Google Search

How Google Search Engine Indexes and Ranks Websites

Yannis Anthymidis – 
  – 

Google is the biggest player in the search engine space around the world. If you want to improve your search engine optimization (SEO), Google should always be the first tool on your mind for how customers can find you.

Google’s algorithm to rank for relevance is one of the most sophisticated and multi-faceted on the Internet. Here, we’ll break down how it broadly works, with an eye for what a webmaster can do to improve their site’s ranking.

Most importantly…

Google Search only ranks websites in relation to the search term you enter. While Google knows which sites are more popular and get more clicks and visits by a number of methods, the main indicator of ranking is always going to be whatever words you’re putting in the search bar.

With that in mind, let’s get started. The following are in no particular order, and shouldn’t be treated in terms of priority. You should keep them all in mind to rank better on Google.

1. Keywords on the site

Google will crawl (scan) your entire site and place every visible page in its index. After that, it will see how all your pages content based on the patterns of words you use, among other factors.

The main way it categorizes results is by using the words you use in your own content. These come from a few sources. In rough order of importance:

  • Your title tag for the page. This is the title that you see in your browser tab and the title of the search result. Ideally, you should always have your website’s title in there as it helps search engines categorise their results, for example, ‘What is the importance of Search Engine Optimization? | CX Vibrancy International’ in another of our blog posts.
  • Your meta description. This is a description in the page’s code that briefly explains what the specific page is for. It’s not visible to users but it’s the subtitle you’ll see under a search result in Google.
  • Your meta keywords. This also isn’t visible to users. It’s a list of important words to help match your content to words a Google user might search for.
  • The actual text on the page, of course. Priority is given to the main content on the page (e.g. the article itself on a blog post, with the navigation menu being less important).
  • Other things you can’t see. An example is alt text on images. These are mandatory in HTML (the main language for designing webpages) and intended to help blind users, but sighted users can see them by hovering their mouse cursor over an image. Anything not in the main content of the page also applies (e.g. related stories next to an article on a news site).

Google prioritises keywords near the start of a page, but will generally scan the entire page. As search engines are almost entirely automated, it’s up to you to give them an idea of what your website is really about.

2. Links to and from your page

An important way Google categorises pages is with ‘inbound’ and ‘outbound’ links. If you’re a construction firm, you might have links to your cement supplier, to government regulation documents for your industry, and to specialist labourers you hire for bigger jobs. Your business partners and suppliers may also link back to your page to recommend you.

Google will pick up on this. By seeing the big picture and finding the common thread between all of you, the machine behind the search engine learns more about your page.

The number of links will also affect your ranking because Google uses it as a metric of popularity. The more websites that talk about you, the more significant you are.

You must however take care not to accept links to and from just anyone. You should ensure the links are relevant to your site and are high quality, or you could fall into a spam-link network of bad actors who are gaming the system. These are normally shut down quite quickly.

Link quality is something to be aware of if you host user-generated content as well, such a comment section. You cannot control these as effectively, but you can take steps to reduce it through methods like setting moderation rules or disallowing external links altogether.

Increasingly important is a presence on social media, especially for consumer-facing companies or public figures. These should be prominent on your website and actively maintained on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, in line with the rest of your work on the Internet.

3. Site structure

Your site should be structured in a logical way. Your pages should link to each other, and important pages should be easy to navigate to from any other. For us, these links include ‘Blog’ and ‘Contact Us’ – we list them on our nav bar on every page (don’t hesitate to click!).

You can often see the effect of this in Google, in a few ways:

There’s the informal standard of sitemap.xml which has codified the idea of laying out your site for search engines and other services.

[INSERT PIC OF RESULT WITH DATE]

You can also use the page’s URL and code. You’ll see this a lot in blog posts with dates, which Google will diminish in ranking as time passes and they become more and more outdated.

On the whole: the more structured a site, the better it will rank.

4. Technical aspects

We won’t go too deep into these, but they can make or break your ranking if you don’t pay attention.

Key metrics here are the speed and size of your website. You should take care to have pictures only as big as you need them (WordPress which powers our site is set up to do this), so your pages load quickly on the user’s computer or phone. Code that runs in the browser (to power animations or widgets) should also be small and fast.

Then there’s how your site is designed. The web is a wonderful thing. It works on countless devices because it’s based on industry standards like HTTP, TLS, HTML, CSS and JavaScript, among many others. Google rewards complying with industry standards. Even if your site works, it’s better if the code running it is modern and reliably works on all devices.

This also means that your site should have strong support for mobile devices in particular. Google is harsh on ranking if their algorithm notices your site isn’t optimized for touchscreen use on a small device.

There’s a lot more here such as schema.org standards, how dynamic content is loaded and implemented, and so on, but the fundamental message is that you need a designer who understands the technology powering your website so you can understand and influence your rank with Google.

Putting it all together

Taking all the above into account, Google will then index your whole site (or more accurately, however much of it it can see) and figure out what mix of words your site best applies to.

While Google indexes each page individually, it will notice when you’re the same company, especially if your pages are on the same domain name. Because of this, as a rule, it’s preferred that websites as a whole stick to a single topic. Specific pages should almost always be focused strictly on one topic.

The starting point is to understand what you want your website to be about. From there, you can follow the 4 guidelines above to improve your ranking and rank high when you offer a relevant search result.

As always, there’s no one right way to rank higher, and Google’s algorithms are in constant flux, along with the websites they look at. It depends on your specific needs in terms of design, your marketing approach and at the end of the day, what you do and how you describe it. This stuff is hard, and if you need a helping hand, CX Vibrancy will be right here.

Avatar
Yannis is an in-house writer for CX Vibrancy. Elsewhere, he's known as a contributor to open source software, where he holds a number of credits, and as a rabid history buff.

Like what you see?

Your company can be unique in its digital marketing strategy. And that’s where we excel. We always take time to understand our client’s needs, so that we can see the big picture and advocate their objectives.

Get in Touch