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  • Writer's pictureRhiannon Harradine

How Does Google Rank Websites?

Updated: May 24

If you want to drive organic (free) traffic to your small business website, you need to learn how to get your website onto the first page of Google Search results. Having a basic understanding of how Google ranks websites is key to driving free traffic to your small business website. So, How Does Google Rank Websites? This guide for SEO beginners and small business owners outlines the basics of how Google ranks websites and how to get your website onto the first page of Google Search results.

Whilst getting a website onto the first page of Google Search can seem like witchcraft, the principles behind SEO are simple: Google wants to provide value to its users. Therefore, focusing on the value provided by your website is at the heart of getting it to rank in Google Search.

This article was originally published in August 2023. Last updated May 2024.

This article covers the following SEO basics:

How Does Google Rank Websites?

Google uses a set of algorithms, and hundreds of "ranking signals" (or ranking factors) to determine which website pages offer the most relevant and helpful answers to a search query. The algorithms are set up and modified over time by humans with the aim of continually improving them. However, the algorithms themselves are what determine where each website page ranks for each search query.

So, if you want to get your small business website onto the first page of Google Search results for your target keywords / queries, you need to focus on offering relevant, helpful information. However, there are a few key things that you will need to do with your website to show Google's algorithms that they should rank your website on page one. The next section introduces some of the key Google ranking factors that matter when carrying out SEO on your website.

how does google rank websites
Google uses a number of ranking signals to help it rank websites, pages and blog articles in its search engine.

Introduction to Google Ranking Signals

Google Search uses an algorithm to determine which websites rank - and where - for any given search query. It works by using a range of signals or factors to determine how relevant and helpful a page is likely to be to the person making the query.

Nobody outside Google really knows exactly how many ranking signals there are, or exactly how much weight is given to each signal. However, many of the leading global SEO agencies and consultants have carried out research into which factors seem to have the most impact. Furthermore, Google occasionally offers us hints!

According to research conducted by First Page Sage, a leading US-based SEO agency, the top Google ranking factors in 2024 are as follows (in descending order of weighting):

  1. Consistent publication of engaging content (21% weighting)

  2. Keywords in SEO titles (15%)

  3. Backlinks (14%)

  4. Niche expertise (14%)

  5. User engagement (11%)

  6. Freshness (new for 2024) (6%)

  7. Trustworthiness (5%)

  8. Mobile friendly / mobile first website (5%)

  9. Page speed (3%)

  10. Internal links (2%)

  11. Site security / SSL certificate (2%)

  12. Structured data (1%)

  13. + 23 other factors! (1%)

A Few Key Points:

Top 3: According to this research, the top three factors - content, SEO Titles and Backlinks - make up 50% of the algorithm weighting. So, if you are squeezed for time, make those things a priority. Write blogs, put keywords in your SEO Titles and collaborate with others to gain relevant backlinks.

Backlinks: The weight given to backlinks has fallen from 15% to 14% according to the research. FirstPageSage highlight that historically, backlinks made up over 50% of the algorithm. It is also important to note that the quality of backlinks is crucial - hundreds of irrelevant or spammy backlinks is unlikely to help your rankings and could actually harm them. I agree that the importance of backlinks is likely to fall further as Google's algorithm gets better at assessing the value of content without relying on other websites vouching for it.

Freshness: This factor moved from the "other" category up to 6th place. According to FirstPageSage, website pages that are updated at least once per year gain an average of over 4 positions in the rankings versus pages that are not updated. This is a great reason to update your blogs!

Content Remains King: Of all of the factors listed above, the consistent publication of engaging content carries the most weight in determining a page's Google Search ranking. Regularly updating your website, publishing blog articles and creating new landing pages all contribute to your website’s SEO. Google wants to see new, interesting, useful content being regularly added to your website!

How to Make Your Website Show Up on Google

To make your website show up on Google, you will need to - at the very least - include keywords in your SEO titles, regularly publish quality content, and add internal links to your website to aid crawling.

The point of the ranking algorithm is to ensure that Google Search is providing value to its users. By giving users the content they are looking for, Google ensures people will always return to its search engine whenever they require information. In turn, having the biggest slice of the search engine market allows Google to make more money from its paid advertising platform - Google Ads.

When you understand the logic behind Google’s algorithm, you can begin to understand that at the core of SEO for Google Search is providing value. Therefore, producing useful, educational, entertaining and informative content should be a central pillar in your SEO strategy.

Having an easy-to-use, up-to-date website that provides useful information in the form of blogs and other website content is key to making your website show up on Google.

Google E-E-A-T

EEAT stands for Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness. These are the four things that, according to Google, demonstrate quality content. Whilst they are not ranking factors, Google uses the EEAT criteria to manually assess whether its algorithm is returning the most useful search results.

We will look at Google EEAT in more detail in another article, but for now it's important to note the emphasis on demonstrating experience, expertise, authority and trust in your content.

How to Get on the First Page of Google

Getting onto the first page of Google Search (ideally position one) is the ultimate aim of SEO campaigns. But what sets page one content apart from the rest? Essentially, the answer is to continue updating, improving and optimising your website so that it offers users a fast, straightforward experience and helpful, engaging content. Now that you know how Google ranks websites, you can start optimising your small business website with the aim of eventually getting it onto that all-important first page of Google!

SEO Consultancy & Coaching For Small Businesses

I help small business owners get their websites found on Google and start driving more leads and sales through their websites without ads or agencies. My products and services offer SEO and blogging support at a range of price points, so you can choose a coaching or consultancy package to suit your budget and objectives.

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