When I first joined Circa Interactive and started working in the field of Internet marketing a little over eight months ago, I was immediately faced with the realities of the colossal search engine king, Google. The all-powerful overseer of the majority of the Internet has control over millions of people lives (their websites), and holds the classified and heavily guarded formula for success deep within their global headquarters in Mountain View, California.
Before diving in and attempting to understand the intricacies of Google’s complex algorithm, I found it easier to go step by step and slowly take it all in. Let’s first take a quick look at Google. The company simply dominates the search engine market. There are billions of searches on Google every day, making this search engine the major player in Internet marketing. Businesses just can’t afford not to accept this fact, especially universities that are aiming to launch and/or market online degree programs.
The first thing to understand when taking a closer look at Google is the power of their rankings. Google ranks websites based on how well they match the keywords that are searched. In order to determine which websites will be offered to a searcher (and in which order), Google has a set of ranking factors otherwise known as the Google Algorithm.
The algorithm is massive and very detailed in an attempt to give searchers the most relevant results to their inquiries. Google continues to advance this algorithm to stay one step ahead of individuals utilizing black hat techniques in order to fool the search engine. Past changes to the algorithm include the Panda updates and the most recent Penguin 2.0 update at the end of May. It is estimated that Google uses at least 200 ranking factors in its immense algorithm.
Search Engine Journal released an information-rich infographic that aggregates their best information on Google’s Algorithm. While, I am not going to attempt to cover all 200 of these ranking factors, I would like to touch on a few that interested me and I feel are important for individuals who are beginning to understand this complicated algorithm.
Domain and Subdomains
To begin, let’s look at the basics of website creation, naming a website. The domain of a site is simply the core website name, and the subdomains are additional pages, generally noted to the left of the domain in a URL.
For example: www.onlinemasters.university.com
This link would go to an ‘onlinemasters’ subdomain page of the domain www.university.com.
Google takes into account the name of a website and the name of the subdomains, noting that it is important to put the targeted keywords in both your domain and subdomains. The targeted keywords are the phrases searchers will type into Google to find a particular website. If these specific keywords are visible in the name of a website, that website is a step above their competition. Keyword research is essential for any website looking to be competitive in the online environment.
Google looks at the age of a domain, giving slight advantage to domains that have been around for a while. Google tends to associate age with trust. They also can tell if an individual creates new domains hosted on the same account, so if someone is seriously penalized, they may continue to be on Google’s radar when it comes to creating new websites.
Not only does Google take note of a website’s domain and subdomains, it also crawls and indexes every page of the website that it can see. This is why the content (what is written) on the website needs to be optimized. Google prefers websites that are large and contain many information rich pages, with at least 500 words per page. Be careful not to create a ‘thin site,’ which is a site with thousands of pages with minimal content on each. Also, an overly thick site isn’t advisable either, meaning only a few pages with tons of content.
Again, the importance of keyword research is emphasized in the content of a webpage. Google crawls every webpage it can see and automatically factors a variety of elements, including the keyword density (how often a targeted keyword is present in the content), the length of the content, and whether or not the content is duplicate or not. It is advised to blend a keyword into site content about once every 250 words.
In regards to the content of a webpage, it is best practice to have about 500 words of original text, with the relevant keywords sprinkled throughout. It is important to avoid keyword stuffing, or over-doing the number of keywords in the content, Google can notice this also. Another interesting note is that Google prefers pages that are updated frequently with fresh, high quality content. This was pushed in the Caffeine Update, and is why we see the latest news stories ranking very highly on Google.
Another area of ranking factors that is incredibly important to the strength of a website are inbound links, or backlinks. These are links that point from other websites to your website. They show Google that your website is popular and talked about, and should be ranked highly in the search results. These inbound links can be attained in a few ways, including infographics, manual link request, and guest blogging. It is not simply the number of inbound links that point at a given site, but the quality and trust of the site the links come from.
It is noted that Google prefers backlinks from aged and powerful domains, as well as .edu and .gov websites. The reason these specific sites are favored is that they are seen as trustworthy because they are restricted as to who may registrar those types of domains. They also take into account the PageRank and the linking domain relevancy, as well as whether these links are coming from hub pages or directories. Because of the variety of factors Google looks at, websites should be careful when choosing which domains to receive links from.
Guest posting is a more recent way to receive quality inbound links. It is important to note that the content needs to be high quality and relevant to the linked-to website. Google notes the keywords that are used as a backlink, and these should be as relevant and natural as possible. In other words, poorly written content that is posted on irrelevant, weak websites with a backlink pointing to your website may do more harm to your website than help it. Alternatively, a high quality guest post published on a trustworthy, relevant website that is shared across social networks will be viewed highly in Google’s eyes.
These are only a handful of the ranking factors of the Google Algorithm. Of the hundreds of other factors, many are more technical and detailed, and are worked with daily by search engine optimizers. Understanding the idea behind the Google algorithm and the work of SEO companies gives individuals a better understanding of the importance of this industry and how it will continue to grow in the future. As search engine optimizers, we must adapt to the changes Google makes to its algorithm and attempt to predict and prepare for future updates. By following Google’s recommendations and not trying to cheat the system, we lay a solid groundwork for a bright future in this industry.