Lesson 2: How does Google rank sites?


So by now you know that Google runs a complex algorithm to understand and score websites, but today we're going to get into how that scoring works in a bit more depth. 

Google is a business, and wants to deliver the best possible experience to its customers (the individuals doing the searching) and, because of this, it's always looking for pages that provide high-quality, trustworthy, relevant information.

But how does Google figure this out? 

As Google’s algorithm crawls your website content, it essentially has different categories that it is scoring that content on. Quality, trust, and authority are three such categories (and are definitely the most important), but there are hundreds more. 

The more categories you're able to be scored on, and the higher your score in each category, the better your search ranking will be!

Now, because Google's algorithm is the basis of their entire business and their trade secret that makes their search engine better than any other, they won't actually tell us exactly how it works. But they do share a bit and bunch of very smart people have dedicated a lot of their lives to figuring it out, so we can come to some pretty firm conclusions on what it's looking for. 

When the Google Machine is scoring for quality, it's really looking to see how interesting, unique, or valuable what your offering is, so finding a way to differentiate yourself from the competition here is important; whether that's adding in details that the competition doesn't or getting creative with how you say things. 

For example, say you're selling artisanal bean to bar chocolates and want to stand out. Your product descriptions could include additional information like where the cocoa beans were sourced, what the bar pairs best with, or even talk about how the turmeric you put in it is good for inflammation. All of these things show you're offering more than the competition, but also that you've carefully thought about your content and put a lot of time and effort into it and Google will reward you for that!

Some other important to Google when it comes to quality are: 

  • That your copy is factual, accurate, and clearly written. 

  • If you're selling products, they should be easy to find and purchase. 

  • Your website should be well maintained, meaning your links work, your images load, and you're continuing to add more content over time. 

  • Your main content should be front and center on your page and, if you have ads, they shouldn't be mixed in with that content. Make sure there is a clear separation between them!

  • And last, but not least, Google likes when you provide thoughtful supplementary content that supports the goal of your main content. If you have a blog, then link to that article on turmeric's healing properties on the page you're selling your chocolate bar. It'll go a long way!

There are lots of shady people out there and Google doesn't want to be the one who get's their customers stuck in some kind of con game, so they score websites on trustworthiness and factor this into how they rank sites on the SERPs.

The quality of your content plays a big role in this, but its also about who you link to and who links back to you. Sites that end with .gov or .edu are ultra trustworthy, but big publications, brands and service providers are also viewed by Google as reliable. Linking to them is easy, but the real challenge (and what will ultimately make the biggest difference) is getting these sites to feature you. There's no one perfect way to do this, but ultimately it's about getting press so get out there and put those networking pants on. 

Of course, there are some other things you can do yourself to boost your trustworthiness in Google's eyes, even if Harvard.edu won't feature you:

  • Make sure your site has a privacy policy, terms, and conditions, and discloses whether it is an affiliate of anything. 

  • Watch those customer reviews because if you get lots and lots of bad ones for a prolonged period of time, it could affect your trust score. 

  • Keep an eye on your bounce rates. If no one is staying on your site for more than a second, Google interprets this as meaning something is wrong. 

  • Create a detailed and thorough About Us page. 

  • Maintain active social media accounts and share content through them that links back to your site. 

  • Make sure your information on the WhoIs register matches the information you have on your site. 

  • Register your domain for 2 or more years. 

You wouldn't ask your mailman how to replace your dishwasher. You'd try and find someone who has more relevant experience and someone who has more authority to speak on the issue, like a plumber. And that's exactly why Google scores websites on this, so that when someone searches "plumber in Vancouver" they don't end up getting advice from someone who is unqualified to give it. 

Authority is provided largely in part through links. Every third party page that links to yours is like a ringing endorsement of your authority and legitimacy and the higher the authority score of the page that links to yours is, the higher yours will become. 

Of course, your content also needs to be relevant for those links to have any effect on your score. If a hundred property developers link to your page, but you're still selling chocolate, then those links won't really serve to bolster your authority. It'd be much more meaningful if Bon Appetit or Lindt linked to you instead. 

Authority is a battle that is often won in the long term, not the short, but if you focus on creating quality content and reaching out to relevant people and ask them to link to that content, you'll score will gradually improve over time. 

That covers the fundamentals, but you can now take a few minutes to think about all of this in the context of your site. What one thing can you do right now to improve in one of these three areas?

Phew! You made it! Lesson 2 is done, when you’re ready head over to Lesson 3!

Salt Design Co.