Get a Grip on Google Ranking and How it Works

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Time to read: 8 min, 15 sec

Today, I’ll explore Google ranking – the what, why, how, etc. If the way Google returns search results is fuzzy in your noggin, I hope I can clear the landscape for you and accurately portray what is going on behind the scenes when Google spits out answers to your online queries.  

This is probably review for search engine marketers, but if the idea of Google ranking and the methods to influence the search results are new to you, I’m tickled to explain this concept of search engine ranking to you – an idea that forms the basis for search engine optimization (SEO) as a super important field and a vital service for businesses in 2013.

growing in your understanding of Google Rankings

As an avid Google user, I have always been super thankful for Google’s capabilities to answer my questions. But when I first learned about algorithms and Google’s automated process of returning search results to users, I felt frustrated and a little angry that the search engines were so... impersonal, and powerful. I mean, who doesn’t look at the first page of the search results and that long list of “o’s” signifying the millions of search results for a given term, and feel sort of powerless, like Google controls the universe?

But (as I quickly learned in my SEO studies) I had a pretty underdeveloped, babyish understanding of search engines that prevented me from realizing three things:

  1. The algorithms Google uses to return search results are very sophisticated, take into account hundreds of factors, and are largely successful (if they weren’t, Google wouldn’t have become a verb in the Oxford English Dictionary).
  2. Google’s main customer is the user, just like you, and they are working to provide value to the user, just like you. They explain that their end goal is to “provide end-users with helpful, accurate search results.” This is not a battle – this is a team effort.
  3. You have more power and influence on the final search engine results than you think (otherwise, there would be no jobs in the SEO field, and no SEO field to begin with).

When I talk about Google ranking with non-SEO minds, they typically have a lot of questions – how does Google ranking work, exactly? Who decides what web pages rank first? How can you influence your site’s ranking?

I firmly believe that in 2013, everyone who wants visibility online – small businesses, large businesses, non-profits, and entrepreneurs – has got to get a grip on Google ranking. If you can, it will help you understand how to do Internet marketing better.

5 Questions About Google Ranking - answered

1. How does Google rank websites?

Google ranks the most helpful, valuable, and relevant results at the top of a page for a search query using complex algorithms that inform them about a website’s value. Because of the insanely large amount of searches performed on Google.com every day (more than one billion), the results are delivered through this automated computing process. Thanks to technology, Google is able to evaluate their best guess at a user’s intent and provide their top answers that will hopefully be exactly the right information that the user is looking for.

Here is what Google is doing behind the scenes to determine whether or not your website is the right answer to deliver to someone’s search query in the little “search” box:

Crawling:

Google has automated spiders, also known as “bots,” that regularly crawl web content to understand what it’s about. Sites with hundreds of pages take longer to crawl than sites with fewer pages – and the job of SEO’s is to make sure a site is easy to crawl and easy for Google to quickly interpret.

Indexing:

Once Google has crawled a site, they index it – basically, like categorizing a book at the library. Just like librarians shelve books based on author or genre, Google indexes content according to subject and quality level.

Then when a person searches “Best beaches in Mexico” or “How to grill steak,” Google returns the results they hope will be the most helpful. They don’t want to return something “spammy,” low-quality, or irrelevant, because it will be frustrating for the user and maybe even cause them to use another search engine (gasp).

Some of the factors Google includes in their algorithms include your site’s backlinks, keyword usage on your page and domain, social metrics, the amount of traffic your sites receives, among others. Check out SEOmoz’s 2011 Search Engine Ranking Factors to learn more.

2. What is a No. 1 ranking worth?

SEO companies regularly tell their clients that they want to get them to the top of the search results – and no wonder, because a #1 ranking does receive the highest percentage of clicks for a given search, around 42 percent. The 10th result on the first page of the search results actually gets 14 times FEWER CLICKS than the first result. Wow. This obviously means that a No. 1 ranking can often have a huge impact on business success. Thanks to Aaron Wall of SEOBook and his great blog post with extensive research on what a No. 1 ranking is worth.

Financially, let’s put things in perspective following an example Wall has on his blog. Let’s say your website is ranking No. 10 for a certain search term. At this spot, you are receiving 5,000 unique visitors every month. So if you were to jump to No. 1, you’d be getting approximately 70,000 views every month! And if you make $50 for every 1,000 page views, that’s an income of $3,500 a month. Not bad for marketing you don’t pay for (other than any SEO services you are using). 

Now, as you know from experience, the first result isn’t always the most relevant. But ranking first, whether or not it’s the answer a person is looking for, gives that web page a definite advantage in more clicks and more visibility. Think of billboards. A driver may not read your billboard, but if there’s no billboard to read, he has 0 percent chance of reading it. If you at least have a billboard, you have a chance of catching his attention, promoting your brand, and potentially gaining his loyalty, trust, and business!

Our goal for our clients is to be at the top of the list, but generally, the first page is a more realistic goal. Even being on the first page is an honor. The first page garners about 90 percent of all clicks, while the second page only earns about 10 percent. When was the last time you went to page two of the results for an answer to your question?

3. Why is ranking for the first page such a slow process?

There are over 14 billion web pages on the Internet. Although Google frequently updates its search results, you won’t jump to the top of the search results with a little SEO done to your site. Remember how I said that the algorithms are sophisticated? Well, spammers try to get to the top of the search results quick, too, and so Google won’t let that happen so easily. That’s why there are standards. That’s why Google crawls, indexes, and awards good sites with higher rankings. But with so many pages on the web, it won’t happen instantaneously.

This is a point of pain for clients who are disappointed when they don’t see first page results after a short period of SEO. It’s imperative to understand that there is no magic spell for ranking higher on Google faster. And Google will penalize low-quality SEO that intends to shoot you up faster. It’s a slow process when you do SEO the right way and seek a first page ranking by doing what Google’s doing: putting the user first with your user-friendly website and great content.

For a little more on this topic, check out our blog post on how often Google updates the search results.

4. How can I check my website’s Google ranking?

Well, simply searching your brand name and the keywords you’re targeting are a start – and then scroll through the search results and see if you can find yourself. There are also several great (and free, for a limited number of searches) tools that you can use to check how valuable Google sees your site as being.

  • Google Webmaster tools give you the chance to check your website for issues, view search terms that bring visitors to your site, and watch how skillfully Google crawls your site.
  • PageRank tools, like this free PageRank Checker. Page Rank is a term that originated from Google’s CEO Larry Page, and it gives a website a number between one and 10 based on the number of websites that link to a particular site.
  • Open Site Explorer is a tool offered by SEOmoz to gather information about your site’s link data and provide numbers like page authority, domain authority, linking root domains, and total links. This is super valuable for understanding how healthy your website is!

5. What can I do if I’m not ranking well at all?

It’s tough when your site’s not performing well in the search results, but you have a few options:

  • Perform basic SEO yourself.
  • Hire an SEO company to help you
  • Wait.

It’s really as simple as that. Ranking in the organic results is not an overnight process, just as trees take many years to grow tall and flower gardens don’t sprout up in an hour. But think of the beauty once it’s in full bloom!

Thanks for reading, and check back next Thursday for another SEO-themed post.

Written by Ryan Boog

Ryan Boog

I am the CEO of Happy Dog Web Productions. I look forward to taking web, mobile design and digital marketing to the next level with Happy Dog. Follow Happy Dog at @hdwebpros or me personally at @ryanboog. Are you a fellow Google nut? Add me to your circle.

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