How Google Ranks Pages


When Google set out to rank indexed pages based on a user’s query, it stole an idea from the world of academia. Its founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, noticed that in some areas of academic research, specific papers were cited over and over – in essence a “vote” for that body of work. They surmised that the community of scientists in this field had determined this to be a very important piece and thus over time it was built as a foundation for that particular area of study.

Page and Brin thought what if a search engine could work the same way?

Instead of a research citation in a paper, they could weigh in a web link as a vote. And just as certain prestigious academic journals carried more influence for those that published in them, so could different websites. A link to a website from a major news source like The New York Times would carry more weight than the link from a local hometown newspaper.

Page and Brin saw the web as a true democracy, where the best content rose to the top based on the citizens online “voting” via links. The young company moved to form its mission around “Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. A daunting goal to say the least.

Today, Google ranks a page on over a hundred different weighted factors and while nobody knows exactly what these factors are, aside from Google, the following play a major role with varying and shifting degrees of importance:

  • Age of the domain
  • Anchor text of sites linking to a page (the blue highlighted text in a link)
  • The structure of the page (the code parts)
  • The content on the page (how closely they match a keyword phrase)
  • Social signals

Importance of User Experience in Search

As we have seen over and over, putting the user first is one of the key fundamentals to succeeding online.

Google did this with its search results. It focused on providing the very best answers to a user’s query and in turn garnered tremendous market share. The company name eventually received the holy grail of branding by the product name becoming a verb in everyday use with the phrase “just google it”.

And “google it” we have.

As of October 2011, over 18 billion searches were performed in a 30 day period in the US.
As a result of its tremendous market share, most Internet marketers focus on Google to get the most bang for their buck.

comScore reports:

  • Google typically owns around 67% of searches performed in the US.
  • Yahoo! around 15%
  • Bing at around 14%
  • 3%
  • AOL 1%

Key takeaway: The above video does a fantastic job of breaking down the infamous PageRank in detail with respect to Google’s algorithm. As a digital marketer, the important thing to remember is that there are a ton of factors that influence a ranking but by focusing on remarkable content and the key fundamentals for optimizing a page, the rankings start to take care of themselves.

Next up, we will explore how keyword phrases let us find our content.