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Do you understand Google rankings?

By piranha

22nd June 2017

Companies often approach digital marketing agencies to improve their rankings on search engines like Google. But what does ‘ranking’ actually mean and how does Google calculate it? This month, we want to look at some search fundamentals and relate them to today’s online climate.

What is SEO?

SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) describes the methods webmasters can use to give their sites the best chance of online success.

Originally, SEO involved lots of technical actions to be performed at setup and throughout the life of the site. Although the technical stuff is still important to a website’s success, Google and other search engines have evolved to become much more sophisticated than they once were.

Technical factors are no longer enough to make a website rank highly on search engines. SEO professionals today must strike a balance between using elements like META data and more creative outlets which purposefully engage visitors and provide them with the answers they crave.

So, SEO is the setup of web pages to perform well in search results. Now it’s time for the really clever stuff!

How does Google rank sites?

There are famously around 200 individual search signals which Google collects in order to judge the value of each website.

Collectively, the data from these signals can be corroborated and translated into the organic results you see on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). Google collects this data using complex algorithms. These algorithms are so varied and complicated that only Google truly knows how they work.

We’ve seen how SEO can make websites more successful, but what factors does it consider? Although only Google knows all of them, here are some of the main search signals which we know translate into better rankings:

  • Backlinks/PageRank – possibly the most famous algorithm (and the first), PageRank was named after Google co-founder Larry Page and judged each website by the quantity of its backlinks. Backlinks are links which users can click on to reach one of your web pages. The theory is that the more backlinks a site has, the greater its importance. Although Google states that PageRank is no longer a factor, the importance of backlinks still rings true.
  • Content length – the easiest way for Google to ascertain the quality of written text is its length; the longer the text, the more work has gone into it and the more likely it is to answer the questions people are searching.
  • Bounce Rates – a site’s bounce rate is shown as the proportion of its visitors who immediately leave upon arrival. If this value is high, it shows search engines that the site may be of low quality or irrelevant to user searches.
  • Average Session Length – similarly to bounce rate, the longer the average user is on your site, the safer it is to assume your pages are of high quality.

All of this data is put through algorithms to judge the quality of each website.

Who collects the data?

It would be impossible for the amount of data Google uses to be collected and collated by humans. Instead, computers (or ‘robots’) collect search data and use algorithms to compile useable results.

The technology used to crawl the internet is constantly evolving. One of the most recent developments is machine learning, whereby computers recognise patterns within data sets and more accurately predict the results of future data. This occurs autonomously and is designed to create a better user experience.

Are Google’s search algorithms constant?

No. Google’s algorithms experience major updates periodically and several minor updates every single day. This fluctuation has seen SEOs concentrate on different technical aspects over time, switching focus whenever Google change the weight and value of ranking signals.

Google’s recent algorithm updates have been frequent and very active. At Piranha, we use several types of software to measure a value called SERP activity. This value tells us the volatility of search results by looking at how many sites have gone up and down in the rankings, split into different industries.

The Piranha digital marketing team has worked in the SEO sphere for years and amassed lots of experience in dealing with Google’s constant updates. You can rest assured that whatever Google throws at us in the coming months, we’ll be ready!

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