When ranking your blog post in its search results what does Google’s algorithm depend on, you ask? Good question.
It depends on how many sites are linking to your blog; it depends on what words those sites are using when linking to you; it depends on the platform on which your blog is hosted; it depends on the speed of your website; it depends on the coding of your blog’s theme; … in short it depends on whatever it can depend on and it is as complicated as it could be!
Don’t worry, though. I’m here to help.
I’ll try to simplify and explain in easy language what this is all about.
Search engine optimization or SEO is the practice of increasing the ranking of a website in search engine results so that it may receive more traffic from the natural search results.
As I said above there are many factors that contribute to SEO. In fact Google has announced it uses more than 200 factors!
But they don’t tell what they exactly are.
This is where search engine optimizers enter the scene. They test and experiment, do a lot of hit and trial, and come up with theories on how search engines work.
SEO is like physics.
God hasn’t told us what laws govern the universe. It’s the physicist’s job to guess the correct laws of nature through experiments.
Similarly search engines don’t tell us, at least not in detail, how they operate. It’s the search engine optimizer’s job to guess the correct rules through experiments.
But there is a crucial difference between the two fields.
The laws of physics don’t change with time. They are absolutes. But SEO is not.
Search engines keep updating themselves in pursuance of getting better and better. Therefore search engine optimizers too need to stay updated and they do that by repeating their research over time.
Moz is one of the most popular and well respected websites on SEO and every two years they conduct a comprehensive survey on SEO best practices. This is a gem for anyone interested in the subject.
Search engine optimization survey results by Moz
So in 2013 (their 2015 survey is not conducted yet) they surveyed 128 SEO experts and asked them to weigh more than eighty search engine optimization ranking factors in terms of importance.
(Side note: Yes I said above there are more than 200 ranking factors but Moz chose to use only eighty of them in their survey. That’s probably because they consider these eighty to be the more important ones and perhaps to make life easier for the surveyed parties.)
The results were then plotted as a pie chart which is shown below.
I know the above pie chart may look intimidating but if you’re a beginner, you should care only for the basics of search engine optimization and thus you don’t need to know it all.
Bear with me and I’ll explain the important features, in simple language, below. However first let me get the obvious stuff out of the way.
- You may be wondering why there are not eighty sections in the chart but only nine? Actually many of the ranking factors are lumped together under broad sections. So these nine broad sections contain all the eighty factors.
- Secondly, these eighty factors were selected because there was a good correlation between these factors and high search engine rankings. But correlation is not causation.Also, this is opinion data. Rand Fishkin, co-founder of Moz and the person who published the data says: “This is not fact. This is not actually what Google’s using. This is merely the aggregated collective opinions of a lot of smart people who study this field pretty well.”
So don’t take these details as though they are set in stone.
- Thirdly, why doesn’t the total add up to 100? The total adds up to 100.91, slightly more than 100. That’s probably because they’ve rounded off the different percentages of the different sections.
- And lastly, this survey deals with ranking factors of Google only and not other search engines like Yahoo! or Bing. Still I believe the results can be generalized because all search engines work in more or less the same ways.
Please note this article is written for the novice. Hence I’ve forsaken on technical rigor in one or two places to make things easier.
Now let’s get down to the details.
20.94%: Authority of the domain name
The domain name of my blog is majorjournal.com.
The more sites link to this domain, the more authority my site will command in Google’s algorithm.
In the world of SEO, backlinks are like votes. More backlinks imply better rankings.
(A backlink is simply a link from one website to another. For example, this is a backlink from my website to The Huffington Post.)
But unlike electorate votes, backlinks carry weight. I mean a backlink from an authoritative site like forbes.com or huffingtonpost.com will push your website’s rankings far above than what a backlink from an “ordinary” website would.
Moz’s research shows the link authority of your domain name cuts the biggest piece in the pie carrying a weight of 20.94%.
This means that if you publish the same article on forbes.com and some mediocre site, the Forbes article will rank much higher in search results for the relevant keyword. Yes this will happen even though the two articles are exactly the same.
19.15%: Authority of that particular page
The complete URL of this page is majorjournal.com/search-engine-optimization-beginners/.
So there are two parts of this URL.
Domain name: majorjournal.com
So if a blogger likes this article and wants to share it with his readers by backlinking to it, he must link to the complete URL i.e. domain name + extension.
Just like Google considers the backlinks to the domain name to be an important factor while ranking a site, similarly it also pays attention to the backlinks a particular page is getting.
As in the case of the domain name, both the quality and the quantity of the backlinks matter here too.
Now 20.94 + 19.15 = 40.09.
So in search engine optimization, 40% of the weight is carried by backlinks. No other ranking factor carries so much weight!
Thus, backlinks are the holy grail of SEO.
Note this massive ranking factor is something that you don’t control directly. Whether people would link to your content or not is up to them. All you can do is create awesome content, spread the word out, and then hope people would link to you.
14.94%: Page-level keywords
If you want to attract people who are searching for “iPhone 5s” on Google to your website, then obviously you should use that keyword in your article. How else will Google know your page is relevant to the searcher’s query?
But this doesn’t mean you can use it a hundred times on your page and expect good results. There is a craft to it and it is called SEO copywriting.
I can’t discuss it fully here as it’s beyond the scope of this article. But I’ll give you some minor details.
Keywords in headings, sub-headings, blocks, anchor text, etc. carry more weight than when they’re used in simple text. So consider using your targeted keywords in these places. But keep the keyword density under control.
Keyword density is the ratio of the targeted keywords to the rest of the words on the page.
Brian Clark, a master copywriter, says “a keyword density greater than 5.5% could find you guilty of keyword stuffing, and your page could be penalized by Google.”
Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Webspam team, in this Google Webmasters official video, says you shouldn’t worry too much about keyword density. As long as you’ve used some keywords and your copy reads naturally, you should be in good shape.
If you can read through the copy and have it read naturally where a person isn’t going to be annoyed by it, then you’re doing relatively well. But if you’re like one of these guys where all you’re doing is:
‘I know you’re interested in red widgets because red widgets are one of the best things in the world to have and if you’re an expert on red widgets then you’ll know that the best source of red widgets is blah blah …’
Then that’s really going too far. …
It just looks fake. And that’s the sort of area in that niche where we say, ‘Okay rather than helping let’s make that hurt a little bit.’
As I said before there are more than 200 factors that go into Google’s search algorithm and this article is just a drop in the ocean.
Nevertheless, this should serve as a good introduction to the topic. For further study refer to these free books:
- Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide by Google itself
- The Beginners Guide to SEO by Moz
Also, although search engines keep changing their algorithms, the three features discussed above are the bedrock of search engine optimization. These are core principles and though their relative weights and percentages have changed by small amounts over the years, I haven’t seen any drastic departures from them.
And therefore I believe they will continue to play a crucial role in search engine optimization for years to come.