From a Google search, the last reputable count of pages Google had in their index was 130 trillion in 2016, and that number was up 100 trillion from four years prior, so who knows what kind of numbers we have reached. In fact, it probably doesn’t even matter at this point as the number has gotten so large. There are so many different pages out there covering so many different subject areas and potential searches, that the overall number is somewhat irrelevant, except to the Google engineers who have to harness and rank all of that information.
Your Ranking Competition
It is really about who you are competing against for your particular search. But how does Google differentiate? That is the heart of what SEO is. Guiding a web page so that it will perform better and rank higher in a search engine. Google has taken their own approach to separating and ranking all of this information. Say what you will about Google’s weaknesses, they are the top search engine and therefore must be doing something right. If people didn’t find that their search results worked, they would go elsewhere, and Google, despite maybe over monetizing things and allowing some obvious cheaters to succeed, still provides a generally good user experience overall, or at least good enough to keep people from flocking to other search engines en masse. But it begs the question at the heart of it all. What should be important when ranking information? This post is more to explore that issue as a whole and get you to think about it. It isn’t necessarily a breakdown of the Google algorithm, though it may parallel what Google does to a large extent, because they are trying to sift through these concepts with their algorithm and provide their rankings.
So let’s look at what the search algorithm is trying to do.
Rankings to Make Users Happy
Every search has a searcher and an intent. They aren’t necessarily the same. In fact, the same search query may have multiple different intents. One person searching for “chiropractic care” may be doing a report on it for school, while another may be in pain and in need of a chiropractor near them right away. Those are very different needs for different types of information. An algorithm has to account for that. Which brings us to the complicated fact that every search may need a different weight to different rankable concepts. An algorithm will take into account what users do when they go to the pages they find in the search engine. If one result always fails or sends people back to the search page, that result would likely be discounted and replaced by something else. Therefore the algorithm is a constantly evolving process that needs to learn from what users want. It also will get better as technology allows programmers to measure more and more aspects of what users want and incorporate them into the ranking algorithm. Let’s look at the highest level pieces of the ranking puzzle, with the understanding that each of these high-level pieces has many smaller pieces that must be measure inside it.
Pieces of the Ranking Puzzle
“”Content is King” in the SEO world. Of course, you would think the content is most important when it comes to ranking answers to search queries. But it gets a little more complicated than that. What type of content do users want? One search may be better answered with a “How to” video while the next may be better answered with business hours and location. These types of content are hard to compare to one another and rank accordingly. How do you tell whether a video is better content than a document laying out the same information that is presented in the video? It may come down to whether a specific user wants a video tutorial vs a page to look at and refer to. It is all a bit complicated, but needs to be taken into account and observed and adjusted. What’s more, with those trillions and trillions of pages out there, you will often find very similar content on different sites trying to rank highly for competitive search queries. This is where some of the other pieces of the puzzle become more important. If the content is similar, how do you differentiate?
Trust, Reliability, Authority
A great way to differentiate that similar content is to look at the source. You might trust a source that has been around for a number of years and has been referenced by many others over a page on a site with no real history or other websites referring to it or sending users there. Measuring the online reputation of the content is a great way to differentiate similar articles. The search engine will take your track record and apply it to new content. If your site has a history of performing well with good information, it would make sense that new content you publish would have a little more value than something from a source without a history or worse yet, with a negative history. Reviews are another great piece of the puzzle. Though we know there are a lot of fake review schemes out there, trusting legitimate reviews from real customers of a business is a great way to establish trust. A business known to receive trustworthy high praise from their customers should carry more weight than one that doesn’t. It makes sense. Adding this level to their search results by giving strength to pages with links from other sites is what originally set Google apart from other online directories when they were just getting started. It has gotten more nuanced over the years with figuring out who is trying to cheat the system and the added element of the reviews stated above, but this layer of a ranking algorithm is a very important piece as more and more content is published trying to rank for the same search phrases.
Lastly, we bring in user experience. This has already been mentioned above but should be mentioned individually here. User experience can represent many unique individual factors such as speed, mobile-friendliness, digestibility of content, etc. For example, if you have an incredible article that answers a user query perfectly, but it takes 10 seconds for your page to load, we might want to rank you lower than a page that may hit all of the major points, but not quite as well, but is quick loading and easy to get to. A long article with nice headings that help break down the content into the key points is going to be a much better experience than just a big wall of text. Users want all of the information to be there, but they also want it to be very clear where the most important sentence or two that provides the heart of their answer is. They can explore more in-depth if they’d like but they want to see that their answer is there and it should be clear. In my mind, a bad user experience is more of a subtraction from your overall score. The content and the trust are the first pieces and then the user experience is when you start marking against a piece of content to downgrade it compared to competitors.
These are sort of the top-level ABC’s of how to rank content, but there are literally hundreds of ranking factors to try to fit in these big buckets. Some may even think there are other buckets, but I think these are a good representation of things at a high level. What are your thoughts? When trying to get your content to rank, think of these buckets and whether you are hitting these points better than your competitors. SEO will make a little more sense to you from there. Give us a call if you need help.