How SEO Ranking Works (A Brief Introduction)

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How to rank on Google

How exactly Google decides which pages to rank is basically a secret.

Its algorithm gets updated daily, so different ranking factors and their relative weight change over time, too.

SEOs work out how to rank pages by the following means:

  • Follow Google’s advice
  • Going by what works

Following Google’s advice

Why Google won’t reveal its algorithm

Google has stated that it will not reveal its algorithm.

They don’t want rival companies copying it and – perhaps more importantly – it would automatically reduce the quality their main product: search results.

Why is this?

Surely if everyone knew exactly what Google’s ranking factors were and their relative importance, everyone would be able to create much better content…

In an ideal world, yes. Meanwhile, in reality…

Hegel meme

The truth is, Google wants to avoid people gaming its algorithm. Of course, some gaming already goes on, but that’s partly why Google updates its algorithm so often (in 2019, for example, it updated it 3620 times).

What Google does say

Google does reveal some ranking factors in order to guide website creators.

They regularly update the public on their core updates (i.e., big changes that can have deeper impact on rankings) and often give helpful advice on smaller changes.

Many of their announcements can be found on their search central blog. For example, in August 2021, they gave an overview of how they generate webpage titles.

Following this guidance is definitely useful. However, Google has been known to introduce some changes and then go back on them – so trying to anticipate and rigidly adjust to each new guideline isn’t needed.

A certain amount of good faith is needed to assume that, as long as you aren’t doing anything spammy or unethical, Google will basically reward good content.

What works for SEO ranking?

Let’s face it, if you only went by what Google said, you would probably be far behind on SEO.

In the real world, we need SEO results asap, businesses depend on them!

Like in any other field, the best way to get ahead is to learn from those in the know.

Fortunately, there are many great sources of SEO knowledge out there, from SEO news sites to podcasts, YouTube channels and bloggers.

What SEO ranking techniques work?

If you want to rank pages from your website, you need to think about a few important aspects.

  • Website health/speed. How fast your website can load is important – to a point. Generally speaking, your site should load in under 5 seconds.

    If it takes much longer, many users will give up and go back to the search results. Google will notice this and push your site down in the rankings.

    After all, they don’t want to waste the time of the user (their client) by recommending them a page that leaves them dissatisfied.

    Improving of maintaining a website’s load speed is a technical issue involving many different components. Sometimes it can be as simple as reducing large images. Other times it involves more complicated coding tasks.


  • Content – if written well and optimised for SEO – not only helps bring traffic to your website but also tells Google more about your expertise.

    Content can educate and guide users visiting your site. It can also build up your topical authority in Google’s eyes.

    Image two websites for shoemakers. Both have an equally good home page, contact page, etc., listing their services. However, one has multiple articles about all kinds of different shoe making techniques, whereas the other has none.

    In Google’s eyes, the former site has more topical authority and therefore will likely rank higher.


  • Backlinks are simply links from other websites. If my cake website has 5 other websites linking to it, and your cake website has 10, then – on average – yours will rank higher than mine.

    This is assuming, of course, that the links you have are good quality. If, however, I have 5 great links from famous cake makers and brands, whereas you have 10 links from spam websites, then I will almost certainly rank higher than you.

    Google discourages paid links and can even penalise spammy links. So building up a healthy backlink profile is important.

Conclusion: The future of search

Google works hard and invests a lot in improving their search engine. It gets more sophisticated every day.

Perhaps the Google of 20 years in the future will be as hard to imagine as today’s Google was 20 years ago.

In an ideal world, Google would probably like to be able to say that their search engine is so advanced that it automatically finds the best result for every search.

So, if you searched ‘buy cake online’ you could be certain that the top result would be the best possible cake you could buy online, and not just the one with the best SEO.

Until that day comes, you should work on your SEO.

Google works hard and invests a lot in improving their search engine. It gets more sophisticated every day.

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