Like everything in the world of internet marketing and trying to rank well in search engines (namely Google) there are a million and one things that can, and has, been written. This however is a quick and simple explanation of some of the most important factors for ranking a website in Google.
Take a minute and think about what Google is trying to do.
Google’s reputation is based off the fact that it shows people a good list of relevant webpages when they search for something on their search platform. If it showed a list of non-relevant and/or poor quality webpages then the person searching would not be happy. If the top ten search results were all spammy websites full of dodgy links or very poor quality content (and even poor design to some extent) people would soon stop using their search platform.
Google makes a hell of a lot of money from advertisers, so if nobody was using their platform to find information then this advertising money would disappear.
How does this affect what we do with our website?
So, now we understand what Google wants (actually what it needs) we can start to understand what we need to do with our websites so that they rank well. We need Google to see our webpages/websites as high quality, they need to provide the information that people are searching for. I talk about Google because it is by far the biggest search engine; however, everything written will apply to any search engine.
What can Google do to rank a website?
Initially, when a website is new Google can only base its judgement off what are known as onsite factors. Importantly the website/webpage content, which includes the main body of content and also the page title, headings, and general structure.
The content should be well written and original. There is no point in copying exactly what another website has already published. You can write about a similar topic of course but your words should be just that, your words. Along with your content, headings, and titles the URL (web address/domain name) can have some influence, although it probably is not as important as the content.
OK, Google sees your content and thinks it is decent and relevant for a search that is being carried out on its platform. It now shows your webpage to a user (in a list with other webpages). What happens now?
Importance of click-through rate.
Google shows your webpage (along with a few others) in the form of titles and descriptions. These titles are either taken directly from your webpage title or you can add what is known as a meta-title, where you consciously tell Google what to show in its search results. Google can ignore your request of course, but a lot of the time it does show this meta-title.
The small description that Google shows is also taken from your content by default, but you can also write a meta-description that you want Google to show. It is a good idea to do this because Google may pull out some random words from your content that are not that great.
Notice the big blue title and the description beneath. For the term ‘gravity forms tutorials’ that I searched for you see that this title and description are very good. I created a special meta-title and meta-description for this page on my website, and you can see the results here. The titles and descriptions of the other listing are in general OK, but if you want ‘Gravity Forms Tutorials’ I think my listing stands out and will get lots of clicks (hopefully).
Right, people see your webpage meta-title and meta-description. They will either click on it and link through to your website or they will click someone else’s link. This is click-through rate. The higher (percentage) click-through rate the better because of course Google thinks people are happy with what it is showing them otherwise they wouldn’t bother clicking your website link.
If more people are clicking on your link compared to other peoples links (slightly more complicated than this because the position of the webpage link on the search list has a big effect) then Google will think your webpage (or at least title and description) is more relevant for the particular search being carried out. So it will probably show it again or even rank it higher next time someone does the same (or very similar) search.
Right, when people eventually click on your webpage link Google suddenly has another parameter to assess. Google now asks itself:
‘how does the person who clicked your link in their search results interact with your webpage/website?’
Yes Google thinks your webpage and/or website is relevant for this particular search term but the acid test is how people (that came via its search results) interact with your website once they clicked through to it.
What can Google look at? Well it can judge the persons initial reactions. If the person clicks the back button in their web browser quickly and returns to the original search results this probably suggests something isn’t right. If lots visitors to your website do this, and importantly many more than do not click the back button, then Google gets a pretty good feeling that your webpage is not delivering what it hoped it would. It is probably a good idea to stop showing your webpage in its search results for the particular search that was being carried out.
The parameter associated to people who quickly click the back button in their web browser is known as bounce rate.
What causes a high bounce rate? You now need to think of the reasons people bounce off your website. One reason could be very poor quality content, poorly written or clearly spun content (the process of taking another piece of content and changing the order of some words and using synonyms etc.). You can normally spot spun articles, they read awfully. Oh, Google is also clever and can often spot spun content and knows your site is not that good, at least not compared to other websites that it could show people in its search results.
