How does organic ranking on search engines like Google work?

Search engines like Google use an algorithm to determine how content ranks. Their basic principle for ranking depends on a combination of accuracy and popularity. Accuracy is determined by how well content matches a browser users search. Popularity is driven by factors around how many people have historically viewed and read the content in its entirety, and how many other sites have created links to the content.

Devil's in the detail

This interpretation of Googles algorithm is a massive oversimplification. To make sure no one 'games' the system, search engines like Google do not publish the believed 200 factors that drive organic rankings. Additionally, Google makes as many as 500 changes each year to their algorithm, so even the best SEO experts are making educated guesses on what really works, and that information is constantly changing.

'How do I build a high organic ranking …and maintain it?'

This is where the 'chicken and egg' problem comes into it. To rank well, you need to have lots of viewers to a piece of content. You also need those viewers to create links from their websites and blogs to your content. To achieve this popularity, you first need to be discoverable, and that requires you to be highly ranked. See, 'chicken and egg'.

'How do I start to build my organic ranking?'

The best way to build your organic ranking is to create quality content that your target audience wants to engage with. You need to look at your website as dozens, hundreds or even thousands of pages of unique content that needs to rank on its own. To begin with, each page needs to be fully optimised for keyword/phrase use, have all of the appropriate metadata, and load fast. There are as many as 200 factors that will influence how a page ranks, but these basic principles will start you on the right track.

'How do I improve my overall website ranking?'

You start by focusing on your content. Treat every page as if it is a landing page…because it is. Organically ranked content mostly sends people to individual pages of content. If you've done your SEO correctly, most organic searches for your brand will send users to individual pages, not your landing page. Rankings for your website are determined by the cumulative ranking of all of your content, so content is essential. The inverse is also true. Weak or poorly managed pages on your website will drag down your websites overall ranking.

'Why is it important to keep adding content and updating SEO?'

On average, Google will crawl your website every two weeks. It will then compare the results of this crawl with over 1.5 billion and 4.54 billion (and counting) other pages of content, then determine both your websites and individual pages of content ranking. Yes, factors such as the location of the user to filter results count, however, much of it comes down to the quality, relevance and popularity of the content. If you're adding new quality content regularly, then you have a much greater chance of maintaining or improving your rankings.

'What's the role of keywords/phrases?'

All organic searches start with keywords or phrases. Increasingly these keywords or phrases are used by voice command (e.g. Siri). Google searches for keywords or phrases in a search, then delivers what it believes are the most relevant results. Users click on the link and within a few seconds, decide to continue with the content or jump out. How they are responding to content determines how it ranks. If the viewer leaves in a few seconds, the ranking drops. If they stay and possibly look at other content on your website, the ranking for that content (and your website) increases. The importance of keywords and phrases is vital for 2 key reasons; firstly choosing the right keywords and phrases that align with your target audiences search enquiries is how content gets discovered. Second, if the keywords you've selected do not align properly with the content you've provided, it will increase the volume of traffic that leaves your site in seconds, and that drags down the ranking of your entire website.

'How do I use this information to increase my ratings?'

SEO is part science, part art and part experiment. It should be driven by equal parts of data and user experience. Google and other browsers' search ranking algorithms that are driven by a desire to provide a better-quality user experience. If you run your SEO and content strategy with the same principles, you are off to a good start.

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About Craig Harris

Craig Harris is an award winning copywriter and 30 year veteran of the Australian marketing sector.