If you could have just one wish, apart of course from winning the Euro Millions jackpot, what would it be?
I’m sad enough to admit that I wouldn’t mind getting some sort of handle on what goes on at Google. I’d like to know who decides how it applies its search algorithm and how it determines which websites which rank higher on its search engine. Well, I may not have held the winning ‘golden ticket’, but at least Google has been kind enough to give all of those interested in SEO some sort of information about how it does what it does, by releasing a research report which gives a rare insight not just into its efforts to improve search results but also some indication of how it tries to understand and interpret the users’ intent.
The report details how Google evaluates a user’s search terms and ranks the search results, using both on-page and off-page signals and features. It’s clear that page titles, headings, and URL-depth play a major role, in determining a search ranking. The report highlights the importance of the proximity of search terms: in other words, search terms that are closer together are given more weight than search terms that are further apart from each other. The report also discusses that the position of the user’s search terms on the page play a role in determining relevance, with a preference for content that has search terms closer to the beginning of content rather than towards the middle or end.
Google appears to analyse patterns across the web, looking for properties that include a lot of outgoing links, poor sentence structure, and the presence of offensive terms.
Google takes advantage of the diversity of content on the internet to enable it to statistically determine the average length of good sentences, the ratio of visible keywords compared to keywords in Meta or alt text, and the number of outgoing links, compared to the number of words on the page. This last factor – the number of outgoing links – is important. You might wonder why, but it appears straightforward enough. The report states that as webmasters have control over which sites they link to, if they choose to link to penalized sites, it will more than likely have a negative effect on the linking site, and therefore affect the site’s page ranking. In other words, avoid sites that have been penalized by Panda, whether rightly or wrongly, or you will probably pay the consequences along with them.
The report also throws some light on how Google evaluates off-page signals, like linking sites and anchor text, to counter the effects of on-page keyword stuffing.
Linking sites’ reputations are based on their own page rank: page rank is Google’s assigned score that simulates the actions of a typical web server, and their probability of choosing a particular page over another page within a search result. The report, available from Google Research, is one of the few that provides an overview of the search industry and its general direction.