How Google Works: Reasons Why Crappy Website Rank Higher Than Mine

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On November 7, 2012
Last modified:November 27, 2012

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How Google Works

How has Google PageRank become the accepted standard by which we measure our websites?
Take a look at Google’s Technology Overview, you can realize that it points to relevance as the primary ingredient of how search results are ordered.
So why there are countless posts written on PageRank, but none of those seem to talk about relevance?
I think that it’s because PageRank comes as a number, which can be measured, explained, and presented easily; not so much with relevance.
However, it doesn’t mean that PageRank accurately represents how well your website should rank in search engine results, just because it is easy to track.

Why Don’t I Rank Higher?

This article is my attempt to answer the numerous questions I’ve got from my readers. These all boil down to:
“Why does a particular site rank higher for a search query than mine? When on the surface of things, in terms of links and other signals our websites are equal or my site is even better?”
This is thing that bothers me as well for quite a while. In the past, I’ve asked some SEO experts the same question and always received a boiler-plate answer that never did it for me.
Well, no one knows exactly; and, neither do I.
However, when researching the topic, I found that relevance as the answer made more and more sense.
By the way, you can also check out my preview post in blog category indicating common causes for drop-in Google PageRank, or subscribe my e-book to get the comprehensive list.  

How Google Ranks Websites

Obviously, everybody uses Google PageRank, while almost no one knows how Google works. Google PageRank is probably one of the most crucial algorithms ever developed for the Web industry. Every day, with billions of existing pages and millions of generated pages, the search issue in the Web becomes more complex than you probably think it does. PageRank is only one of hundreds of factors used by Google to define best search results, and help to keep our search clean and efficient. Actually, how is this done, and what do you really know about Google PageRank?

how-google-ranks

1.   Google bot crawls the web.

Actually, Google spiders do not roam the web.
They just request web servers to provide specified pages, then, they scan these pages for hyperlinks, which in turn lead them to the new documents that they fetch in the same way.
The first sign that your website appeals to Google is the regular and frequent visits by the crawler. Thus the most effective way to get frequent and deep crawls is to develop a website that search engines consider as important and valuable one.
Keep in mind that you can’t force Google bot to visit you more often, but invite it to come. Following are possible measures to take to increase the crawl rate:

  1. Regularly update your content and ping Google once you do. Well, obviously not much to describe here, you should try to add new unique content as often as you can afford. If you can’t update your website daily, but look for the optimal update rate then do it regularly about 3 times a week can be the best solution.
  2. Make sure that your web server works correctly, also mind the uptime as well as Google Webmaster tools reports of the unreached pages. Here, I recommend two tools Pingdom and Mon.itor.us.
  3. Notice to your page load time because the crawl works on a budget. If it spends much time on crawling your huge images or PDFs, then, there is no time left to visit your other pages.
  4. Check your site internal link structure to make sure that there isn’t any duplicate content returned via different URLs. The more time the crawler spends on figuring your duplicate content, the fewer your useful and unique pages it may manage to visit.
  5. Remember to get more back links from regularly crawled sites.
  6. Adjust the crawl speed with Google Webmaster tools.
  7. Add a sitemap: many webmasters report that they have seen increased crawl rate after adding a sitemap. However, whether the sitemap can help with crawling and indexing issues is still up for a debate.
  8. Make sure that your webserver returns the correct header response. Does it handle your error pages? Don’t make the search engine bot figure out what has happened, but explain it clearly.
  9. Make sure you have unique, relevant title and meta tags for each of your pages.
  10. Monitor Google crawl rate for your website and see what works and what not by accessing crawl status via Google Webmaster tools, or taking advantage of WordPress Plugin that tracks crawl rate for Google, Yahoo and MSN. (If you interested in WordPress services, you can check out some of my blog posts free WP service, or WPsubscribers, which relate to taking advantages of WP to attract more traffic to your site.) 
2.   Google builds an index.

Yes, now crawling is done, but the pages are not searchable yet.
Building an index is the next step.
With this process, every document containing a certain keyword is listed.
For example, the word “dancing” might appear in documents 2, 5, 8, 11, 53, 72, and 99, and the word “game” might appear in documents 5, 6, 11, 25, 53, 66, and 72.

how-google-works

3.   Google ranks documents.

Google is now ready to determine how relevant documents are, then rank them accordingly.
If you are to do a search for “dancing game”, Google takes the following two steps to return search engine result pages (SERPs):

  • Find the set of pages containing your query.
  • Rank the matching set of pages in the relevant order.

