Every time you initiate a search, there are thousands, sometimes millions, of web pages with helpful information. How Google determines which results to show starts long before you even type in your query.
Google doesn’t look at your site like we humans do; it looks at your site’s code.
How Search Engines Work
Search engines send out search engine “spiders” to find pages on the internet, for web indexing. A search engine spider is a web crawler, an Internet bot that browses the world wide web (thus, the term “spider” – get it? Spider – web?).
The spiders crawl each page’s code, then that page is added to the search engine’s index, which is a stored or cached collection of pages. When you do a Google search, the results you get back aren’t “live” – they’re pages from its index. When you type a query into Google, it searches for pages in its index that match your question. And, that’s how you get Google results so fast - within milliseconds.
And FYI – Google has over 130 trillion pages in its index. That’s trillion, with a “t”.
Google compares its index to a library, except that it contains more information than in all the world’s libraries put together.
The web is like an ever-growing library with billions of books and no central filing system. We use software known as web crawlers to discover publicly available web pages. Crawlers look at web pages and follow links on those pages, much like you would if you were browsing content on the web. They go from link to link and bring data about those webpages back to Google’s servers.
Organizing Information by Indexing
When crawlers find a webpage, they extract the content of the page, just as a browser does. Google takes note of key signals — from keywords to website freshness — and it keeps track of it all in the Search index.
The Google Search index contains hundreds of billions of web pages and is well over 100,000,000 gigabytes in size. It’s like the index in the back of a book — with an entry for every word seen on every webpage we index. When we index a web page, we add it to the entries for all of the words it contains.
What happens after your website pages are crawled and indexed? The get ranked by Google, and how they get ranked is based on hundreds of factors in Google’s algorithm.
How Search Engines Organize Information
The crawling process begins with a list of web addresses from past crawls and sitemaps provided by website owners. As the Google crawlers visit these websites, they use links on those sites to discover other pages. These crawlers pay special attention to new sites, changes to existing sites and dead links.
Google provides you with instructions concerning how to process the pages on your site. You can request a recrawl or you can opt out of crawling altogether using a file called “robots.txt”.
Google never accepts payment to crawl a site more frequently; they provide the same tools to all websites to ensure the best possible results for users. (They do, however, accept payment for ads and give preferential placement to those companies that pay for ads. But that’s another story. We’re discussing organic search here.)
Important Search Engine Ranking Factors
So now you have a basic understanding of how Google uses spiders to crawl the pages in your website, place those pages in their ginormous index, and then rank your pages for how they will get shown on the SERP (search engine results page).
Now the question becomes: how can you get your web pages to rank well in Google search?
Google tells us that they use 200+ ranking factors in their search algorithms. That’s a lot. But at their most basic, they can be broken down into three major categories: relevancy, authority and quality.
Relevancy is how well a page matches someone’s search. For example, let’s say you searched for “recipe for tomato sauce” in Google. Google is going to scan its index to find pages that are about “recipes for tomato sauce”. It won’t show you results for “recipes for chocolate cake”.
Authority is how much Google trusts the content on a page. And they measure authority primarily based on links you site receives from other sites.
Here’s what Google says:
For a typical query, there are thousands, even millions, of web pages with potentially relevant information. So, the help rank the best pages first, we write algorithms to evaluate how useful these web pages are. These algorithms analyze hundreds of different factors to try to surface the best information the web can offer, from the freshness of the content, to the number of times your search terms appear and if other prominent websites on the subject link to the page, that’s a good sign the content is of high quality.
The more links your page has pointing to it, the more authority that page has to Google.
Quality is based on a few different factors, like your site’s online reputation, your content’s structure, and how users interact with your site in the search results.
2019 Search Engine Ranking Factors
Quality content is THE most crucial ranking factory. When it comes to SEO, what does "quality content" look like?
Google looks for content that completely answers someone’s search question. That’s one reason why long content ranks better than shorter articles. So, you want to make sure your content is thorough and complete.
Think like a person who is searching for what you sell, and ask yourself: does my content satisfy what that person wanted when they initiated the Google search? Your content must be useful, and the useful some more. Insanely useful.
Finally, quality, SEO-friendly content is well organized and structured. Organized, structured content is easy for a site visitor to read. Which means that visitors to your site can get the answer to their question faster. And when your content is organized into section, it helps Google understand what your content is about.
