What Determines Google Ranking?

  • 7 Nov, 2011
  • Jon Tucker

Although you’re familiar with Google and probably use it quite a bit, you may not know exactly what determines the Google ranking for your website. This is a common question clients ask us, so we thought the blog would be a great place to provide a simple explanation.

There are really two factors that determine whether or not Google ranks your website on the first page:

  1. Does Google understand what your website is about?
  2. Does Google consider you an authority in your niche?

Does Google Understand Your Website?

Think of Google like a human- Google goes through the internet and reads through various websites trying to understand what they’re about. Just like humans using a common language to speak to each other (i.e. if you don’t speak Chinese, then you’re not going to understand someone speaking Chinese to you), your website needs to communicate to Google in a certain way.

Ranking Tip- Speak to Google Using the Appropriate Technical Language

The first part of Google understanding your website involves the technical structure of the site- the website coding, the hierarchy of the main webpages and subpages, and other various aspects of the website.

At a minimum, a website needs to have text content that is accessible to Google on each page as Google uses text content to understand what a webpage is about. If your website is built in a way that doesn’t use text content that Google can read, then it’s going to be difficult to rank on the first page.

Ranking Tip- Tell Google That You’re About What Prospects Search For Online

Once Google is able to technically access your website, it’s important to tell Google what the topic of each of your webpages are. Specifically, you want to communicate to Google that your website is about what people in your industry are searching on for.

At a basic level, this is done by using unique and descriptive page titles for each page of your website- for example “Bell Bottom Jeans | Clothing Inc.” could be the webpage title if you sell clothing and are showing your bell bottom jeans on this particular page.

Technical Access and Keywords Is Only The First Step…

To be honest, ensuring Google is able to technically access your website and understand it to be about certain topics is not the most challenging aspect of SEO. The most challenging aspect of getting on Google’s first page is to convince Google that you’re the most important website about a certain topic, since there are bound to be other websites about your topic online.

Does Google Consider You An Authority?

The most important aspect of SEO is to communicate to Google that you are authoritative enough in your niche to be shown ahead of other websites in your industry. Google uses a range of ways to gauge authority, so let’s go back to the human example we used above to explain.

How Humans Determine Authority

If you were looking for a plumber then you might ask family and friends for referrals to plumbers they’ve used in the past. Referrals would be valued by you differently based on a number of different factors- mainly, your relationship / trust with the person giving the referral and the experience of that person in the plumbing industry.

For example, if your father in law in the construction industry recommends Joe the Plumber, then you’re likely to consider Joe a fairly good plumber since your father in law is a family member and knows the construction industry However, if you asked a stranger off the street who worked in pharmaceutical research what plumber he would recommend and he said Jane the Plumber, then you may not immediately consider Jane a great choice since you don’t have a relationship with the stranger that recommended Jane and that stranger is most likely not familiar with plumbing since they are in a very different profession.

Google Evaluates Referrals Between Various Websites to Gauge Authority

Google evaluates a website in a similar way as humans evaluate referrals and then decides whether or not to show the website on the first page of Google. For example, if a website has been “referred to” by other websites using a website link (like this), then Google is going to realize that other websites in the industry consider that website a valuable resource. If enough industry websites consider that website to be valuable enough to link their readers to, then Google will consider that website an authority as well. This is similar to if multiple people recommended the same plumber to you…

In addition, Google considers the authority of the referring website as well- 100’s of websites linking to a certain website does not guarantee that Google will consider it an authority. To ensure that a website is truly authoritative, Google considers the authority of the referring websites as well as a number of other factors. Again, this is similar to how you would value a trusted family members referral to a plumber more than a stranger’s referral.

How To Increase Your Google Ranking?

In short, the way to get your website to show up on the first page of Google is to

  1. Ensure Google is able to technically access your website
  2. Ensure that Google understands the topic(s) of your website, based on the text you use throughout your website
  3. Work hard to build the authority of your website in your niche by gaining referrals from other related websites in the industry.

The foundation of an SEO campaign should address all of the above- the website audit identifies any technical barriers Google has accessing your site, keyword research identifies the words you should be using on various webpages based on what prospects are searching for online, and link building helps to gradually build the authority of your website.

The purpose of this post is to explain the basics of how Google decides what websites to show on the first page of their search results- let us know any questions you have, either by contacting us or leaving a comment below, so that we can help you with your specific project.

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