The 5 Key Factors Google Uses to Determine Search Results

SUSO 20 June 2023

Find out the 5 key factors that Google uses to determine the search results.

Author: Oliwia Zawadzka, Content Writer

Oliwa Zawadzka

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In order to correctly optimise your web pages so that they will be ranked in the top positions, you need to be aware of the factors that Google uses to determine who will end up at the top of the search results. 

There are five main ones, and I will go through each one in this article in detail.

#1 The Meaning of the Query

This is the search intent behind the query i.e. what is it that the user is trying to achieve by searching a specific phrase?

Query Types

There are four main search intent types:

  • Informational – a user wants to find out more about a specific topic
  • Transactional – a user wants to purchase something or perform some other activity; they are sure of what they want to buy or do and are using Google search to determine where to purchase it from
  • Navigational – the user wants to visit a specific website or a location near them
  • Commercial – the user is debating purchasing something but isn’t fully ready yet to pull the trigger

By understanding what the search intent is behind the keyword you want to rank for, you can provide your audience with the most relevant content – for Google, it’s crucial to provide users with the best experience and getting them a precise answer to their query is a big part of that.

How to Optimise for Search Intent

The way you optimise your content will depend on the search intent of the page.

For informational content, it’s best to use intent modifiers, which are words and phrases that imply intent – an example of an intent modifier would be “how to”. 

Use questions that users ask when looking for the answer in strategic places such as the headings, subheadings, and page titles, as well as descriptions and URLs. It’s also important that you provide your reader with an answer to the query within the first few paragraphs – make it as easy as possible for the user to know that your page provides what they’re looking for.

For navigational intent, you should make sure that all of your landing pages (this includes pages like service pages and your homepage), are clear and include details about who you are, what your company has to offer, and who you cater to. Include your brand’s name in the same places mentioned above: headings, subheadings, etc. If you don’t, Google will not be able to determine as clearly whether your page is the right fit for the query.

Next, we have commercial navigation. In order to rank for those keywords, you should ensure that your product and service descriptions are detailed. Remember to use the right vocabulary when writing commercial copy – include words such as best or top and use descriptive language.

Finally, we have transactional intent. Some of the things you can do to optimise your pages, in this case, include putting the name of the product as the page title, using clear images, trying to keep the information to one page so that the user won’t have to scroll, using lists and bullet points, having CTA at the bottom, and using transactional vocabulary.

#2 The Relevance of Your Content

Relevancy is another important factor in how Google determines search results. This includes not only providing information on the topic the user is searching for but also using relevant keywords.

One of the things that indicates to Google that the content present on the page could be relevant to the search query you are trying to rank for, is having the same keywords as the said search query within the content. Whether they are within the body of the text or in the headings, the important bit is that they are there.

Another place where you should include relevant keywords (although often overlooked) is the meta description. While it might not be one of the ranking factors per se, it can help you catch the attention of the user, enticing them to click on your page.

meta description

There’s one thing I should make clear – even if you add your primary keyword a million times, but your content isn’t crafted well enough to capture the user, they won’t stay on your page, resulting in a high bounce rate.

Diversify your content while still keeping everything you add to it relevant to the main keyword you are trying to rank for.

When you Google a pretty generic phrase, let’s say ‘cats’, is the first result a page that only has blocks of text with the keyword ‘cats’ written all over it and nothing else? Typically, it has other relevant and eye-catching content, such as pictures of cats, videos, or even a list of different cat breeds.

Take a look at Britannica, which is one of the first search results that show up for the phrase “cats”. As soon as you open the page, you can see that they have a picture of a cat along with useful information about cats that users will be interested in learning more about.

generic phrase search

If you scroll down further, you will notice that almost all sections have at least one relevant picture:

all sections with relevant picture

Scroll even further down, and you’ll see that they also have a list of cat breeds, both short-haired and long-haired ones:

table with information

The key takeaway here is to ensure that your content is relevant to the keyword that you’re targeting.

#3 The Quality of Your Content

While the relevance of the content is important, Google also looks at what content would be the most helpful to its users. One of the ways Google achieves this, is by looking at the E-E-A-T (which stands for Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) of the website and the content. 

Based on these factors, Google determines the quality of your content, aiming to reward sites that provide real value to users.

Here are some ways in which you can optimise your content for those factors:

  • For reviews, show your first-hand experience in regards to products that you’re reviewing by sharing your personal experience of using them, their advantages and disadvantages, sharing how they performed in different settings, or adding original photos and videos of the products.
  • Explain how your content was created. For example, in terms of reviews, you can talk about the setting in which you tested out the product.
  • Demonstrate why you’re qualified to talk about the topic of the article. One of the best ways to do it is by creating author bios that would highlight their experience, qualifications, as well as achievements in the field if they have any.
  • Make sure that what you’re writing about is backed up by evidence, especially if you’re writing about topics that require expert knowledge – for example, you can add external links to the official documentation or include citations and references for facts or claims.
  • Generate high-quality backlinks. Having your content linked to by respected experts or authoritative sites in your industry can boost your authority.
  • If you can, be active in your industry community. This can include speaking at conferences, appearing on podcasts, or contributing guest posts to respected publications in your field.
  • Regularly update your page’s content to ensure that it remains accurate and relevant.
  • Fact-check your content before publishing it and make sure any claims you make are backed up by reliable sources.
  • Be transparent about who you are and what your business does. Include detailed information about your business, such as contact details and a physical location if applicable.