A Crawlable Page
To rank in search, it’s important that the search engines can fully crawl and index the content on your pages.
If search engines are blocked from accessing the page (for example, from Robots.txt), they won’t index the page at all.
Google makes it easy for you to check if your page is fully accessible to search engines by using the “URL Inspection” feature in the Google Search Console.
Optimized for Mobile
Google has said that: “Mobile pages that provide a poor searcher experience can be demoted in rankings or displayed with a warning in mobile search results.”
In other words: To rank in 2019, your site must work well on any device. And that means desktops, tablets and TVs, in addition to phones.
Again, Google makes it easy for you to check if your site is device friendly. Its “Mobile-Friendly Test” will tell you whether or not your page is optimized for mobile. Plus it gives you specific recommendations for how to fix anything that might be wrong.
Number of Backlinks
A backlink is like an endorsement from another website. Search engines take these endorsements into consideration when ranking your pages -- they regard Backlinks as a sign of your site's authority. Backlinks get used to determine which pages deserve to rank in the top 10. The more backlinks a page gets, the better it will rank in search engines.
Site Loading Speed
Your site’s loading speed is an important ranking factor. (Especially how quickly your page loads on mobile devices) In fact, Google has said that “page speed is a ranking factor for mobile searches.”
Bottom line: If you want to rank for a keyword, that keyword must be used on your pages. Otherwise, Google won’t know that your pages are about that keyword.
And here’s where we warn you not to overuse your keyword. That’s called “keyword stuffing”, and can have a negative impact on your search results.
Also - You don’t need to use your exact keyword every time. Variations of your main keyword in your content are more than acceptable. For example, if your keyword is “herbal tea”, you can also use terms like “Chamomile tea” and “tea without caffeine”, etc.
RankBrain is the machine-learning or Artificial Intelligence (AI) part of Google’s algorithm, and Google has confirmed that RankBrain is one of their “top 3” ranking factors. RankBrain’s main job is to figure out what a searcher wants, and then give them the best results for that search. It “learns” what searchers want by monitoring how they use search results, how long they stay on a page they go to, etc.
Search Intent Match
In 2019, SEO experts are reporting that Google is downgrading traditional ranking factors, like keywords and links, in favor of ranking factors that answer the question: “Does this content give the searcher what they were looking for?”
Google employs thousands of “Quality Raters” to measure how well the search results satisfy search intent.
Google monitors how you interact with the search results you get for a query. For example, if you click away from the first result, and thenreturn to the search results, Google interprets that as a signal that the result didn’t satisfy your search intent. There is even a term for this activity: bouncing around the results is called “Pogosticking”.
However, if you click on a search result and stay on that page, Google takes that as a sign that you got exactly what you were looking for, and it will push that result to the top.
Google wants to make sure that the content on your website is relevant and up-to-date - it does not want to rank out-of-date material or send users to pages with outdated information. It measures freshness, it checks to see if content has been updated since you published it and how often you updated it.
But it also uses User Experience Signals to see if people start interacting with your content differently when its been on your site for a while. For example, are people bouncing away from your page if they determine your content is outdated?
Here's the 64 thousand dollar question: How often should you update your website? If you’re reporting the latest score of a sports game, you have to update constantly, while results about George Washington may remain unchanged for a long at a time.
Recommendations vary, but once a year for a typical website update should be often enough.
Google’s newest Search Quality Guidelines state: “…the amount of expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness (E-A-T) is very important”.
What this means is that Google wants to promote content written by experts on a topic. Your authority and trustworthiness comes from your site’s transparency and how easy it is for users to contact you.
Trustworthiness is also measured by your business’s reputation other than on your website. Google monitors what people online are saying about your business and your site. We've reported more than once on the importance of recommendations and reviews -- on your website, on your (up-to-date) Google My Business page, on Yelp and on any other review sites.
If your site has a reputation for publishing useful, trusted content, that’s going to help your rankings in a major way.
The web is constantly evolving, with hundreds of new web pages published every second. Thus, Google handles trillions of searches each year. Google’s challenge is to build search algorithms that can serve the most useful results for all these queries.
And your challenge, as a website owner, is to do everything possible to rank for search.
The SEO experts at DigitalMX Online are ready and able to assist you in getting your website in shape for the best possible search results placement.
Sources Used in This Article and For Further Reading