While SEM (search engine marketing) allows you to pay to appear at the top of Google search results, you can also use SEO (search engine optimisation) to appear under the paid results section. This is something you don’t pay for directly, but can be tricky to do, especially since Google is notoriously secretive about the key factors that drive their unpaid search rankings. There’s good reason for this.
If Google were to outline exactly how to rank better, scammers would find ways to use that to game the system and get sites ranking higher than they should. That’s no good for Google because their business is reliant on providing the most relevant matches for every user query – if someone conducts a search and finds what they were after, they’ll use Google again. If they don’t, they won’t – simple.
Because of this, it can be challenging to understand exactly what you need to do to ensure your business website appears high in response to relevant search queries.
But last year, a member of Google’s Search Quality team revealed the three key factors that determine how search results are ranked.
1. Links influence how ‘relevant’ your website is to Google.
Google has long used links as a key in determining a website’s relevance and authority. This hasn’t changed.
This means the more links you have coming to your website, the more external online sources that link to your content, and the higher authority those links are, the more Google will see your page as relevant.
For example, a link from your friend’s WordPress blog won’t be as relevant to Google as a link from a major company’s page in your niche. Google can also determine the relevance of each link, so there’s no point getting linked to by non-relevant pages.
The more on-topic, authoritative backlinks you can get, the better.
2. Content is an effective SEO technique.
The second most important ranking factor is content – the blog posts, pages and updates you have on your site.
At its heart, Google’s system is a machine, and machine’s need data to understand what your page is about.
If you can write authoritative blog posts that other pages link to, you get the double boost of more relevant keywords on your site, and increased authority through links.
This doesn’t necessarily mean your business has to write a blog a day, but it does mean you need to ensure all your details are correct, that you include your target keywords (in context) on your site, and that you look to build your web page into a relevant resource which answers the most common customer search queries.
3. RankBrain helps determine what results are relevant to users.
This one is the most difficult to understand – in fact, very few people, if any, can fully comprehend how RankBrain works.
RankBrain is Google’s machine learning system that uses thousands of signals to determine what search results are most relevant to each user – be that location, proximity, local language, past behaviour, etc.
RankBrain has fast become one of the most significant Google ranking elements, which makes it extremely hard for scammers to cheat the system. It also means search results are becoming increasingly customised to each user – what you see when you conduct a search will be different to what someone else does.
The best way to approach optimising for RankBrain is to not focus on it. If you concentrate on the first two elements listed, RankBrain will sort out the rest itself – if your website has good, relevant content which provides answers, and people are linking to your pages, then your site will show up for the right queries. In this sense, RankBrain is more of an insurance policy and customisation tool which you likely won’t be able to influence.
Search engine optimisation is not simple, there’s a lot of technical elements at play, but at core, the principles are fairly straight-forward.
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