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Back to Basics – Part 2 – How Ranking, Search Engines Works

In this part of our Basics series we will introduce the essential elements of how Search Engines rank websites and how site organisation and structure impact on this.

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Optimising Organic Search Results (Industry jargon; ‘organic search’, ‘SEO’)

In the introduction to the two main types of search results Google handles,  (‘Paid Search’ and ‘Organic Search’ ) we covered a little bit about the terminology and how the Google SERP pages work when you type in a query.

Now we will look a bit more at how search engines work, and in this and the next how to design your site to do better for improving the listing you get in the SERP’s.

This is all very useful for getting your website to rank higher up the results list for a search term, hopefully onto the first page or even the top.

Google has to interpret what users want when they type a question in. This process is complicated, but Google looks at a number of things. If you type a specific term in that is very peculiar to material on your site, or its URL, and is NOT similar to other sites, then Google is able to interpret it easily and will likely put your site at the top of the organics area on the SERP page. It will find similar content on your site (or a description you put into a special ‘tag’) and you will see snippets containing this with matching keywords under the links for these results in the SERP page.  The more matching and the closer together in a section of text these keywords appear, the higher relevance Google thinks these pages have.

Great, but if you have a lot of competition, and given that more general and ambiguous terms are likely to be put to the search engine, you are going to have to work hard to get a good listing on these.  For more general search terms Google will look at several major factors to decide which site should go up where.

And when we design a website, we have to design it so we help Google choose us for relevant search queries over our competitors!

The first step is to organise your site. You need to put up relevant content, in the right pages. To do this we start with a category tree. The content of each page needs a title tag (also called a Page Title) and you want to have a relevant number of pages and categories for different search terms related to different content. If you have many products or services you will need to organise the site to have relevant areas to different groups of products and give them each a properly named title.

To identify what pages you want you can start by doing keyword research using online services, which tell you what search terms people are putting in for things you are selling. Matching things up to areas of search by the public is helpful to tell Google where to send people.  You don’t want the wrong page showing up.  By theming material together on relevant pages, Google takes the search term, and then looks for pages on your site that match up, by looking at the Page Title (title tag), and the content. It will look for similar search terms in these pages.  However, Google doesn’t like people using ‘thin’ content and search term ‘stuffing’ into the content in order to artificially boost the apparent relevancy of the page. It has ways of spotting bad practices like this.

Google then, if it finds a good quality match, boosts you up the results page.

You don’t want to create too many pages either, or duplicate pages with different search phrases stuffed in them that essentially do the same things. Duplicating pages can be very harmful to SEO.

You need to help Google to correctly interpret your site, so you should add a site map to your site. This helps ensure the right pages show up for certain search terms that you want users to go to first.

After the site map is installed on your site you have to use another facility from Google called “WebMaster Tools” to inform Google, which then visits and ‘crawls’ your site to find relevant info.

How Google Finds You and Ranks You

Having a an intelligently themed site is important for organic search. It can also be important for paid search.  This is because you will still usually link up an advert to an area of the site relevant to that ad, and Google also factors in relevancy and other quality scores it gives to your site, into the bidding process for adverts, so that you actually pay more for the ad if you have a low quality score for that ad, and vice versa, if your quality score is high, you can get higher up the results when bidding without spending more. To assist with a good quality score in paid adverts,

Google looks at the content and URL’s of the page on your site linked to by that ad, and how well the ad text matches up with the destination.

Google will assess your site structure and ease of navigation when ranking your site, so site organisation is important for this, and for getting the most from visitors by making it easy to navigate. It also makes it easier for you because it should be easier to keep it organised.

Google is adding lots more factors in choosing where to put websites on its SERP’s, that are based on quality factors for the whole website – so-called ‘Domain Authority’ – this will relate to other indicators of the quality of your site, such as how mobile phone friendly it is (how well your pages display on Tablets and Mobiles). It will factor in page load time as well.  Many of these quality factors are being gradually introduced at the moment and will become bigger factors in the future. Google tells us that to avoid problems here, you need to build your site as one of two types – a Responsive or Adaptive Website. These sites know how to adapt to different screens and operating systems, giving maximum useability and search ranking results on Google when those devices are being used. As tablets and smartphones are starting to rival the desktop, and most marketers forecast they will overtake the desktop, this is of increasing importance.

‘Bounce rate’ is a term that refers to people who visit your site and then immediately leave it.  If they got to your site from a Google SERP you might expect that to be used in the rankings. It isn’t (at present).

But this is just those factors relating to your site.  Google originally was famous for using another method to decide which sites go at the top of a ‘SERP’ – the number of ‘Backlinks‘  – this is the number of links people have put on other sites that go to your pages.

See the Wikipedia entry on Backlinks;

This has evolved and because bad marketers in the past paid people or used ‘robots’ to insert links all over the internet pointing to a clients site, Google is using this method less and with more discrimination, so it is refining the way it uses these inbound links to your site. It can spot ‘spammy’ practices, and de-rank you for exploiting this method too much. It tries to sort genuine from the chaff.

But good practices, even including paying bloggers on other sites, can still be employed to greatly boost traffic to your site, even if you don’t actually rank higher.  A link can give you free traffic regardless of it’s effect on SEO, so bear this in mind. Paying bloggers on other sites, can still work, provided they are good quality sites and bloggers – if they write good quality and relevant content and follow certain rules, and those sites host block ‘spammy’ links and are not overly commercial in content….can dramatically boost your organic page ranking. Google still uses inbound links in how it ranks your site, as long as they are of the right quality.

In general the quality of the blog and the content quality on your site will boost page rank.

The quality of content means relevance and being well written (i.e. punctuation and spelling) and being useful and informative is key. The author that writes the blog gets rated too for authority.

This is a big part of what is called ‘Content Marketing

If you do something well and have interesting and useful content or products, its more likely you will get someone posting a link for free, but you can also pay bloggers and publishers to produce content with links.  As said, if this blog or article is well managed and not overtly commercial in nature, then this can boost your organic listings. See more on this in Part 4.

For some detailed information on Googles ‘PageRank’ Algorithms, see here.

Page ranks through links“Mathematical PageRanks for a simple network, expressed as percentages. (Google uses a logarithmic scale.) Page C has a higher PageRank than Page E, even though there are fewer links to C; the one link to C comes from an important page and hence is of high value.”

Next, Part 3 introduces the effects of elements in the page, page tags and the effect of content on SERP rankings.

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