How Search Engines Rank Pages
How Do Search Engines Rank Pages
The first Search engines were no more than word simple word counters that made use of on page criteria such as the Meta keywords, description tags and body text. It didn’t take webmasters long to discover how easy it was to manipulate search engine results through keyword stuffing or inserting highly searched terms into the keywords tag. Ultimately, this lowered the quality of search results and frustrated the searcher.
When Google appeared on the scene and introduced their PageRank system results became more difficult to game. PageRank counts links that point to any given page as a vote for that page i.e. the more votes a page received the more important the page became. Other search engines followed Google’s lead and introduced similar link based metrics to their algorithms.
Reciprocal links no longer drive rankings the way they used to, the keyword tag is all but useless and keyword stuffing does more harm than good. Although search engines are still contextual by nature they look way beyond the words that are written on the page when deciding relevancy. Links still play a large part in this but it is no longer a simple numbers game, trust, relevancy, link text and age of the link all play a significant part.
As well as what you say your pages are about, search engines also consider what others say about your pages and how visitors interact with your site as valuable indicators to the value of your pages as a destination resource for their users. This is done not only to refer searchers to the most relevant web pages but to protect their brand and market share.
What You Say About Your Pages
The words you use to describe your services are the most easy to manipulate, for this reason they are awarded less weight than you might think. For example, a webpage that contains the best recipe for pecan pie will never rank on the quality of the content alone; it requires trust, social proof and links.
Search engine rankings don’t happen overnight especially if you have just launched a new website on a brand new domain. There are many ways that search engines measure trust:
- The age of the domain
- The age of links pointing to web pages
- How often content is updated
- The speed at which links are acquired
- How long a domain has been registered for
Trust isn’t based on a snapshot of your site as is, rather historical data is considered. Older domains that have grandfathered links will rank much easier than new sites that search engines know nothing about. So will domains that have been registered well into the future. Unfortunately, this means that new sites start off their life with a handicap, thankfully this lessens over time. This is a precaution that search engine use to combat spammers who set up throw away domains registered for one year with the sole intention of taking your money and disappearing.
If you are about to launch a new website or your domain is up for renewal re-register for 10 years or more.
Freshness of content can indicate whether a site is maintained or abandoned. The web is littered with abandoned websites and blogs where the owner has lost interest or moved on to something else. Regularly adding pages and keeping existing pages updated indicates that a site is still active.
Search engines also look at the speed at which you acquire and loose links. If overnight you gain 1000 links to your site when you normally gain only one or two a month you are going to create a noticeable blip on the search engines radar. If those links are the result of a topical event that your site covers then this is fine otherwise all your hard work (or hard earned cash if you are buying links) could be for nothing as those links will probably be devalued. Search engines are very good at distinguishing between topical events/hot topics and link spam. Note that it is the links that will be devalued not the website they point at, otherwise your competitors could purchase thousands of links and point them to your site with the aim of damaging your rankings.
Never scrimp on hosting and stay clear of free hosting if you want to be taken seriously by search engines and customers. Always host in the country of your target audience, if your audience is global consider setting up language specific sub-domains and host those sub-domains within their target countries. For example a .com hosted in the US that targets UK customers will be excluded from the UK only results on Google.co.uk.
Also consider purchasing a unique IP address and setting up your own DNS. If you feel this is out with your skills most web development companies will help you do this. This step alone can bring about significant ranking improvements.
When pages are listed in the search engine results they are headed up with the page title followed by the page description snippet. If your title and description fail to entice clicks and preference is given to other listings rankings can tumble. Google knows what results they are serving up and which ones receive clicks; its makes perfect commercial sense for them to give a little extra weight to those results that enjoy a high click through rate.
Now that you have a visitor on your site does he/she immediately hit the back button or stick around and read you content and visit other pages. If they immediately hit the back button it could indicate that your content is not what the searcher was looking for or it has been presented in a way that has made it difficult to locate the information they were seeking.
A/B split testing and multivariant testing allow you to set up control pages and test different layouts, simple changing an image, background colour or switching to benefit driven headlines can reduce bounce rate and improve conversions dramatically.
For those of you wondering how Google gets this information... think Google Toolbar. For those wondering how you get the same information, Google offer free analytics and multivariant testing which offer an easy to set up and use solution.
Without links there would be no web, links form the pathways between pages that let us navigate the billions of pages online. Links also carry vital information about the page they point to. A link that points to a page that says ‘Pecan Pie Recipe’ lets us know what the page is about it also lets search engines know what the page is about. If search engines detect many links pointing to the same page all saying the same thing then there is a strong possibility that the page is a good resource to refer searchers.
Links are given extra weight because of the extra editorial control usually associated to them. While it is easy to ad links to your own site it is more difficult to get other webmasters to link to you. If those pages are relevant to yours the link will be more valuable, if they are also trusted pages even better. So linking is no longer a quantity game it’s all about quality. If a highly trusted site such as The New York Times or CNN linked from a page relevant to your Pecan Pie Recipe then you would not only see a significant gain in the ranking of the page but a general increase to the trust placed in your site generally.
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