How Ranking on Google Works - As of November 2016
Google is always changing the rules. Everything used before 2012 will get your site removed from the search results. The following four years have seen some major changes, too. I have tried to make the explanation below clear, contact me for a free consultation to get a more detailed explanation, answer questions and learn more. Keep in mind, unlike most SEO companies, I belong to an SEO group that constantly tests to validate their hypothesis. After all, Google lies sometimes.
The Super Short Version:
Google uses the Site Quality Score + Per Page Content Score + User Signals to = rankings. It can take 3 - 6 months for Google to rank a page. This is the page’s ranking until there is a significant change in your site factors, competitor's score or the Google Ranking Algorithm.
Step 1: High Site Quality Score
Before ranking pages, Google looks at the website to assign it to a low-quality bucket or high quality bucket. The site score is given a week after Launch, usually. Host server response time (need under 200 ms), page load speed (need under 3 seconds), bad grammar, broken html, keyword stuffing, meta descriptions, alt attributes on images, number of pages on the site, percentage of pages marked thin and duplicate content are a few of the things that matter. There are a lot of signals for this important ranking step. The site Quality Score is updated periodically, it is not re-done when you publish a page or two at a time. To trigger a new Quality Score review, you must change a significant portion of your site, or add onto it many pages at one time. If you are a past client of mine, you know I've been saying this a long time about the overall site quality.
Step 2: Valuable Page Content
After the Quality Score, next Google looks one page at a time for individual page quality ranking. It is possible to rank unique, valuable single pages on a lower quality site if they are high enough quality and contain many other important signals. One truth is that finding under served keywords in your focused niche is the fastest way to start seeing great ranking and solid traffic. Remember there are many more "no-no's" than there are positive ranking factors. SEO professionals must stay updated constantly in a way not available to those outside the industry.
Step 3: GOOD User Signals
An initial page ranking is given relatively quickly until User Metrics are taken into consideration. Google tracks the user signals for 3 to 6 months after launch, in most cases. Running a Google Ad campaign for 3-6 months using your keywords is practically required. This is a hard one to swallow. It took me years to finally give into it and stress the necessity to spend more money. Your site needs good user signals to rank well. As a bonus you do get information from Adwords that is not available on Google's free tools. Search, clicks, user behavior on your site and how the search is terminated matter. Google tracks conversions (sign-up, contact form submitted, purchases), brand searches, bookmarks and natural backlinks. Social can be used to affect your site's direct ranking. Get a real audience quickly on Facebook and Twitter by running ads on those networks, too.
Your basic long term goals are to see a 30% Click Through Rate, 30% conversions and have 90% of your pages indexed. If you have less than 70% of your pages indexed, there is a problem. Don't know what your click through rate, conversion rate or the number of indexed pages for your website? There are free tools offered by Google, which when used together, gives you metrics vital to understanding your site.
Once the groundwork of Site Quality and Page Content has been laid and you are getting traffic, it is time for finding changes that make a positive difference. Doing A/B Testing is the only way to constantly move toward more conversions. High quality sites that convert get high quality traffic from Google.
Thank you to Josh Bachyski for sharing information gained through an extensive and seriously impressive network of Google Employees and top SEO gurus. His videos have validated my own ideas and brought to light new insights. After all, SEO is always changing and it is very important to stay on top of it all.