It could be that the content is not related to what the person was searching for. This could be because your webpage title and headings were misleading? This is just another reason for Google to stop showing your webpage. This may have occurred simply by mistake and your webpage could be good quality and just not related to this particular search term. However, if your website has lots of pages that seem to behave like this Google will know something is not right and your website (not just a particular webpage) will be deemed low quality, which is not good.
Poor website design.
What else makes people leave your site quickly? A poor layout/design. People are getting used to nice looking websites and whether consciously or not they associate a poorly designed website as poor quality. If your website looks bad people will simply click back to the search results and then try the next one in the list (i.e. someone else’s websites). Even something like a page full of unformatted text can be a put off for some people. Having a nicely laid out piece of content with images, headings and shorter paragraphs is more appealing.
If the experience on your website is good people will be more likely to hang around, thus reducing the bounce rate. Things such as lots of popup advertisements, signup forms, flashing ads within the content etc. can all cause someone to get annoyed and leave early.
Apart from onsite factors what can Google use as a metric to understand how good your website is? – How about if other websites thought your website was good?
If other websites were willing to tell their visitors about your website and even link directly to it then this must show that your site is good. Right? In theory yes and links from other websites (AKA backlinks) are a significant factor in how Google interprets the quality of your website, but it is not as simple as this.
[Do you get the link with this image?]
Not all backlinks are equal.
One link from an established high quality website is worth thousands of links from bog-standard poor quality websites. It used to be common practice (and it does still happen) that people just accumulated as many links as physically possible pointing to their webpages. These might be paid for links, swapped links, links they created themselves and so on. Google has become wise and with every update to its ranking calculations it becomes wiser. It even punishes sites with lots of poor backlinks because it sees these sites as poor quality and that they are trying to find loopholes in their ranking algorithm.
However, backlinks are still important and they just need to be genuine. If you get links from other websites that are based on similar or related topics to yours then great. If you get a link from a high authority or a long established website, fantastic. The more of these types of links the better. They are seen as votes across the web that your website is good.
One final note on backlinks. If you get lots and lots of backlinks for no apparent reason and then have long periods of getting no backlinks it can look dodgy. This can of course happen normally if you have an amazingly popular piece of content or you happen to get mentioned somewhere that boosts your websites kudos. However, if there is not an obvious reason to get a big boost in backlinks it can appear as though you engaged in some dodgy backlinking strategy (known as black-hat), which is frowned upon by Google.
Your website is not just one page or lots of standalone pages. It is a network of related pages and you should help people navigate your website. Have a main navigation bar of course but also link directly from within your content to other pieces of content on your website. People who read one webpage will now (hopefully) click through and read some of your other content. They will spend longer on your website and visit more pages. Google likes this because it shows people like your website and the original webpage it showed in its search results was probably right, or at least the person searching for the content was happy and would use them again.
A tip here is that if one of your webpages is doing well and gets a lot of visitors then you can insert a link to another piece of content (or more) that you want them to read. This will help your site do better in terms of visitor interaction.
Round up and a couple of other points for ranking in Google.
Two more things. Domain/website age and competitiveness. In a way these two factors are out of your hands, although in another way they are not. The sooner you start your website the better. It will gain domain age and at a certain level you will notice that you are beginning to rank higher. You can do nothing but if your site reaches a certain age Google will be likely to trust it more.
Competitiveness is something you can try and judge. What I mean is how many other webpages are there talking about certain keyword searches. These are the words or phrases people are typing into Google’s search platform. If Google has less relevant webpages to show then your webpage is likely to feature high up in the search results.
The final round up.
Again, as mentioned at the beginning of this article there are probably hundreds of factors that determine how webpages rank in Google but hopefully you can see that ultimately you just need to make a good website full of good content. Really that is all Google wants and in fact this is what Googles long-term survival counts on. If Google starts linking people through to rubbish irrelevant and spammy websites people will turn to another search engine. It’s as simple as that!
Yes you can spend hours and hours doing this and that but I suggest you focus on what is talked about here and let nature take its course. The most important thing is to focus on content. Get this right and you’ll be ok. Google will find your website, this will lead to backlinks, and your website will grow.
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