How does Google rank websites in the search engine and what it means for your website?
For online marketing, especially in India, Google is king, lord and master. If Google is happy your business thrives and if Google is unhappy you are relegated to the dungeon of the inner pages where no one hears from you ever. I think there is no modern business in the world today that hasn’t been impacted by Google in some way or the other.
As a business owner or business executive you should be aware of how Google chooses the websites it shows on the first page of a search result. Although Search Engine Optimization is best left to the professionals, you should theoretically know the factors that affect your website’s rank on Google.
Let’s begin with a little history. Before Google there was the sun, the earth, the moon and various smaller search engines and directories which listed websites. ‘Listing’ is the right word because many of these directories and search engines were hand-curated i.e. a human being judged the site and gave it the relevant slot. Needless to say this was hardly an efficient method and as the internet exploded it wasn’t practical either. So the problem was how to sort and categorize websites automatically without involving humans.
An up and coming Google (whiz kids Larry Page and Sergey Brin) noticed a critical factor that became the cornerstone of Google’s search technology. They began to count the number of links pointed towards any website for any keyword. So if I linked to your site for say ‘web design’; that would be one inbound link for you. Google started ranking sites based on the number of links pointed to each site. The logic being if more people linked a site, surely the better the site must be; just like a person, the more friends he has, the more popular he will be and the better will be his reputation. This worked for a while.
But as with human nature, there is always someone smart out there trying to trick the system and soon counting links to a website became an easy target for spammers. So Google devised a new twist to the story. They started grading sites on a scale of 1-10, which was called its Page Rank (PR). Now PR also became a factor in the number of inbound links.
Google’s formula for determining the value of a website kept becoming more and more complex. It became known as the Google algorithm or formula. Google purposely kept changing the algorithm every few months to confuse and prevent people from gaming the system (basically cheating) . Search Engine Optimization experts through experience and observation kept trying to decipher the factors affecting the algorithm and manage the process accordingly. Till today Google’s formula is still evolving and becoming even more complex.
To get back to the present there are quite a few factors affecting how a site is ranked in Google. Let’s take a look at a few but important ones.
Meta Title and Description –
This is information about the webpage that goes right at the beginning of the website page in the source code i.e. in the html markup that makes up the web page. Meta data is defined as data about the data. Eg. The index of a book is the meta data of the book and not the data itself. So Google looks very closely at the meta Title and meta Description of the webpage.
Proportion of content to markup code –
Amount of times the keyword is mentioned on the web page –
Every page must be about something right? Unless written by a complete idiot, each page will have certain words which are important to the subject, what we call Keywords. Google looks at how many times the keywords are used in the content. If it feels that you are trying to fool it by stuffing unnecessary number of keywords in the page, down you go! This is also called keyword density.
Internal & External Linking –
Although the algorithm has changed drastically since early days, Google still gives value to internal and external links. Internal links are links within the website e.g. from the homepage to the about us page or vice versa. External links are when I link from my facebook/blog page to your web page page or vice versa i.e. link either takes you into or outside a website. The number and format of these links are a big factor on how Google ranks your site.
Lots of other smaller factors like
time it takes for the site to load, optimization of images on the site, broken links
etc all affect your ranking. A Search Engine Optimization professional will look at all these factors and help you create the most favorable website position called ‘search engine friendliness’.
Nowadays Google is exploring more factors to affect the search results such as
social media impact, originality of content, frequency of updates
and other such factors that are very difficult to fake or manipulate.
In conclusion the best advice would be to pay attention to the factors that affect Google’s ranking system but don’t try to be too smart and try to fool it. Ensure that your site has good original content and is useful for your visitors. In the long run the best strategy is a simple and clear strategy.