What Affects Google Rankings?
It’s the million-dollar question for business owners—how do you reach your target market online? Of course, you can pay for online ads, but once a campaign is over, so is your reach. Instead, many business owners turn their attention, and dedicate their marketing budget, to a longer-term solution: boosting organic search results. So, how do you lift your site among Google rankings?
If the answer was widely known, everyone would take steps to boost their results. But Google and other search engines keep their algorithms closely guarded. As a result, we are left to try and figure out what makes Google prioritize one site over another in organic results.
Thankfully, the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) industry is constantly evolving, developing best practices through research and testing. Here, we’ll outline several widely accepted guidelines, to help you boost your organic search results within Google rankings.
What is Google After?
Before we dive into specific tactics that can improve your Google rankings, let’s look at the big picture — why does Google prioritize one site over another? Generally, search engines aim to provide relevant, trustworthy content, making them a reliable tool for end users.
To determine which content it can trust, Google considers a long list of variables, including site content itself. Other clues include links to and from other credible and content-relevant sites.
For a given search term, Google wants to provide the very best, most relevant options it can. While we don’t know exactly how the search algorithm looks, we can deduct best practices, based on industry knowledge and testing for Google rankings.
Let’s dive into the tactics that we know Google uses to rank website relevance.
Keywords and Keyword Phrases
Keywords are one of the most critical ways that Google rankings are determined. When a website is optimized for specific keywords or phrases, specific words are used as often as possible, without oversaturating or spamming.
It also helps to use keywords and phrases in site tags, meta tags, descriptions, and headers. Of course, using keywords and phrases strategically means using them throughout your tags, headers, and content, in a way that feels natural and not forced.
If you’re going to re-do your website to optimize for content, you want to make sure you’re targeting the right words and phrases. Say, for example, you have a website that sells gardening supplies. How do you know if you should optimize for “gardening tools” or for “garden supplies”?
The key is to do your homework. Several SEO sites can help you determine which words and phrases are most used, and which receive the most traffic. It’s important to use keywords or phrases that have a decent search volume, without being overly competitive. In our gardening example, you may find that a specific term—such as “garden trowel” gives you the best opportunity for competitive results. In this case, you would need to work the term as naturally as possible into your content.
Of course, re-doing your website content to include a specific phrase will take time and effort. You may need to hire someone to help you do it well. Unfortunately, optimizing your content is not a one-and-done solution.
To improve your position among Google rankings, you’ll need to commit to fresh content, as well. Google and other search engines favor sites that keep their content current, which means it pays to make regular updates.
Many site owners manage regular updates by making selective changes to their home page and keeping up with a regular blog. Blog content is an SEO win for several reasons. First, it allows you to experiment with different keyword phrases, to see if one works best for you. Second, it is an easy place to add a small piece of relevant content. Most blogs are only 1,000-2,000 words.
Finally, keeping a regular blog allows you to introduce new products or services in an in-depth way. Imagine if our gardening site was introducing a new, lightweight watering can. A blog on watering cans, featuring the highlights of the new product, might be the perfect place to dive into the details.
Inbound and Outbound Links
Another way to improve your Google rankings is to make a conscious effort with your links and backlinks. These are the links on your website that take users to another site and the places or sources that link to your site.
If you have random outbound links or those that don’t serve your SEO intentions, get rid of them. Instead, plan to use links to relevant, trustworthy websites, ideally ones that also use your keywords or keyword phrases.
Where possible, try to secure links back to your site from other, reputable sites. Don’t bother with links from sites that act as link farms. You will almost certainly be penalized in Google rankings by trying to outsmart the system with irrelevant links to or from your site.
Google also favors clean code and a site that runs well. A website with clean, well-organized code will receive preferential treatment over those with more complex or clumsy code structures. To help your website climb among Google rankings, it is important to make sure your site is safe (virus-free), loads quickly, and is easy to use.
Other things Google will prioritize:
- The responsiveness of your site (is it slow to load or weighed down by large graphics?)
- Mobile optimization (is your site easily viewed on mobile browsers?)
- Secure/encrypted (are your pages protected?)
As you can see, the quality of your code matters. Not only will your site climb in Google rankings with clean code, but you’ll avoid being penalized. It’s widely accepted that sites with technical challenges are demoted within search results.
Why Work So Hard?
Is SEO worth all this effort? The short answer is: yes. Thousands of website owners have used SEO tactics to effectively boost their Google rankings. Often, especially when businesses compete locally, being the one to invest in SEO tactics will give you a competitive advantage.
There are two main factors that explain why it’s so helpful to climb as high as possible in organic Google rankings. Both come down to user behavior:
- An estimated 75% of search engine users look only at the first page of results
- Most internet users give more credibility to organic search results over paid ads
While we don’t know the precise algorithm to help your site climb in Google rankings, we know enough to take specific steps and boost your results over time. Perhaps more importantly, we have clear evidence to support its value, given the tendencies of human behavior.
Find the Right Support
So, you’re convinced you should take on the challenge of SEO to move your website higher in Google rankings, but where do you start? As a first step, it’s important to assess your in-house abilities. Do you have the time and skill to write regular content, optimized for keyword phrases?
Can you update your code, to make sure you’re using the right tags and the most efficient code structure? If you’re unsure, don’t worry. An experienced SEO team can work within your budget to help you boost your Google rankings. With the expertise of an SEO specialist in your corner, you can trust them to handle search results, while you focus on your business.