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How Search Engines Rank Pages

Updated on July 22, 2010

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
  • Hosting

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

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.

Social Proof

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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    • profile image

      Rajiv Sighamony 

      7 years ago

      Great article. Hi Peter, I would like to see a hub from you regarding why Google adsense page impressions are low, when the site statistics suggest that it has more page views. I have not been able to understand this equation, yet.

    • klw5200 profile image


      9 years ago from Pennsauken,NJ

      Thanx for the info. I am new to this affiliate marketing stuff and am trying to suck up all the info that I can so i thank you! And i will read all of your hubs! u are the man!

    • Peter Hoggan profile imageAUTHOR

      Peter Hoggan 

      9 years ago from Scotland

      I wrote a hub challenging the merits of Article Spinning but none of the authors of the hubs pedalling article spinning ever commented. Whether you would get a response by calling these people out on the forums is debatable. I think much of the stuff is commercial in nature and that the authors are deliberately trying to dupe the reader into their sales funnel rather than offer useful and actionable information. Otherwise they would be open to discussion that could potentially help them and the readers of the hubs they create.

      Actually, I am in the process of writing a hub that uses intitle:, inanchor: and intext: operators.

    • Eric Graudins profile image

      Eric Graudins 

      9 years ago from Australia

      Yes, I think I know the ones you mean. A guy named Emil wrote one of them.

      I've had my comments blocked, when I gently suggested that the reason that the chosen hubpages keywords were on the first page of google was because there were less than 30 searches a month for it, and that nobody else was doing any optimisation for it.

      I referred people to google external tool, so that that could take the first step in choosing a keyword.

      My comment was blocked, and then he made a comment about me "promoting myself", and said he was going to "watch me".

      I added another bit of advice, which also got deleted.

      The sad thing is, people are lapping it up. And are probably going to waste hours, days, weeks doing what he says.

      I'm still wondering whether to call him out in the forums, where he can't delete me.

      Or publish a hub telling people the basics about finding a viable keyword by using some free tools, and discuss a bit of competition analysis with allinurl, allintitle, etc.

      But people don't want to know about this as it involves some work.

      Although I use an automated tool to do this stuff, I think it's good for people to know the basic principles. (It's like knowing how to add, multiply, divide without using a calculator)

    • Peter Hoggan profile imageAUTHOR

      Peter Hoggan 

      9 years ago from Scotland

      I have seen a couple of the hubs you are talking about and have posted comments on one or two, invariably my comments get blocked. If they cant take constructive criticism that might actually help I wish they would stop posting rubbish!

    • Eric Graudins profile image

      Eric Graudins 

      9 years ago from Australia

      Very well written Peter, with accurate information.

      Unlike some of the other SEO bulldust that I've seen on Hub Pages

      Cheers, Eric G.

    • Peter Hoggan profile imageAUTHOR

      Peter Hoggan 

      9 years ago from Scotland

      I have seen no negative side to this approach, only positive. The benefits from blogs can be short lived and newer material gets preference. With blogs, it seems that freshness as well as relevancy counts. Article submissions have a much longer life and can really drive rankings. I post some articles here, on my blogs and also syndicate them. I also do the same for clients (although I don’t post client articles here) and have achieved many top three positions for highly competitive terms in the insurance, finance and mortgage markets as well as countless softer markets. So, duplicity of content is not a problem, not for me anyway.

      Search engines can work for or against you. If your pages are well ranked, traffic and sales will benefit. If you are not in the first 30 or so results then search engines work against you by sending the lion’s share of the traffic to your competitors. So, while there may be thousands or even millions of pages competing for any given term only a very small proportion will see any direct benefit from search engines. (I am referring to organic traffic)

      Social networks, groups and bookmarking sites ease the situation allowing you to move out from your website to many other places where your products or services are being discussed or social proof is being sought. HubPages for example.

    • Shaun Lindbergh profile image

      Shaun Lindbergh 

      9 years ago from Cape Town, South Africa

      Great hub, very helpful.

      Does your ranking get affected if you post the same article on a few of your sites like here HubPages and on your blog, social network sights etc.?

    • Peter Hoggan profile imageAUTHOR

      Peter Hoggan 

      9 years ago from Scotland


      Good to know you got something from it.

    • Peter Hoggan profile imageAUTHOR

      Peter Hoggan 

      9 years ago from Scotland

      Hi Debby,

      Thankyou for your support. However, we are writing about entirely different subjects and I don't see how a link would be helpful or relevant.

    • Debby Bruck profile image

      Debby Bruck 

      9 years ago

      Thanks for sharing your knowledge. Link to my Hubpage, please.

    • bkoadmin profile image


      9 years ago from California

      Thanks for sharing your insight into SEO. I've learned a lot.

    • Peter Hoggan profile imageAUTHOR

      Peter Hoggan 

      9 years ago from Scotland

      @ Earth Angel

      Glad you found this hub helpfull.

    • Peter Hoggan profile imageAUTHOR

      Peter Hoggan 

      9 years ago from Scotland

      @ Roberta

      Thanks for your comments they are greatly appreciated.

    • Earth Angel profile image

      Earth Angel 

      9 years ago

      GREAT Hub Peter!!

      Thank you for sharing!! Your clear explanation is very helpful!! Plus, it makes a lot of sense!!

      Happy Holidays to you and yours!!

      Blessings always, Earth Angel!!

    • profile image

      Roberta Lachman Jacobs 

      9 years ago

      Thank you, Peter, for that clear and cogent explanation. I've never heard it explained as well. Very helpful!

    • Peter Hoggan profile imageAUTHOR

      Peter Hoggan 

      9 years ago from Scotland

      Cheers Ryan, and keep up your good work as Director of Marketing at Hubpages.

    • Ryan Hupfer profile image

      Ryan Hupfer 

      9 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      Great overview of page ranking - keep up the great Hubbing!


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