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How does Google Rank Pages?

Google has dramatically changed the way they rank pages in the last few years. What worked once upon a time does not seem to work now. What worked before? PageRank and keyword rich incoming links. Webmasters just swapped keyword-rich links, bought high PageRank keyword-rich links etc. Optimized sites could dominate the results, but Google wants genuine sites that have natural incoming links (votes).

In my opinion, Google has introduced new ranking scores that operate mostly on whole sites (domains) and lowered the weight of some of the older page-based scores. Some sites get high rankings for almost anything (amazon). I have noticed that the rankings to all my pages within a site jump/fall uniformly. Basically these new scores tell Google how reputable/trusted/quality is a whole site and these factors influence the rankings of all pages of a site.

When your site (not page) gets a higher overall domain score, you get more traffic/rankings to all your pages and vice versa. These new domain based scores are connected with the infamous SandBox effect. To me, a sandboxed site is a site with a low general domain score.

How did Google change the weight of the older factors (PageRank, anchor text)?

1. Google de-emphasized the weight of anchor text keywords. Why? Because that makes it harder to rank internal pages. Webmasters tend to link more to sites than to internal pages. Giving too much weight on the anchor text of links pushes up the rankings of home pages. Webmasters countered this over-emphasis of anchor text with two strategies:

textual keyword-rich internal navigation
buying / swapping keyword-rich links that pointed to internal pages

In Google's eyes, when a site has thousands of natural incoming links to the home page and internal pages, this site must be of very high-quality and even the internal pages with zero incoming links deserve to rank high. That can be achieved by lowering the weight of anchor text and introducing domain based quality scores. I also think that Google spreads the anchor text value of links to all related pages on a site. What does it mean? If you have 3 pages about widgets, an external link to one of the widget pages with anchor text "widgets" may also help the other two widget pages.

2. Google in my opinion has changed the way they calculate PageRank. I believe the toolbar PageRank does not reflect the real way they calculate PageRank at all.

Consider this fact: when you get a high PageRank with site-wide incoming links, your rankings don't get the same boost, as when you get the very same high PageRank with links from a lot of unique domains. The toolbar PageRank is useless.

Link popularity is still important, but we don't know what modified version of calculating PageRank Google uses.

What are the major new domain based factors that Google introduced?

Google seems to be going in the direction of their "Information Retrieval Based On Historical Data" and follow-up patent(s).

Domain Age

That has become too obvious. Newer sites are less trusted than older sites. This is a factor you cannot control.

Freshness/Staleness

Google factors in how fresh or stale your site is.

Your site is considered fresh when:
You have recently updated it (changed content or added new pages). The site acquired new incoming links recently. Most of the sites that link to the site are fresh (recently updated, got linked to).

Your site becomes stale (outdated) when:
You have not updated it recently. You have no new incoming links. The sites that link to you have not been updated and linked to.

Content Updates/Changes

Have you updated your site recently? If all your competitors constantly update their sites but you don't, your rankings may go down.

User Behavior

Your pages get ranked high for some keywords. Do the searchers actually click on your pages? If they don't it may get your rankings lowered. When searchers frequently click on your ranked pages that is a good thing in the eyes of Google.

Query Based (In my opinion, Content is King factors)

Every time one of your pages gets ranked high (top 30) for some keywords that tells Google that you have good content. Before you get ranked high for competitive keywords, you need to get ranked high for non-competitive ones. When you have a lot of unique content, there is no way your pages will not get ranked high for at least some non-competitive keywords. The more content you have the more times you get pages ranked high for non-competitive keywords, which helps in the future rankings of more competitive keyphrases.

Google may influence the rankings of certain queries, by looking into the rankings of their related keyphrases. When you rank high for some keyphrases this helps ranking high for related queries. Content is King. Don't over-optimize but use a variety of related words. That helps better in the long-term.

User Maintained Data, Traffic etc.

Do your visitors bookmark your site? Do they stay long at your site? Do they come back?

Focus on the visitors and Google will find it out and boost your rankings.

Linkage of Independent Peers

How many unique domains link to your site? The more usually the better unless the links grow too fast.

Anti-Spam Factors

Google tries to detect when you do aggressive link building. Again, don't overdo it. Focus on content. Over-optimizing content also does not help too much because it lowers your chances to rank well for related/synonymous keyphrases.

In a nutshell, how do I get top Google rankings?

1. Add new content frequently (at least once a week).

2. Write long in-depth content instead of short pages. Longer pages will always outperform shorter ones.

3. Don't over-optimize. Think about making your navigation readable, your text readable and include more keywords only if you think it is appropriate to your users. Write naturally and include related terms, synonyms etc.

4. Don't be over-aggressive with link building.

5. Link out to other good sites/pages in your articles.

6. Cross-reference your content by putting links within your content to other pages on your site.

7. Use long descriptive anchor text. Keyword density in content/links is a myth.

8. Publish unique content. Forget about duplicate content. It does not work on Google.

9. Have some patience. Let your site age and don't stop working on any factor (content, links).

10. It is better to lay off link building than adding fresh unique high-quality content.

11. Content is King.

When you do all of these above, you will get a very high domain based score and you will easily outrank the over-optimized competition.

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