Still staying on the “cats” Britannica page, you can see that they have an author bio that highlights the publications that the author of the page wrote:

author bio

Another example of good practice for improving E-E-A-T is Forbes’ article which ranks for the keyword “CBD oil benefits”:

sources (reference links)

In this case, all of the information in the article is backed up by evidence. 

All of these tactics help improve the overall quality of your page as you’re showing both Google and your audience that you’re a credible source of useful information.

#4 The Usability of the Web Page

By now you’ve probably figured out that all of these factors aim to fulfil one core objective: providing users with the best experience – and if your page is not usable, visitors will simply leave your site and click onto a competitor’s page.

Below, you will find some of the things that can affect user experience, as well as some tips on what you can do to improve them, bettering your users’ experiences, which can result in better rankings, engagement and conversions.

Page’s Load Speed

If your page doesn’t load quickly, the user can become frustrated and leave your page. It only takes a few seconds for someone to decide that they don’t want to wait around for it to load and would rather go to your competitor.

To improve load times:

  • Optimise your images and other media files to reduce their size.
  • Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN) to cache your site at various locations around the world.
  • Enable compression to reduce the size of your CSS, HTML, and JavaScript files.
  • Minimise HTTP requests by reducing the number of components on your page that require loading.

Easy Navigation

The easier and quicker it is for the user to find what they’re looking for, the better.

To improve your site’s navigation:

  • Make sure the most important pages are accessible from your main menu.
  • Use clear, concise labels for your menu items.
  • Implement breadcrumbs to show users their navigation trail.

Mobile-Friendliness of Your Site

With the increasing number of users browsing the web on their smartphones, having a mobile-responsive design is crucial.

To improve the experience for mobile users:

  • Use a responsive design that automatically adjusts to the user’s screen size.
  • Ensure buttons and clickable elements are appropriately sized and spaced for touch navigation.
  • Test your mobile performance and usability regularly.

Headings

Proper use of headings (H1, H2, H3, etc.) can make your content more readable and accessible – they break up blocks of text, which makes it easier on the eye, as the content becomes more scannable.

Here are some tips on how to use headings as effectively as possible:

  • Hierarchy: HTML headings range from H1 to H6. H1 is the most important (usually the title of the page), followed by H2, H3, etc. This hierarchy helps search engines understand the structure of your content.
  • One H1: Stick to only having one H1 (the page’s title) on your page.
  • Use keywords: Your H1 should include the primary keyword you’re trying to rank for, while the subheadings should include secondary keywords.
  • Avoid “Clickbait” Headings: While it’s important to make your headings engaging, they should accurately represent the content that follows. Misleading headings can frustrate users and harm your site’s credibility.

#5 The Searcher’s Context & Settings

The final factor that helps Google determine search rankings is the searcher’s context, as well as settings. A huge part of that is the location – two users searching for the same thing but located in two different parts of the world will see completely different search results.

Although optimising for the user’s context is more difficult than in the case of the other factors I already mentioned above, it is not impossible. What you should do is focus on optimising your page for international SEO.

Here are some things you can do:

  • Website Structure: Decide whether to use a country code top-level domain (ccTLD), a subdomain, a subdirectory, or URL parameters. Each has its advantages and considerations. For instance, a ccTLD (like .uk for the United Kingdom) is a strong signal for search engines and users about the site’s intended audience but requires more resources to maintain separate sites.
  • Language Tagging: Use hreflang tags to tell search engines which language you are using on a specific page. This helps the search engine direct users to the version of your site in their language. For example, you might have a page in English (en), Spanish (es), and French (fr), and the hreflang tag helps Google understand who should be directed to which page. 
  • Localised Content: Don’t just translate your content, localise it. This means making sure it is culturally appropriate, uses local dialects and idioms, and meets the needs and interests of the local audience. Consider hiring native speakers to write or proofread your content.
  • Keyword Research: Conduct keyword research for each region you’re targeting. The most popular keywords in one country may not be the same in another, even if they speak the same language. Tools like Google’s Keyword Planner can help with this.
  • Link Building: Build links with reputable websites in the countries you’re targeting. This could involve guest blogging, partnering with local influencers, or getting mentioned in local news outlets.
  • Local Regulations: Be aware of local regulations in each country, such as data privacy laws, and ensure your website complies with them.

Let me focus for a second on hreflang tags. Hreflang is responsible for showing the search engine users the right language version of a website. That’s why, if you Google “apple” from the United States, you will see this:

hreflang

The web address of this website would be https://www.apple.com. 

On the other hand, if you Google the same thing while located in Italy, you will see the Italian counterpart of Apple’s website:

search results for italian hreflang

The address of this page, on the other hand, would be https://www.apple.com/it/. While it might seem like a small thing, it makes a world of difference for Google and helps it understand who should see what. 

Find out how to generate hreflang tags automatically using ChatGPT here.

The Bottom Line

The factors outlined above aren’t anything new, but the fact that they’re coming directly from Google highlights their importance.

Ranking in the top positions can be achieved by:

  1. Understanding the meaning of the query you want to rank for
  2. Keeping your content relevant
  3. Publishing high quality content
  4. Improving the usability of your website
  5. Catering your content to the searcher’s location

If you’re looking for an agency who can act as your own SEO arm, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

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