How does Google Rank Websites?
Search engines have come a long way since the days of page rank and 10 blue links. With an ever-expanding amount of inputs, variables, and penalties, we will take a look how the search engine ranks the websites today and what that means for both users and webmasters.
Understanding What Google Wants to Serve
Google wants to better serve the needs of the users by understanding their search intent. Rather than matching strings of words, Google tries to understand the intent behind the search query.
- Country: People typically prefer local results. In different countries, words like football may have different meanings. People often prefer to buy from local merchants.
- Location: Many search queries have an implicit local intent. Google may show some results from the city the user is located in.
- Device: Mobile phones are harder to show results on than desktops. Google thus ranks pages with mobile friendly designs higher and inserts links to apps in the search results.
- Search and Click Data: Google leverages aggregate click data for spelling correction and measuring user satisfaction with the relts. Quick bounces back to the search result page coupled with a click on a different listing may indicate a poor user experience.
- Recent Searches: Google can look at chains of the search queries to help relate terms to one another and to rank authoritative results from later into the chain in earlier relate search queries.
- Past Behaviour: Google can leverage a user’s past click behaviour to personalize search results for queries with multiple parallel intents.
- RankBrain: For long tail search queries where Google has limited user data to leverage, they may try to relate the search to other searches they have more data on and leverage the user data from those related searches to influence the search results.
General Ranking Criteria
Google relies on more than 200 factors to rank websites in search results. Google has core general relevancy signals which act as a baseline outside the impacts of user intent. Below are a few ranking factors.
- Content: Content is one of the most important ranking factors. Content written in a natural tone is better than keyword focused or keyword stuffed content.
- Mobile Friendliness: With the increase in searches on mobile devices, Google released mobile first indexing which means Google is drawing results from mobile optimized websites first.
- Page Speed: To give a better user experience to its users, Google announced search engine algorithm update which is focused on mobile page speed.
- Site Link Authority: The authority of a site can be estimated in part based on the quantity and quality of links referencing to the site.
- Page Relevancy: While search engines try to understand user intent and match results with related words, prominently using the terms the user searched for within the page helps it rank better.
- Integrated Results: Integrated vertical results may use additional ranking signals. Locals might count local citations, apps might include user ratings, and aggregate usage metrics.
Everything which is trusted and weighted is something people may attempt to abuse. Google has manual and algorithmic penalties to discourage such efforts.
- Panda: Part of Google’s core algorithm which is based on factors related to content.
- Penguin: Part of Google’s core algorithm which is based largely on link quality and anchor text.
- Age: New sites may have their ability to rank capped for a period of time. Older results which are stale may also have their rankings dampened.
- Ads: Ad heavy pages may get ranked lower.
- Mobile: Mobile friendly sites with large interstitial app install ads or hard to read content may rank lower on mobiles.
- Duplicate Content: Search engines usually want to show a diverse set of results rather than listing the same article numerous times.
- Repetition: Excessive keyword repetition may get a page filtered.
- Manual Penalties: Applied granularly or site-wide. Can be for user generated spam or specific page or a site-wide penalty for lack of value addition, link spam, or other forms of spam.