In the example of documents containing words “dancing” and “game” above, you can see that both words appear only in documents 5, 11, 53, and 72.
Those are the prime contenders that are listed for your query first.

How Google Ranks Relevance

Here, the answer to the question of “Why is my site not ranked highly?” might lie.
It only makes sense if a document mentions both “dancing” and “game” next to each other can be deemed more relevant than the one that talks about dancing and simply mentions the word “game” somewhere else on the page.
In the same way, if the entire “dancing game” phrase is mentioned in the title of the page, it certainly appears to be more relevant to the topic.
Also, if the phrase appears several times throughout the page, then, this page is more likely to be about “dancing game” than if the phrase is mentioned only once.
Check out this quote I found at Google’s Librarian Central. There used to be a link to the source here, but the source moved and I couldn’t find it again:
Generally, Google tries to find pages that are both reputable and relevant as a rule.
If two pages appear to include the same amount of information that match a given query, people usually try to pick the page that trusted websites choose to link to.
If other signals indicate that a page is relevant, we often elevate the page with fewer links or lower PageRank.
Let’s take an example for that, a web page dedicated entirely to the civil war might be more useful than an article that just mentions the civil war in passing, even if this article is part of a reputable site such as Time.com.

On-Page Optimization Determines the Relevance

It might come down to how you optimize the page because this determines whether and how highly it shows up in Google search results.
Have you ever wondered why Google delivers different search results for users in different countries? For web searchers, the reasons are not so obvious.
Certainly, they can deduce that Google delivers search results based on the searcher’s geographic location, which is determined by the user’s IP address. Generally, this is also true for Google local domains, like google.com.au, or google.de. However, the IP address is not the only factor that influences search results.

search-engine-ranking-optimization

Knowing some of the following factors, you can know why Google search results vary from location to location, as well as how to optimize your pages to be relevant for your targeted audience.

  • Top level domain name (TLDs) is already common knowledge. Top level domain names are strongly weighted for local search results by Google. Because of a large number of “spammy” sites with these extensions, other domain names like .info, .tv, .biz are given less authority. Top domain names like .edu, .gov, .org and .mil seem to be ones with high authority. However, the most popular top domain remains .com, which can be used by websites in any country, it still can’t guarantee that the rankings do not fluctuate in the SERPs. 
  • Server location: Although the domain .com can be used by anyone, Google also takes the geographic location where the domain is hosted into consideration. A domain .com hosted in America is seen as an American site. For instance, if you target American audiences, and want to be given priority in the US search results, then get hosting in the US is a good move.
  • Location of Incoming Text Links (ITL). If your target is international, then try to get links from sites, which are hosted in as many different countries as possible. Also, if you target local audiences, then get many links from websites hosted in the country you target. 
  • Page language: it is also possible to rank for pages, which you translate in other languages; even if your site is not hosted in the country of which you target language. In this situation, aside language, the ranking factors include encoding characters, meta titles and descriptions, which should be translated as well.
  • One more thing, when you sign up for Google Webmaster tools, Google requires your website to set up the geographic location. Mind that this option is not available for a country specific top level domain names like .de, .fr, etc. Especially, for .com and other generic top domain name sites, this service setting replaces the server location signal and is particularly useful to set a different geographic location for each subdomain you want.

I hope this primer on-page relevance is useful in understanding how Google works, how Google ranks search results for users, and how you optimize your website for this vary.
Other things like title, description, <H> tags, On-page seo keywords.
If you need to learn more about On-page optimization, other Google ranking factors and how to properly use them in order to attract more search engine traffic, I strongly suggest you subscribe my free SEO e-book right below this post.

Visit to know What SEO is, or go to another blog post to check out simple strategies to get more search engine traffic 101.

Marketing Takeaway

I see that this post is just my personal opinion on the issue at hand and might not explain all the nuances of Google ranking system, as well as neither was it meant to.
To put in a nutshell, all you can do when it comes down to high search engine ranking optimization is dot your I’s and cross your T’s, then let Google do the job itself.
It is entirely out of our control that whether it’s a job well-done on their part.

Even you love it or hate it, then comment to show me that you are alive.

About Tony Nguyen

Tony Nguyen is the founder of Business Review Center. Since 2011, he has managed a team that has collected customer feedback and complaints on digital products, then tested products, and written product reviews. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, at Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn.

Comments

  1. Patrick says:

    Very well written article. Thank you.
    One point I still don’t understand. I am under the impression web-site traffic is a ranking factor. How do search engines know about traffic other than what flows through searches on their system?

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