How Google rankings work these days
Google has confirmed that they use approximately 200 ranking signals in their algorithm. Although they have never publicly fully listed the components of this algorithm, here is a look at some of the most important aspects of how Google ranks pages and websites.
Google on ten different categories: domain factors, page-level factors, site-level factors, backlink factors, user interaction, special algorithm rules, social signals, brand signals, on-site webspam factors, and offpage webspam factors.
Here is a quick look at the most relevant points:
There’s a lot of power in your domain name
SEOMoz’s 2011 Search Engine Ranking Factors panelists agreed a domain that starts with their target keyword has an edge over sites that either do not have the keyword in their domain at all, or have the keyword in the middle/end of their domain; the same holds true for the title and description tags.
The panel also agreed that a keyword appearing in the subdomain boosts rank. But, allowing the keyword to appear in H2 and H3 subheadings may be a signal of weak relevancy. The same is true of using too many outbound links.
The use of Google tools can influence your rank
Google Analytics and Google Webmaster tools may directly influence rank by giving Google more data to work with: more accurate bounce rate, whether or not you get referral traffic from your backlinks, and so on.
Also, the addition of multimedia content, especially YouTube, will help improve your rank as well (since Google owns YouTube). Something else you may not have considered: pages that are bookmarked in Chrome may receive an extra boost in ranking because the algorithm assumes they will be visited again.
Referring domains are a tremendously big deal
The number of referring domains is one of the most important ranking factors in Google’s algorithm. Also, using links that are embedded inside a page’s content are considered more powerful than an empty page or links found elsewhere. But perhaps the biggest influencer of all is social signals.
Tweets, shares, and re-pins have become a signal that the Google algorithm picks up and interprets it accordingly. If you have more shares than likes, your ranking will be affected in a positive manner because shares have a stronger influence (in Google’s opinion). As you can imagine, sharing through Google Circles does even more for your ranking than outside social media.
How you can be hurt by the algorithm
Be aware that the algorithm will penalize you for having too many ads and auto-generated content. It is also important to include your “brick and mortar” address because it is likely Google fishes for location data to determine whether or not a site is a big brand or a big deal. Also, they use this information for mapping, so if you want to improve your ranking you will have to play the: “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” game.
Bottom line: Google’s algorithm analyzes every single aspect of your page, so makes sure you pay attention to the little details in order to optimize your ranking.