In this day and age, if you’ve got a question, Google will always know the answer.
But have you ever wondered exactly how the search engine decides what results to show you based on your search?
For businesses, it is essential to get that coveted first page result - 75% of Internet users never actually scroll past the first page of search results. Within the results, you would ideally want to rank first because something as small as a competitor ranking one place above you could mean missing out on a sale.
First of all, let’s look at how Google actually analyses your site - from crawling to indexing, to serving results.
Google uses spiders to crawl your page, looking at content, images and even embedded videos. At this point, the search engine will have an idea of the type of information your page contains and store this away in the Google index. Now when a user makes a query, they will look inside their index to try and find the most relevant result based on your page content and the users’ intent (shown through the keywords they use).
But when Google is looking for websites to serve in its results - it will rank all of the pages in its index using its complex algorithm. While no-one knows for definite the ins and outs of the algorithm, we can make pretty good assumptions about what a search engine looks for in a web page.
Web crawlers index your site by looking at the different keywords placed across your page. For this reason, you might think it’s a good idea to cram as many keywords as possible on one single page to improve your chances of ranking. Wrong!
Black hat SEO techniques, such as keyword stuffing or cloaking, go against search engine guidelines and could end up with your site being penalised. Instead, you should build a keyword list and optimise your pages naturally, remembering to use synonyms. You should consider placing any relevant keywords in your URL, headers, meta titles, meta description and image alt text.
At the end of the day, your pages are made for your users, not for the search engines - make sure your copy reads naturally and professionally.
In 2014, Google announced that HTTPS would become a ranking signal within its algorithm.
HTTPS, or Hypertext Transport Protocol Security, protects your sites’ connection through authentication and encryption. This is important if your website handles users’ data including contact and payment details.
Did you know that 18% of users have abandoned a checkout flow because they didn’t trust the site with their credit card information? Google Chrome now labels all HTTP pages as ‘not secure’, which could potentially impact user trust as someone would be far more likely to submit their information to a secure site than one that isn’t.
Site speed is another big factor that will impact your SERP ranking as well as user experience.
If your site is even just one second slower in loading than your competitors, this could have a detrimental effect on bounce rate, user experience, etc, the list goes on.
- 1-second delay reduces page views by 11%
- 1-second delay decreases customer satisfaction by 16%
- 1-second delay eats away 7% of the coveted conversion rate
You can use tools like PageSpeed Insights to get insights on the performance of your web pages, looking at both desktop and mobile searches to optimise your site for all types of devices.
Speaking of mobile devices, Google announced mobile-first indexing to help users who make searches on the go.
Mobile-first indexing means that we'll use the mobile version of the page for indexing and ranking, to better help our – primarily mobile – users find what they're looking for.
In order to cater to your mobile users, you should ensure your website design is responsive and will render correctly for the most popular mobile devices, such as Android and Apple.
We’ve touched on user experience previously, but this should be one of the most vital factors when designing your website. Your site should be built user first and search engines second.
46% of people say they would not purchase from a brand again if they had an interruptive mobile experience.
Google will take into account factors like click-through, bounce rate, session duration, etc, to determine whether your pages are actually relevant and helpful to the user.
You should typically avoid spammy elements such as pop-ups or full-screen ads and instead focus on a positive experience for the user. If you have an e-commerce store, you may look at auto-populating contact and billing info to make the checkout process much easier and quicker.
While it may seem impossible to meet all of the search engine’s requirements, you should focus on making consistent tweaks, little and often, to gradually improve your SERPs ranking over time. Remember to think user first and search engines second.