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How Does Google Rank My Website?

When Google ranks your site, it looks for two things – authority and relevance. Let’s break this down to how it applies to small business…

 

AUTHORITY

As humans, we instinctively appreciate that if we read something on the CNN or BBC websites, it’s more likely to be true than if we read it in some random blog. The reason is because these are authoritative sites and we are more likely to trust in their veracity. In fact, you could visit any site on the web and get a feel for how reliable it is. You’d look for brands you recognized and you’d notice usability of the website and quality of the content.

 

Google knows this and also knows it matters. If you search for something, Google’s business depends on being able to return a correct and reliable answer. If you searched “when is Justin Bieber’s birthday”, you’d need the answer to be correct, otherwise you’d miss that festive day. (1st March, 1994, to save you the trouble). So over the years, Google has had to codify something that humans can generally do instinctively.

 

Google do this by assuming that people link up to sites they either trust, find interesting or that offer them something.Thinking about your own web usage, you’ll probably see that this is true.

 

PAGERANK

Google takes all these links and assigns the site a number between 1 and 10, where 1 is the least authoritative and 10 is the most. This system is called PageRank after the founder, Larry Page. (A note of caution, this explanation is very simplified – there are some more factors used to calculate PageRank, but these are the foundational basics explained. The more links a site has, the higher its PageRank will be). PageRank is a key ranking factor, so website owners are always looking to get more sites linking to their site. We call this ‘link building’.

One more thing to say about PageRank. It’s an exponential scale, so going from 1 to 2 is easier than going from 3 to 4, which in turn is easier than going from 5 to 6 and so on up to 10. There are just 11 sites which have a PageRank of 10 (or PR10).

To find out what your PageRank is by the way, just go to PR Checker or search for a relevant extension for Chrome or Firefox.

 

QUALITY LINKS

So, to improve your PageRank, you need more links. But not all links are equal. While every link will help you improve your PageRank, not every link will help you rank for a relevant term. Starbucks, for example, is an authoritative site if you’re looking for information on Starbucks, or indeed coffee, but less so if you’re researching shoes. This is evident for a human, but less so for a search engine.

What Google, and others do, is look at the links that the sites attract to help deduce what it’s all about. When people link to Starbucks for example, they probably use words like Starbucks, coffee or Starbucks coffee. By the way, the words people use in links, the ones that show up in blue after a search, are called anchor text:

Imagine an election. Every candidate wants as many votes with his or her name on it. In Google Rank world, the more votes cast for all candidates, the stronger the mandate of the eventual winner. So, everyone benefits from votes being cast generally, but individual candidates benefit most when you tick the box next to their name. Likewise, every link will benefit your site generally, but to rank for specific terms you need those terms reflected in the anchor text of the links coming to your site.

Oh yeah, and the sites those links come from matter too. Google knows that authoritative sites don’t link to non-authoritative sites. It’s a lot like dating, actually. Quality, hot, sexy sites link to other sites in their league. Ugly sites might also link to the hot sites, but the hotties rarely return the favor. Just like in the real world there are exceptions (although in SEO, we don’t call them Hugh Hefner) but generally the pattern holds.

What this means is that the more links you can get from quality sites, the more ‘quality’ your site becomes. You become hot by association, just like in high school. (And just like in high school, start hanging out with the losers, and you’ll lose your hotness. Links from low quality sites won’t do you many favors, and links from bad sites may actually harm you.)

What’s a bad site? Basically, sites with content that would match the spam folder in your email. Dodgy pharmaceuticals generally or the sites you wouldn’t want the kids or your grandma to see, that kind of thing. If you couldn’t show a site to your boss (without blushing), you probably don’t want links from that site. And in fact, you don’t want links from sites who get their links from these sites. (We call this a ‘bad link neighborhood’.) You want these sites as far removed from yours as possible.

Of course, you can’t control which sites link to you, so you need to make sure that your site’s ‘link profile’ (ie, the set of all websites that link to you) is strong. The more links you get from ‘bad neighborhoods’, the more links you need to get from good ones. It’s fixable, but just a little more work.

 

THERE’S A BIT MORE TO AUTHORITY…

That’s authority in a nutshell, but there are other factors involved too. If your site has lots of social interaction – if it’s shared a lot on Facebook or Twitter for example – that also helps. (The reasons why you share something, are almost identical to the reasons you link to something.) Similarly, domain age, and how well known your brand is also plays a big part.

 

OK, THAT’S AUTHORITY: NOW…

 

RELEVANCE

Relevance is easier to understand. When someone searches for something, Google needs to return a result that’s relevant for that search. You therefore need to make sure Google can understand what your site is about, otherwise you won’t get ranked. Because Google isn’t a human being, it can’t understand, for exampple, automobile and car are the same thing, so it’s important that all your content is written in the language your searchers are using.

 

Discovering the language your customers use is called keyword research. It’s something we spend a huge amount of time on when it comes to websites, because it’s so important for effective SEO. This may change (there is something called Latent Semantic Indexing, which really means ‘Google gets synonyms’) but until someone tells you otherwise, do thorough keyword research and create great content. Google will see you’re relevant, and you will rank.

Let’s say you sell shoes and you want to rank for as many ‘shoe’ terms as possible, but of course, not all of them. If someone searches “boots made for walking”, they’re probably looking for a song by Nancy Sinatra, rather than a nice new pair of walking boots. Keyword tools can help you get a sense of the tone of people’s searches, and the ones that are relevant to your business. Pick the ones you want, then build (or modify) your site accordingly.

Stick to a logical structure, with clear keyword-based navigation. So your homepage might talk about shoes, but then you could have a category page for men’s shoes, with subsections for men’s trainers, men’s boots, men’s office shoes and so on. Building your site this way, helps Google understand your content, and so is more likely to direct traffic your way. The more (quality) content you have, the more keywords you’ll rank for, and so the more traffic you’ll get.

If your website has this foundational thought into it, you’ll be amazed at the long tail traffic you’ll pick up.