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How Google Search Engine Ranking Works
When a search is performed, search engines query their Index for relevant content and then serve that content to the user in order of relevancy. This order of search results by relevance is called ranking. The higher a website’s rank, the more relevant the search engine perceives that site is to the query.
Search engines use complex algorithms to determine relevance. Google makes algorithm adjustments every day. Most updates are minor tweaks, however others are major updates which fundamentally change how the results are generated.
Google’s algorithm is complex and uses over 200 ranking factors as of 2023. An industry authority has compiled a list here:
Whilst there are hundreds of ranking factors, the top four have stayed reasonably consistent. These are links to your website, on-page content (quality content that fulfils a searcher’s intent), and Website performance.
. These serve as third-party credibility signals
. How well the content answers the searcher’s question
. e.g. website speed and usability
There are two types of links which Google considers when ranking sites. Backlinks or ‘inbound links’ are links from other websites to your website, while internal links are links on your own site that point to other pages on the same site.
PageRank (part of Google’s ranking algorithm) is a link analysis algorithm. PageRank estimates the authority of a web page by measuring the quality and quantity of links pointing to it. The assumption is that a page with more links has a higher authority.
Website with more incoming links from other, high authority sites will generally rank higher in the search results.
A big part of determining where a page will rank for a query is how well the content matches the query’s intent. Does this page match the searched words and help answer the searcher’s question? Website owners should focus on creating quality on their site, which is unique, fresh and helpful to users.
Remember that content is more than just text. Google will also index video content and image content. When judging how relevant content is to a query, Google will consider:
. Whether the search terms appear in the content
. Longer is generally better
. Your content should be readable and well-structured with headings and subheadings
. Google will not rank highly content which is copied from another source
. Google prefers more recent or frequently updated content.
Google’s focus is user satisfaction and how well the content answers a query. Therefore there are no strict rules on content length, how many times it contains a keyword (the keyword density), or the content of your header tags. These all play a role a page’s search performance, but the focus should always be on creating great content which users find valuable.
Google measure a website performance using a set of metrics it calls ‘Core Web Vitals’. All other things being equal site with better performance will rank higher.
You can analyse the performance of your website here:
Website speed includes metrics that Google considers critical for your site’s user experience. It measures your website’s overall speed, responsiveness, and the loading speed of site elements such as fonts and images.
Google prioritised mobile search in 2019 and uses your website’s mobile version for indexing and ranking. It is therefore critical your website is responsive.
Google considers the experience the users have on a website and feeds this info into its ranking algorithm. For example, if a user spends very little time on a website, Google will assume it was not a good fit to the query and lower the rank in future searches. Factors Google considers are:
CTR (click-through rate)
. The percentage of searchers that click on a website’s link in the search results. Results which are clicked on more often will rise up the rankings
. If a high percentage of users click through to your site and then leave immediately, Google will judges that the page is not relevant to searchers and lower its rank.
. This is a measure of how long a visitor stays on your site after arriving from the Google search results. The longer the dwell time, the better your user engagement. Google interprets a longer engagement as a sign that content is more relevant for the user.
So how does this work in practice?
uses machine learning to monitors the search results and collects data, using this information to improve its predictions in real-time.
For example, suppose RankBrain notices a lower-ranking URL providing a better result to users than the higher-ranking URLs. In that case, RankBrain will adjust the results, increasing the more relevant result and demoting the lesser relevant pages.
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