We are often asked how Google determines the rank of a website for a particular keyword or search term on the search results. Whilst only Google can truly answer that question, there are several known criteria that affect a website’s ranking in the organic search results for a particular keyword or phrase.
Google Search aims to rank or index websites for a particular keyword or phrase by relevancy, to ensure that the user is presented with the most important and relevant websites first. To do this, Google uses an algorithm (ie. a set of rules to be followed to solve a problem) to measure the importance of a website’s page and order them in the search results based on the website’s relevancy to the user’s search keyword or phrase. Google's first algorithm, PageRank, was named after one of the founders of Google, Larry Page, and it works by counting the number and quality of links to a page to determine how important the website is. The underlying assumption is that more important websites are likely to receive more links from other websites.
PageRank is not the only algorithm used by Google to order search results but it is the first and most well know. It is estimated that Google’s algorithm relies on more than 200 unique criteria to accurately understand and rank a website. While some of these are crucial to your website being returned for relevant searches, there are several others that often get overlooked.
The domain can tell a lot about the quality of your website before a visitor or search bot has even visited it. Your domain should contain keywords that are relevant to your website, or if you have a well-established brand, this should be included in your domain. This immediately tells both website visitors and search engine bots what your website is about.
The history and age of your domain will tell search engines of your stability. A domain that has changed hands regularly may not enjoy the benefit of older backlinks.
Valuable domains are often paid for well in advance, while illegitimate throw away domains are often registered for a single year. Domains registered well into the future are considered to be of value and subsequently the website may be viewed in the same light.
Having a country code top level domain (eg. a .co.za domain for South African based websites) helps the website rank for searches in that particular country. This will however limit a website’s ability to rank internationally.
Title tags have historically been a major ranking factor. By including keywords in your title tag you are highlighting what you would like to promote on the page.
Title tags should be unique. Each page should have a single focus with the title explaining this. Pages with duplicated titles could be seen as being too similar or even the same with only one of the pages being saved to Google’s index.
The title tag should include the keywords or phrases being targeted on that page.
Content is king but there are a few additional points to cover when adding or editing content.
The reading level of the page should match that of your audience. While many in the SEO business would suggest that a basic reader level will see better rankings, it is generally agreed that an advanced reader level should be left to websites promoting services such as academia.
Proper grammar and spelling is a ranking signal. While poor grammar may give the impression that the website is of a sub-standard quality, spelling may go some way to targeting a specific audience. For example, English and American English are seen as two different languages.
Although seen as a weak sign, a website with numerous pages will benefit from not being classified as an affiliate or otherwise thin content website.
Google’s original algorithm, PageRank was heavily based on links. Today, both inbound and internal links remain crucial to the discovery and ranking of pages from each website. Keywords included in the anchor text (the text included in a hyperlink) can often provide more insight into a webpage than the page itself.
Breadcrumb navigation helps both visitors and search engines know where they are on a website with a user-friendly method of moving backwards from a single link on the page.
Outbound links to other authority websites may help signify trust. By linking to authority websites the content on your website may be considered more relevant with quality citations. Similarly links to low quality websites may reduce this trust factor.
While many factors help improve your relevancy and overall search visibility in your market, some tactics are likely to have a negative effect.
Popups are generally considered to be distracting and result in a lower quality of user experience. Too many popups will result in your website losing search traffic.
If your pages are ad heavy with many ads above the fold, Google may consider your website to be spammy or overly commercial.
Keyword stuffing either in your content or in meta tags will quickly flag to the Google bot that your website is of low quality or that your intention is to game the system. This has been known to result in a direct penalty.
As mentioned above, these ranking factors are only truly known to Google, however, we have noticed best results time and again by adhering to the above mentioned points.