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Understanding Google’s Algorithm

search resultsWe all know that Google tells us that there are more than 200 different signals that are used to determine the ranking of the search results.  We are very familiar with many of these signals like keywords, domain name, page rank, inbound links, longevity of a website, traffic, click through rate, etc.  Each of these signals carry different weight and some signals can be superseded by other signals.  Let me explain.

Longevity is a ranking signal.  A website that has been around for a long time will score points over a brand new website that just came online a few minutes ago.  But obviously the age of a website can’t be the only factor.  Otherwise, new websites would never have a chance.  So Google looks at other signals.  A new website that is getting a ton of traffic and positive social signals can quickly compete and outrank the older website.

Another long established signal is page rank.  A website that has a high page ranking has an easier time of getting its content to rank on page one of the search results than a website with a low page rank.  However, Google has realized that a website with low page rank can also have outstanding content so it is also now looking at other factors like positive social signals and possible the expertise of the author.

I first encountered the flexibility of these shifting Google algorithms in my early days of hands on local SEO.  I worked with many new businesses that were just starting and wanted to be on the first page of the search results in what was then a 10 pack for local listings.

The challenge was that many established business with inbound links already occupied the top positions.  So I turned to other ranking indicators.  I optimized both the local Google listing and the clients website.  Although we were weak in some signals we excelled in other signals and achieved top rankings.

I began to look at the Google algorithm as a cumulative score.  If a client scored low in one area like longevity or inbound links they could overcome that short coming by being stronger with keywords and traffic.

The reason I’m writing this article is to take away the excuses.  I hear knowledgeable people in SEO saying that somebody ranks higher than them because they have a better domain name, or better page rank.

Domain names are helpful.  It is one of the first signals to tell the Google bot what the domain is about, but it’s only that.  It is only a traffic sign on the digital highway that gives Google a heads up on the content in the website.  If that content isn’t relevant to a searcher’s query and pass other algorithmic conditions, Google will not rank it high in the search results.  By the same token, content on another site with a non-related domain name can get top rankings if it excels in other ranking signals.

I know this is an oversimplification, but it is a place to start:

The first goal in top rankings is to make it easy for Google to find your content.  This can be done with domain names, but more often with page titles and meta description.

The next requirement is that your content is relevant to the search words.  If a person is searching for a keyword that keyword should be in your content and more than once.  Google needs to know that your content is relevant to the search terms.  And the more relevant the better.

Finally, Google needs to know that it can trust your content.  This is done by page rank, but it also can be accomplished with positive social signals like sharing, comments, and plus ones.  There is also growing evidence that Google has created a way to rank the expertise of authors.