. Google wants to be the best search engine in the world, and they are doing a pretty good job of that. In co-founder Larry Page’s own words, the ‘perfect search engine’ is the one which “understands exactly what you mean and gives you back exactly what you want.”

Google looks at the number of high quality sites that link back to your site and sees each of these links as a ‘vote’ on the relevance of the site in question. This is termed PageRank, but it is merely one of some 200 signals Google examine.

Search Engine functionality is a vastly more complex animal than what it once was, when it concentrated on keywords to represent relevance. Now content is examined more holistically and sites score more highly with fresher and more relevant updates. But they have to be relevant and there is also the possibility that a site with ‘too many’ updates will appear like it is trying to hoodwink the search engines and be marked down.

Google is going after the content farms, those sites that churn out unoriginal keyword-laden rubbish in an attempt to drag ad clicking affiliate-buying Googlers to their sites. And the link farms, where sites are set up purely to generate backlinks.

Rather surprisingly site traffic does not affect ranking, or if it does it does only very marginally. Although people are divided on this one. When you think about it, the number of hits a site gets can be manipulated by bots etc and in actual fact visitor rates do not necessarily reflect the quality of content. They reflect the quality of marketing. So that’s good news for the small to medium-sized business owner!

Other factors are your choice of domain name, and perhaps more importantly the site tag, the information that appears beside your search listing. In Ireland we are lucky to have a strong regional domain extension, the .ie. As anyone who has registered a .ie domain knows, these are not particularly straightforward to obtain, but they denote your site as being Irish-based and offer your business a sense of establishment. Whereas a .com domain that can be registered in a matter of seconds could be based almost anywhere, in a search bot’s eyes. This gives .ie domains a powerful advantage in local searches.

If you have a .com domain, yet yours is a country-specific business, then setting the site’s geographic location in Webmaster Tools, can help. You will find this under Site Configuration and Settings in Webmaster Tools.

Other factors that can affect your ranking adversely are dodgy or purely written HTML code and links that don’t work.

So what does this mean for you, the site owner who wants to climb to the first page of Google? Really it’s about giving your visitors what they want: an easy to navigate site with plenty of current and useful information. Use social media platforms, fora and directories to promote your site, but don’t go nuts. Too much too soon and links for the sake of linking can be flagged as spam.

The best advice is to give up on trying to fool the search engines into rating your site highly. Expend your energies instead on providing a pleasant user experience and useful, current information to keep them returning. This may increase the time it takes to reach page one of a Google search, but in the long run it is a considerably more sustainable approach.

Nick Morahan

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