How exactly has Google PageRank become the accepted standard by which we measure our websites?
So why are countless posts being written on Pagerank and yet no one seems to be talking about relevance?
I truly believe it's because PageRank comes as a number – it can be easily measured, explained, and presented.
Not so much with relevance.
However, just because PageRank is easy to track, it doesn't mean that it accurately represents how well your site should rank in search engine results.
Why Don't I Rank Higher?
This post is my best shot at responding to the numerous questions I get that sound something like this:
“Why is a particular site ranking higher for a search query than mine, when on the surface of things, our sites are equal in terms of links and other signals or my site is even better?”
I've asked the same question a few SEO experts in the past and always got a boiler-plate answer that never quite did it for me.
The truth is no one really knows how Google REALLY works.
Neither do I.
However, as I was researching the topic, RELEVANCE as the answer made more and more sense.
Allow me to explain.
How Does Google Work?
1. Googlebot crawls the web.
To be quite precise, Google spiders don't really roam the web.
What really happens is that they request web servers to provide specified pages, then they scan them for hyperlinks, which in turn will lead them to the new documents that they fetch in the same way.
2. Google builds an index.
Now that crawling is done, the pages are not searchable yet.
The next step is to build an index.
This process lists every document that contains a certain word.
For instance, the word “ballroom” might appear in documents 5, 11, 54, 71, and 97, and the word “dancing” might appear in documents 11, 23, 54, 68, and 71.
3. Google ranks documents.
Now Google is ready to determine how relevant documents are and rank them accordingly.
If you are to do a search for “ballroom dancing“, Google will take the following two steps to return search engine result pages (SERPs):
- Find the set of pages that contain your query.
- Rank the matching set of pages in order of relevance.
In the example of documents containing words “ballroom” and “dancing” above, you'll see that BOTH words appear only in documents 11, 54, and 71.
Those are the prime contenders to be listed for your query first.
How Does Google Rank Relevance?
Here's where the answer to the question of “Why is my site not ranking as highly?” might lie.
It only makes sense that a document that mentions both “ballroom” and “dancing” next to each other will be deemed more relevant than the one that talks about square dancing and simply mentions the word “ballroom” somewhere else on the page.
Similarly, if the entire “ballroom dancing” phrase is mentioned in the title of the page, it will appear to be more relevant to the topic.
In the same way, if the phrase is mentioned several times throughout the page, the page is more likely to be about ballroom dancing than if the phrase appears only once.
Check out this great quote I found at Google's Librarian Central (there used to be a link to the source here, but the source moved and I couldn't find it again):
As a rule, Google tries to find pages that are both reputable and relevant.
If two pages appear to have roughly the same amount of information matching a given query, we'll usually try to pick the page that more trusted websites have chosen to link to.
Still, we'll often elevate a page with fewer links or lower PageRank if other signals suggest that the page is more relevant.
For example, a web page dedicated entirely to the civil war is often more useful than an article that mentions the civil war in passing, even if the article is part of a reputable site such as Time.com.
Is Your Website Relevant?
I understand that there are certain topics you think your site is relevant to, but remember you need to spell it out for the Google bots – that's how Google works.
On-Page Optimization Determines Relevance
Yes, it might come down to how well you optimize the page itself that will determine whether and how highly it'll show up in Google search results.
Things like title, <H> tags, description, on-page keywords.
So What's Your Plan of Action?
Now that you have an idea of how Google bots work and how they determine which page to move up the search results, let's get to work.
1. Stay on Topic
If you want to tap into the wealth of SEO traffic, you have to work for it.
And that means staying on topic.
Both your readers and search engine bots will love you for that.
If your post subject is list building, don't talk about video marketing.
If you run a cooking blog, don't talk about relationships.
This principal applies both to your entire site (pick a niche, i.e. a specific subset of a broad market) and each particular page of your site.
Remember, Google ranks pages (that includes your home page), not websites.
2. Learn about on-page optimization
On-page optimization is all about using every trick up your sleeve to tell Google bots what your page is about so that they can rank it accordingly.
As I mentioned above, it's things like title, <H> tags, description, on-page keywords.
Take a look at this post to learn more about on-page SEO:
3. USE on-page optimization
Having the knowledge on a subject vs actually applying it are two different things.
I know just about everything there's about on-page optimization.
It's not exactly rocket science.
But do I actually optimize every post I write so that it has a better shot at ranking for specific keywords?
4. How to stay on track
To make sure you actually apply the principles of how Google works to your on-page factors, I suggest you do one of the following:
1. Do it yourself
You could put together a check list of all the factors that are important and make sure you stick with it when writing a new post.
2. You could hire someone to do it for you
SEO outsourcing doesn't come cheap, but if you value your time above money, it's a great way to go.
3. Get a tool to help you do it yourself
I was never a fan of using on-page SEO tools in the past; particularly because of all the recent Google algorithm changes.
I am referring to the tools like SEOPressor, Easy WP SEO, or Yoast SEO.
However, I must admit, I didn't actually test any of them; just thought I knew what I was talking about… a perk of being Ana Hoffman, I suppose.
Since then I put my money where my mouth was and tested SEOPressor and Easy WP SEO at Traffic Generation Cafe.
I was impressed with Easy WP SEO at first, but then it went out of business (you never want to have an outdated plugin on your site, especially the one that's in charge of something vital like SEO), plus the free version of Yoast SEO has improved so significantly, that Yoast is all I currently use at Traffic Generation Café.
4. Do nothing.
Free search engine traffic that brings in targeted visitors like a clockwork?
Too much work…
Doing nothing is certainly an option.
I realize that this post is just my opinion on the issue of how Google works and how we can take advantage of it.
And you'll still see many crappy websites outrank yours for no apparent reason.
At least now you've got some knowledge and tools to help you kick them to the curb.
Dot your I's and cross your T's and then let Google do its job.
Whether it's a job well-done on their part is entirely out of our control.