Search Engine Ranking: A Guide

One of the most frequent questions we hear from new clients is “How can I improve my search engine ranking?”. Everyone wants their website to be on the first page of Google, as it’s so rare that users will venture further than that – only 0.78% of Google searchers click on results from the second page.

Like many areas of Digital Marketing, there’s no clear and concrete route to boosting your rankings. However, through years of experience and trying various methods, our team has identified some reliable methods to help boost your brand’s visibility and bring more potential customers to your website.

What is search engine ranking and how does it work?

Search engine ranking refers to what position your webpage appears in the results when a user searches for something. For example, if someone types ‘Things to do in Bristol’ into Google and your article about Bristol appears at the top of the page, then you’d be ranking at #1 for that search term.

Search engine ranking is important because you want your site pages to be as visible as possible so that users click through to your website and complete a conversion, whether that’s making a purchase, signing up to a newsletter or contacting your team. In short, better rankings = more revenue.

So, how does Google ranking work?

Google has a web crawler called Googlebot, which crawls web pages and gathers and stores information about the purpose of that page. If a piece of content on your site is correctly optimised and accessible, then Googlebot will add it to Google’s index so it can be found by users.

When someone searches something, Google’s algorithms analyse the words within the query and the relevance of web pages, among other factors, then presents what it thinks are the best results. How Google determines what pages are most relevant is still not fully understood, but we do know there are multiple factors that it uses. These are called ranking factors.

How to improve Google search ranking

Although Google can be a bit mysterious when it comes to sharing exactly what to do to boost your site rankings, there are some bits of information that have been gathered over time from Google themselves and through experimentation and experience.

Google have revealed that when Googlebot crawls web pages, it’s looking for things like:

The purpose of the page

So introduce the topic straight away in your content so users know what to expect.

Content length and quality

Longer content performs better in Google as length goes hand in hand with in-depth research. ‘Quality’ content means unique, engaging, relevant and useful.

Who has written the content

Google wants to know you’re a source who can be trusted, so highlight the author’s experience and credentials.

Reputation of the website

Do users return to your website again and again? Is there a clear precedent of producing quality content?

User interaction with the page

If visitors to your site are spending time on the page without bouncing straight back to the search results, that signals to Google that they’re finding your site useful.

Expertise, authority, and trustworthiness

Google’s EAT update was introduced in 2018 and continues to be a really strong indicator of what the search engine values. The goal of EAT is to provide Google searchers with the most relevant, up-to-date and reliable information as possible. This is especially true with ‘your money or your life’ (YMYL) sites, which could have a considerable impact on a person’s finances, health or other important aspects of their lives.

This means you need to do whatever you can to show your audience that you know what you’re talking about, that you’ll always be honest with them and that they can trust you.

If you keep these factors in mind while you’re writing a piece of web content, you’re going in the right direction.

What are the most important SEO ranking factors?

Although all Google ranking factors serve a purpose and could, in theory, affect your web page’s ranking, some are more important than others. We’ve picked out what we think are the 5 key areas to focus on if you want to bump your content up those rankings.

1. Page Speed

In July 2018, Google announced that they were introducing an algorithm update that made mobile page speed a ranking factor. Any sites that had pages that took too long to load would be penalised and could suffer a drop in rankings.

Any internet user knows that site speed, whether on mobile or desktop, can have a big effect on your online experience. If you click on a search result and the page hasn’t appeared within a few seconds, you’ll more often than not bounce right back to the results page. In fact, 46% of users never return to a slow-loading site.

This means that if your site speed isn’t up to scratch, you could be dropping down the Google rankings, and losing a big chunk of potential customers.

The good news is that it’s easy to improve. There are a number of free tools on the internet you can use to test your site speed, including Google’s own PageSpeed Insights. If you’re on the red end of the scale, you could reduce your image sizes, get a developer to clean up your code or implement lazy loading to keep your users on the page.

2. Mobile Friendliness

Google rolled out mobile-first indexing in March 2018, which means that since then, the search engine has crawled the mobile version of web pages first, as opposed to the desktop version. This was a smart move as mobile web traffic now accounts for 54.8% of total global web traffic.

In 2021, if your site isn’t optimised for mobile users, you’re needlessly risking your search engine ranking. Luckily, there are some simple tips to follow that will give your pages a phone-friendly boost:

Ensure your site is responsive; meaning that it automatically adapts to fit whatever screen it’s on
Make sure fonts are all readable on a smaller screen
Make navigation around your site easy by having an easily accessible menu and making buttons bigger
Ensure content isn’t obstructed by pop ups or ads

3. Optimised Content

Optimised content is probably the most well-known and most aimed-for Google ranking factor, and yet many content writers still don’t take advantage of all the optimisation methods at their disposal.

By now, you obviously know that keyword stuffing is an SEO technique to be avoided, unless you want to be penalised by Google. But did you know that duplicate content could also cause your rankings to suffer? Always make sure that every piece of content you produce is new and fresh, and if you have to reuse something elsewhere on your site, try to give it a unique spin.

Another technique that can boost your SEO is to use LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing) keywords. These are words or phrases that are very closely linked or associated with your main keywords. For example, if I was writing an article about shoes, I would also mention ‘footwear’, ‘trainers’, ‘boots’ etc. This helps Google contextualise your content.

Another key element to consider when optimising is search intent: what are users looking for when they search for that particular keyword? A good way of answering this question is by taking a look at the pages at the top of the search results. Does your content fit alongside them, and can it offer something unique or more useful?

4. User Experience

Google always wants to provide the most useful, relevant and engaging content to its users, which is why it values UX highly within its rankings. Way back in 2015, the search engine confirmed the existence of RankBrain, a machine learning tool that delivers the most relevant search results to users.

RankBrain studies factors such as click-through rate, bounce rate and time on page to determine whether searchers are finding information relevant to their queries, and whether the content is good quality and engaging.

To improve the user experience on your website and make RankBrain happy, there are some simple changes you can implement:

Ensure your most important information is at the top of the page, above the fold, so it’s the first thing visitors see
Keep copy simple and jargon-free, and break it up into short paragraphs for easy skim-reading
Make sure your page designs aren’t cluttered, and have clear calls to action to nudge users towards the next logical step in their journey

5. Site structure and internal linking

Internal and outbound links are easy to add to your content, and they’re effective at telling Google that you know your stuff, and boosting your overall site rankings.

If you write a piece of content that has some relevance to another page on your site, then be sure to link to it in a way that feels natural. This helps Google to understand how all of your pages fit together, and it also means that higher ranking content can help to lift underperforming content when linked to it, as it passes on its authority.

To show that you’re a trustworthy source for users and that your content is well thought-out, using outbound links to other reliable sites will signal you’re a good authority on the subject you’re talking about. Google will then know to present you high in the rankings to help searchers access relevant and quality content.

Need any help with improving your Google rankings? Get in touch with our team today.