How Search Engines Determine your Rank

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Jul 8, 2008 by Paul White

Everyone wants to be the #1 ranked site on google.  The first step to getting there is understanding how google ranks websites.  Even though the algorithm that Google uses is secret, they have told webmasters some key things to focus on.  Driving traffic to your website can be broken down into two categories. 

To help you better understand how each of these works.  I am going to give you an analogy to realestate.  SEO would be the house,  Backlinks would be your marketing and word of mouth.   With a house you can hire the best agents, but if you aren't giving them the best product to sell it will make it very difficult to compete.  Also if you have the best house on the block, with all the upgrades, and don't advertise it, very few will ever know it exists. Websites work in the same way.  The first step is to ensure your website is designed for the Search Engines.  The Second step is to market it. 

The following are what Google and other search Engines look for in websites.

Title Tag

The Blue bar at the top of the page.  This usually would have the name of the company, or would in a few words describe the page you are currently on.  This should not be blank.  If every page on your website has the same title then you are missing out on alot of Search Driven traffic.  The Title should reflect what content is on the page.  try to keep the title under 60 characters is possible.  The keywords at the front of the title will be considered more relavent than words at the end.  Also making claims in your title like ( world's leading cars and trucks ) won't help you in google.  Stick to relavent terms.

H1 - H2 Tags

These tags are often forgotten by many webmasters, even though they have been around since the beginning of the web.  Use these every where you can to describe blocks of text.  If you notice at the top of LPG we have an H1 tag at the very top of the page. 

Keywords found in your URL

( )
Even though you might not have much of a choice in your domain, you do have a choice in how you name your pages.  Many blogs take advantage of this by having a URL that looks like this
instead of this
If your website is dynamic you will have to use URL rewriting.  Else if your website is manually updated, you can just ensure you page names make the content of the page like so
Also keep in mind that words towards the front of the URL are deemed more important.

Keyword Density

Google will look at your pages, and determine how many words are on the page, and count how many times it finds given words.  The higher your keyword density the better for those words.  But of course don't abuse this,  Google can detect when you are doing it just for SEO and this can result in suspension from google. 

IMG alt Attributes

an IMG tag has an alt attribute that is used to tell people what the picture is of when their browser can not load the image.  Google uses these alt tags as well.  Setting your alt attribute on all your IMG tags can help drive more IMG based traffic to your website.

Backlinks and Marketing

Backlinks and Marketing are an entirely different animal.  A backlink is any link on another website that points to your website. Backlinks are how Google determines what is popular and what is not.  The more backlinks the higher up you will rank.  But just having hundreds of backlinks won't do it.  The backlinks need to be from quality webpages.  These webpages are ones that are in good standing with google.  Google has a Page Rank scale that ranges from NA, 0-10.  The only 10 is google.  NA means your site is not found on google's index. 0 means you are found but with no significant backlinks.  If a webpage that has a page rank of 5 links to your site, this will help you more than 1000 links from sites with 0.  Traditionally websites have exchanged links to help each other out.  This is fine as long as you are linking with quality sites.  They don't have to be a Page Rank of 5, but if they are a 0 I might not want to link with them, as they have no credibility established yet. 

Now for an analogy to help you understand how backlinks work.  Lets pretend that People = websites, and Knowing of the existance of a person is the same as a backlink.  It basically a popularity and name recognition contest.  In total I would say that maybe 5000 people know who I am.  On the other hand 4 Billion people know who Brad Pitt is.  Obviously Brad is the top ranking site. Now what if tomorrow Brad Pitt knew who I was.  The chance is others that know who Brad Pitt is would realize this relationship, and overnight I would now have 20 million new backlinks.  Now lets say Osama Bin Laden knows who I am and says great things about me ( not good ).  I now have several hundred million people who know who I am, and I can be found on google under the search phrase "American terrorists" ( even worse ).  Along with the phrases "Brad Pitt Friends".  Since Brad knows who I am this can possibly come back to cause him some drama.  We have seen this sort of thing play out in politics all the time.  The entire drama involving Obama's church makes a great example. 

When growing your backlinks, try to get your backlinks on well established websites.  They will be worth more.  Also If you want to be found on google under specific phrases have your backlink contain these specific words.  IE if you wanted to be found under Used Cars.  You should focus on getting backlinks established on other sites that have this phrase linking to your website.  Just links are good too, but if you want to target the keywords don't just exchange banners.  Make sure you have your name or some keywords included in that link.  Make your focus on text links.  Search Engines do not have an OCR ( optical character reader ), they can not read words on graphics. 

If you spend alot of time on Message Boards add your link in your signature.  Do you post on blogs?  Many times Bloggers allow you to include links on your comment posts.   Also its not just the number of links, but how long they have been there.  Building links is like investing.  You may put a link on a page that is a Page Rank of 1 today but could grow to a 5 within a year, after other people link to it. 

This should help give you a good start on increasing you rank on search engines.  If you have any questions feel free to post comments.

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