Knowing how search engines rank pages is important to learning SEO. Pages are primarily ranked on domain trust and authority, link quality, anchor text and keywords.
I’m now in week two of my quest to conquer SEO. The further I dive, the deeper I swim through a muck of conflicting opinions and theories. One of the most difficult parts of learning SEO is finding consistent information. Despite this, I must say that it’s been a lot of fun so far and I’m starting to feel empowered when talking about the subject.
Our last discussion covered how search engines work, and is a necessary lesson in SEO basics. To recap, search engines return results by crawling, indexing and ranking. The third piece, page ranking, is what we’ll cover today. To better understand the most important variables, I found an article on the top ranking factors as the basis for our discussion.
If you’re taking notes, here are the main points for the exam.
Search engines base the rank of your webpage on the following:
- Domain Trust and Domain Authority – how credible your entire website is, along with how many quality links are pointing to your site.
- Link Popularity – a hybrid measure of the number/importance of various sites linking to a particular webpage.
- Anchor Text from External Links – the hyperlink text from a link to your webpage.
- Keyword Usage – how words used in search queries are utilized on your webpage.
The above list is ranked in order of assumed importance. Notice that the three most important variables seem completely out of your control. But after taking a closer look, the rationale becomes clear. Google and other search engines don’t care what you have to say about yourself. Instead, they want to know what others think of you. It’s the ultimate popularity contest.
Think of page ranking as the race for high school prom queen. If other people like you and talk about you, chances of winning the crown go up. But if you’re the new kid in town and no one knows your name, kiss the title goodbye.
And just like a potential prom queen woos her voters, the key to winning higher page rankings is to boost your reputation. First, you want your site to be seen as credible and influential. Then, your content should be talked about in a descriptive way. And once people get to your page, you’ll want to reinforce that you’re worth the hype.
To explain further, let’s take a look into the individual criteria. Again, all underlined terms are vocabulary words and can be referenced in the glossary at the bottom of this post.
Domain Trust and Domain Authority
Domain trust is how credible your website is to search engines, and largely depends on links coming to and from your site. If you’re linking to spammy domains, your trust level is significantly damaged. Likewise, if spammy domains link to your site, search engines will deem you unreliable. Domain trust is also calculated by looking into your domain’s registration info – if the domain is traced to a history of spam, domain trust will be negatively impacted.
To help boost your domain trust, make sure you’re linking to legitimate sites. Meanwhile, be sure to check any backlinks coming to your site.
Domain authority is a rating of how many high quality links are coming to various pages of your site. This factor measures the type and number of links coming to your entire domain, as opposed to just one page. So if your homepage gets a ton of links, that’s great – but what you’re really looking for is quality links to pages across your site. Thus, to help your domain authority, make sure you offer high quality content on several pages.
A great example of the power of domain authority is Wikipedia. If you type in a search, a Wikipedia page frequently appears at the top of the search engine results page (SERP). Why? Because Wikipedia has a ton of pages on its domain that have been trusted, referenced and shared. By building its domain trust and authority, almost any Wikipedia page is a shoo-in to the top of search rankings.
Link popularity tells search engines how many quality sites are linking to a specific page, as opposed to the entire website/domain. Remember, search engines want to promote sites that are useful to searchers. Thus, if someone links to your page, it’s considered a vote of confidence. Link popularity, therefore, is one of the most important aspects of off-page SEO.
To optimize link popularity, the goal is to boost the number of quality backlinks to a specific page, particularly if they come from another site discussing a similar topic with similar keywords.
A good way to think about link popularity is comparing it to the US Electoral College. Yes, it’s great to receive votes from Wyoming, but if you can win California, you’re well on your way to victory. Thus, if you can get a backlink from The New York Times, it will boost page ranking much faster than an obscure blog.
Anchor Text of External Links
Anchor text is the text you find within a hyperlink. For example, within “Take a look at our introduction to SEO,” the anchor text is “introduction to SEO.” This text is extremely important to page ranking because it gives a brief summary of the page being linked.
A few things to note about anchor text:
- Avoid using general text like “click here” or “learn more” when using anchor text. This isn’t beneficial for anyone’s link building strategy and is of no use to your internal pages.
- Anchor text that includes keywords relevant to your page is more helpful than generic anchor text. Thus, if you’re making a guest appearance on a blog, it’s best to provide specific anchor text to the partnering author.
- Anchor text can also be helpful for your internal pages, so be sure to consider it when building your website.
Now we come to the part that you actually have control over. Search engines also consider the words used within your content when ranking pages. Thus, if you’re writing an article about panda bears, you’ll want to explicitly use the phrase “panda bears” and other related terms throughout the copy. Using these words across the page helps search engines understand the topic of discussion.
It’s also important to consider the placement of your keywords. The concept of keywords will be discussed in our next post, but you want to place your keywords in your headlines, title tags, and at the beginning of your content. This will give search engines a stronger callout when crawling and indexing your page for various search queries.
So what’s the major takeaway? Others play a huge part in your SEO success. Thus, the best way to climb the rankings is to consistently deliver quality content that others want to link to. There’s no substitution for good content and search engines know that.
My next post will be a peek behind the curtain of keywords, so stick around! And don’t forget to check out the SEO glossary from today’s post below.
-Matt Winn, Marketing Associate
.SEO Glossary – Lesson Two: How Search Engines Rank Pages
- Domain trust: The credibility of your overall website to search engines, largely dependent on the type of links coming to and from your domain.
- Spammy domains: Domains/websites that have a high level of useless content, pop-ups, fraud, etc.
- Backlinks: Links on one website that lead to another, also known as inbound links.
- Domain authority: The overall legitimacy or importance of your website, largely dependent on the number of high quality links from other relevant sites.
- Quality links: A link to a webpage from another site with high domain trust and authority.
- Link popularity: A measure of the quantity and quality of sites linking to a specific webpage within a site.
- Off-page SEO: Factors in a search engine optimization strategy outside of a website, mostly involving external links.
- Anchor text: The visible, clickable text within a hyperlink that summarizes the website being linked to.
- Link building: The practice of strategically pursuing backlinks from other websites for SEO benefit.
- Keywords: A word or phrase placed in a user’s search query to find information on a particular topic.
Learn SEO One Step at a Time Series:
Step One: An Important Introduction
Step Two: How Search Engines Work
Step Three: How Search Engines Rank Pages
Step Four: An Introduction to Keywords
Step Five: Keyword Research
Step Six: The Long Tail of SEO
Step Seven: Building a SEO Friendly Site
Step Eight: Link Building Basics
Step Nine: Basic SEO Measurement/Conclusion