The Secrets behind Google’s Ranking Algorithm

September 24, 2010

Google uses about 200 ranking factors to determine the position of a web page in the search results but it does not reveal the list of those ranking factors, neither how exactly they are weighted.

All we know is that those 200 ranking factors are the components of Google’s secret ranking algorithm, that its CEO Eric Schmidt termed as a “business secret” during a recent lunchtime meeting with Danny Sullivan and other reporters at the Google Zeitgeist conference.

The exchange during the meeting went as follows:

Sullivan:

You say that you have like these 200 factors, why not at least just list them?

Schmidt:

Because we change them. What would happen is, you’ve asked me this question for the eight years I’ve worked with you, so it’s the same question. Why don’t we publish these things. And the fundamental answer is we’re always changing. We’re always changing, and if we started saying here’s how the black box works, then all of a sudden huge incumbencies would come out about this change and that change, and we just don’t want that pressure.

Sullivan:

I’m not saying this is how the factors are actually measured up or weighted.

Schmidt:

But even the list.

Sullivan:

But 50 of those factors have never changed.

Schmidt:

Let’s just be honest and say you and I disagree.

Sullivan:

OK…

Schmidt:

It’s a business secret of Google.

Brian Womack of Bloomberg:

But that’s not very open.

Schmidt:
Again, openness, I’ll take your definition of open, let’s start with how does your firm operate with openness. The company ? has some secrets ?

What Google has let it be known is that it uses more than 200 signals to examine the entire link structure of the web and determine which pages are most important. Based on those results, the search engine then conducts hypertext-matching analysis to determine which pages are relevant to the specific search being conducted.

At least we know that among the factors that influence the position of a web page in Google’s search results are the following:

  • the presence of a search term in the HTML title tag
  • the presence of a search term in the HTML body copy
  • search terms in bold typeface
  • search terms in header tags
  • the presence of a search term in anchor text in links to a page
  • the PageRank of a particular page
  • the PageRank of the entire domain
  • the speed of the web site

In order to be listed on Google’s first result page for a given keyword, the site must comply with all these ranking elements. The other 192 “signals” Google talks about are a “business secret”, but there are some educated guesses around. For example, SEOmoz runs an regular survey to compile factors and WebmasterWorld forum members compiled a list last year. Vaughn’s Summaries also has a compilation of potential signals. And Google offers free advice through its own site.

The obvious way to understand what makes Google rank a page higher on its search results is to analyze the top 10 ranked pages that are already up there. By analyzing all elements of those top ranked pages and comparing the results to those of your own web pages you will learn what changes are needed for your pages to be listed on Google’s first result page.

RackNine can help you with the whole process of analyzing your web site, comparing it with the competition for a set of selected keywords, as well as implementing all the SEO changes needed to make your pages comply with search engine’s guidelines and recommendations.

Please do not hesitate to contact us for more information and to learn about the available options.

Update:
Here’s a short video put together by the Google team that gives you a sense of the work that goes into the changes and improvements that Google makes on its algorithm almost on a daily basis through a process of rigorous scientific testing.