If you stick around digital marketers for long enough, you might hear a common marketing joke: “The best place to hide a dead body is on the second page of the search results.” Because over 25% of searchers click the first Google search result—with almost none venturing beyond the first page—it’s safe to say this joke holds a bit of truth.
Of course, if you’re trying to make your business more visible online, these facts open the door to a mystery you’ll need to solve. How does Google rank search results, anyway, and how can you improve your ranking?
Because higher ranks mean more traffic, more leads, and more customers, figuring out how to climb to the top of the search results is crucial. If you’re not sure how Google’s mysterious algorithms rank websites, or what you can do about it, here’s what to know.
How Does Google Rank Search Results?
Before we get too far into discussing the intricacies of a website’s Google rank, it’s important to understand which search results we’re talking about.
When you perform a search on Google, you’ll see a list of pay-per-click (PPC) search results at the top of the page. Companies purchase these top-tier results through Google ads, so you’ll see the “Ad” badge next to each link.
We won’t be talking about these PPC results, which you can purchase for a fee. We’ll instead be talking about the unpaid results below the ads, called “organic results.”
To rank organic results, Google first has to understand the purpose and quality of your website. This helps Google match a user’s search intent with the content of your site.
Google uses digital bots, also called “spiders” or “crawlers,” to understand your site’s content. Essentially, Google sends these bots to travel through your site’s content and read, or “crawl,” each page by moving from one link to the next. The bots will take a close look at the intricacies of your site, including things like headings, content, images, load speed, and backend coding.
Once Google has this information, it adds the data to its existing “index.” This index is a huge library of every page Google has access to. It’s what allows Google to provide quick results to users’ queries by providing information it knows is relevant to their search.
What Factors Decide Where a Site Appears in the Rankings?
It’s worth noting, of course, that Google has millions upon millions of pages in its index for any given search query. How does the search engine decide which pages should appear at the top of the search results and which pages don’t deserve top billing?
First of all, Google works to decipher the intent behind a user’s search query. It uses complex language models to understand what a user wants from their search, though this can be more difficult with less specific queries.
Once Google knows what the user is searching for, it pairs the search with the most relevant, timely, and valuable answers from top-quality sites. The search engine considers factors like the quality of the site’s content, when the content was posted, and the number of backlinks the site has.
In other words, the top-ranked sites will provide information that Google believes most closely matches the searcher’s keyword. They’ll also have pages that Google’s bots have found to be valuable, authoritative, and trustworthy.
How and When Does Google Change the Website Rankings?
If your website has a less-than-stellar position in the rankings, you may be wondering how and when you’ll have the opportunity to boost that position. If you’re not sure where you stand, this Google rank checker can help.
Ranking changes happen as a result of tweaks to Google’s algorithm, whose most important factor is Google’s PageRank. Google doesn’t publish information about this algorithm, nor does it announce updates. This means that most of the information we have about it, and about how to improve a site’s rankings, have come from marketer research and trial-and-error testing.
The good news is that it’s clear that Google changes its website rankings on a regular basis. You can expect to see minor changes happening almost daily, and Google will also perform a larger update of its search algorithm every few months.
In other words, you have ongoing opportunities to improve your website’s search rankings, allowing you to make small leaps on a regular basis!
How Can You Improve Your Google Rankings?
Now is the time to dig into a key question: what can you do to improve your rankings in the Google search results?
As mentioned above, Google’s crawlers look at a large number of things when they travel through your website. Making sure that you’ve done all you can to improve every known ranking factor can help. On a fundamental level, don’t forget that Google’s goal is to provide value to its users, so doing what you can to improve the quality of your site and the value of its content will always go a long way.
Investing in search engine optimization (SEO) strategies is your best bet. SEO can help you on a number of levels:
- Technical SEO can help improve your site’s structure and compatibility with Google’s guidelines
- Content and on-page SEO ensures that you’re providing helpful, easy-to-read content that informs and educates
- Off-page SEO can help you secure valuable backlinks, showing Google that your site is important and reputable
- Local SEO can show Google that you’re a good match for search queries coming from people in a specific area
When you work to optimize your website, it shows Google that your website is authoritative and helpful enough to provide value to searchers—which is always a good thing!
Climb Your Way to the Top of the Search Results
Google’s algorithm may seem like a mystery, but the truth is that there are plenty of things you can do to make your website more visible online. Now that you’ve stopped wondering, “How does Google rank search results, anyway?” it’s time to start improving your site!
Because Google makes such regular updates, making small but ongoing tweaks to optimize your website can go a long way. With a little hard work, you’ll find yourself climbing to the top of the search results over time.
As you work to improve your rankings, be sure to check out our other content for more tips on digital marketing and more.