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How Does Google Rank Websites?


Google is the one search engine setting the standard by which all websites are judged. It is easily the most used search engine in the world, so SEO experts concentrate on designing sites that will rank high on Google. It turns out that others follow Google's example. So, how does Google rank websites?

Google's search algorithm uses about 200 key indicators (according to Google's own Matt Cutts, who is head of Webspam at Google). Among them, one of the most important is keyword density. When Google's automated spider 'reads' a website, it keeps track of almost every word and how often it is used. It uses the density of those words to determine the topic of the content and its relevance. This highlights the importance of proper SEO and getting the keyword density just right; cramming keywords into your web page will most likely be seen as keyword-stuffing (over-optimisation) by Google. The search giant has made it clear that updates such as Penguin and Panda were released in an attempt to remove 'spammy' low-quality websites from its search database. Get the keyword density too low and your page will be weak for the chosen keywords. Optimising for the search engines (especially Google) should never be seen as a game: play it and you'll probably lose. Rather, write your content for your readership but have an eye on keyword density too. Remember that Google understands related words, so you don't need to keep repeating bread  if you're a baker - you can drop in some cakes and buns too!

How Keyword Density Works

The Google algorithm looks for certain keywords and phrases and how these relate to one another. In doing so, the algorithm is on the lookout for a specific keyword or phrase to appear in the title and first and last paragraphs. This generally tells it what the topic of the content is. It then looks for further instances of those same keywords or phrases throughout the article.

A good rule of thumb is a keyword density of about 1.7%. That means for a 500-word article, a chosen keyword should appear 8 to 9 times. A keyword phrase using three specific words would appear about three times. However, no webmaster or author should become obsessed with keyword density that it ends up dictating how you write; compose your text for your reader (not for Google bots!) but ensure that the primary keywords appear at least a couple of times. What for one web page could be seen as keyword-stuffing might, for a different page or domain, be perfectly acceptable. To make those keywords stronger, the developer also includes what are known as latent semantic indexing (LSI) terms.

LSI Terms Explained

LSI terms are words and phrases that one would expect to be associated with a given topic. For example, if one were writing about smartphones then you would expect to encounter terms like iPhone, Android, app, signal strength, touchscreen, cases, covers etc. All are terms relevant to the main keyword, 'smartphones'.

Google includes these terms to determine whether a piece of content contains any real, useful information or not. The fewer LSI terms found, the lower the page will rank for the given keyword. Therefore, it is important for content creators to know what sorts of terms work best with chosen keywords. Our easy-to-follow 5-step SEO Guide 2014 is a great resource for helping website owners to understand this relationship.

Other SEO Elements

Keywords and LSI terms are certainly not the only factors determining how Google ranks websites. Some of the other elements to concentrate on include:

• Back Links – Back links establish a relationship between a reputable website and other reputable sites within the same industry. The strength of back links helps establish site reputation.

• Social Media – Google's search algorithm takes into account social media connections as a way of determining the popularity of a given website. Social media integration is now an essential element for consistently high search engine rankings.

• Google Rules – Google has established very specific rules by which the search engine is to be used. It does not like web developers manipulating its algorithm, so will penalise a website in violation of its rules.

Keywords, LSI terms, and other SEO elements are the keys that unlock the search engines. It is important to understand how Google ranks websites if you are to take advantage of these tools for yourself. 

If you would like to speak to an SEO adviser, or require some help with improving your Google ranking, just give us a call (03301 222 152). Don't forget to grab our free 5-step SEO guide though! 

Robert Wakefield

Robert Wakefield

Robert Wakefield founded Siteglide in 2012 after having worked in the web design, SEO and IT sector since the mid-90's. Robert's main interests include website usability, visitor experience, SEO and website marketing in general.

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