How the Web and Google Determine Your Search Engine Ranking

search engine ranking

Key Takeaways

  • Search engine algorithms are continually updated.
  • It’s important to stay up to date to keep your pages highly ranked.
  • Optimize for BERT and mobile search and use branded content to your advantage.

 

When you think about your search engine ranking in Google, it’s important to consider how much search engine results pages (SERPs) have changed over the last several years. Search results look much different now than they did a decade ago. Here’s an example of a Google SERP for “exhibitions at AMNH” in 2010:

SERP1

Here’s an example of what that same search looks like in 2020:

SERP2

10 years, 7 million-plus results and thousands of Google updates later, these two SERPs look very different (it will probably look different again when you read this).

If you scrutinize those results, you’ll notice many similarities as well. The first search engine result is still the exhibits page from amnh.org and the permanent exhibitions page is still present. We also see lists of various exhibits at AMNH in both SERPs.

However, while the first four results from the 2010 SERP are all from amnh.org, the third result from the 2020 version links to timeout.com, a website with information about AMNH as well as other tourist destinations in NYC.

This exercise comparing 2010 and 2020 SERPs demonstrates how Google provides more well-rounded SERPs now than it did 10 years ago. A searcher will likely find what they need on the AMNH website, which is why amnh.org/exhibits ranks number one in both sets of SERPs. However, in 2020, Google gives timeout.com a valuable third position, as it may help a searcher who is planning a vacation to NYC, or at least additional context about “exhibits at amnh” outside of what the museum can provide itself.

If you want to know how Google will rate and rank your content going forward, it’s important to understand how Google views and processes search queries as well as website content, because it’s not as cut-and-dried as it used to be.

Understanding BERT: Google’s Biggest Core Algorithm Update in Years

Google constantly updates its search algorithms. In 2018, it made 3,234 updates, which is over eight per day. Most of these changes are hard to notice, but every few months, it makes updates that are very noticeable. Updates such as these are referred to as “core algorithm updates.”

On October 25, 2019, Google launched BERT, which is short for, “bidirectional encoder representations from transformers.”

In simple terms, BERT helps Google Search understand natural speech instead of looking for exact matches, allowing Google to deliver SERPs that are more relevant to a searcher’s intent.

In a blog announcing the core algorithm update, Google Fellow and Vice President of Search Pandu Nayak referred to the change as, “…the biggest leap forward in the past five years, and one of the biggest leaps forward in the history of Search.” In the same article, Nayak also says BERT will help Google Search, “…better understand one in 10 searches…”

The advent of BERT means that Google Search will become increasingly valuable to users as it delivers more relevant results.

Optimizing for BERT Means Creating Great Content

Typically when Google announces a core algorithm update, there is some kind of reaction from webmasters and search engine optimization professionals (SEOs) to ensure their websites are up to standard. This is one of the few core algorithm updates that requires no action from webmasters or SEOs, other than doing what they should have been doing all along.

Create great content. Demonstrate expertise, authority and trustworthiness, or “E-A-T” for short. This abbreviation comes from Google’s Search Quality Rater Guideline, which is another great resource for understanding what Google considers quality content. This is especially important for any content writing that has anything to do with health, finances or anything relevant to a person’s safety or well-being, as Google is extra critical of content when it comes to matters relating to “Your Money or Your Life” (YMYL) which is also covered in the Quality Rater Guideline.

For almost all businesses, optimizing for BERT means fleshing out resources sections of their websites, creating business blogs or building great frequently asked questions (FAQ) pages.

Try this exercise: ask yourself, “What are some of the most common questions our customers ask?” Then, dedicate a part of your website to answering those questions.

And while your gut can be one of your best resources for insights about your audience, you can also explore free resources such as Google Trends, Google Analytics and Google Search Console to inform your content strategy.

Optimizing for Mobile Continues to Be Important
Optimizing a site to be mobile-friendly is something webmasters have been working on for more than a decade. The first iPhone came out in 2007 and the iPad turns 10 this year. Google has responded by implementing mobile-related updates to its search algorithms for years.

The first such algorithm is commonly referred to by its nickname, “Mobilegeddon,” which rolled out in 2015. The update gave preferred rankings to websites with content responsive to screens of varying dimensions and sizes. Having a responsive website is typically a non-issue these days as most website builders come mobile-ready out of the box.

Other significant Google Search updates relevant to mobile websites have given priority to sites that load quickly on mobile devices. This has been a priority for website designers whether they have been focused on SEO or not, if only for the sake of user experience.

Optimizing for Mobile Means Optimizing for Voice Search
Optimizing for mobile has evolved to mean optimizing for voice search. Statista reports that 42% of the world had conducted a voice search in the past few months with mobile search being the most popular method. Statista also claims an increase of more than 33 million users of mobile search in the U.S. over the last four years, totaling 211 million mobile-search users, or roughly two-thirds of the country.

How does one optimize for voice search? Google Search has greatly advanced with the implementation of BERT and other updates, so creating helpful content is still the through-line, but there are other tactics you can employ to increase the chances that your website content will be indexed ahead of your competitors.

Branding Is Essential
Branded searches typically convert better than unbranded searches, so occupying as many listings as possible in branded search results remains crucial for your business. Ensuring this happens means creating branded content. Actions including creating a business blog, social media pages and claiming your Google My Business listing and other directories all achieve this end.

To stress this point, let’s revisit that 2020 SERP for “exhibits at AMNH” for a moment.

SERP3

The AMNH website doesn’t occupy as many of the top results as it used to, but the organization certainly occupies more of the page with their Google My Business Listing.

A Higher Search Engine Ranking Awaits
Google is more sophisticated than ever when it comes to rating your content. By creating great content, structuring your data and building your brand over time, you’ll set yourself up for search ranking success for years to come.

 

Products mentioned in this blog post include:

DIY Website Builder

 

Image 1: Shutterstock 
Image 2: Google Webmaster Central Blog
Images 3-4: Screenshots Taken by Author