Deciphering the Google Algorithm: The SEO Best Practices

how to understand and decipher the Google search engine ranking algorithms
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    There are over 40,000 searches per second on Google.

    the number of searches every second in Google

    With the amount of information that’s searchable on the web, it’s nearly impossible to navigate through it all—that’s where the Google algorithm comes in.

    Google Algorithm in search results

    Google ranking systems are processes that help sort through billions of websites, guiding the person searching to exactly what he or she is looking for. The ranking systems, based on a combination of keywords, relevance/usability of pages, location, the expertise of content, etc., create the algorithms that guide users to individual sites.

    And this entire process of guiding users to your site is called Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

    Whether you’re building your business from the ground up, want to know how your agency does what they do or are simply curious about deciphering the Google algorithm and learning ways to naturally boost your site’s visibility, here are the SEO best practices and everything you need to know to get a better understanding of how search results are chosen:

    First, What is On-Page SEO?

    On-page Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the practice of optimizing individual website pages in order to boost your rankings for the services, products or informational pages and earn more relevant traffic from searches, organically.

    This term refers both to the content (blog posts/pages, text, etc.) as well as the HTML source code of a page. (Off-page SEO, on the other hand, refers to links and other external / off-page focuses.)

    Overall, developing your on-page SEO means reworking your site consistently to be better optimized and found. For example, having title text on your pages strengthens usability and user-friendliness, which are two crucial aspects of the algorithm.

    What are the Components of On-Page SEO?

    On-page SEO refers to coding and text. Primarily, it’s about creating a site that’s reader-friendly and navigable. That means any written content should be clear and engaging. It should also use text features such as:

    • bullet points,
    • bolded words,
    • italicized words,
    • headlines,
    • etc.

    On-page SEO also refers to title tags, meta tags and descriptions, interlinking to relative pages on the website, and out-bound linking, or, linking out to authoritative websites that you quote for things such as statistics or research data.

    Title Tags

    These tell search engines what your page is about and guides users to your page based on keyword usage and relevancy. They should be around 50-60 characters in order to not be truncated in search results, but it does not affect rankings – so don’t worry if it’s a few characters over. The tags should also be unique for every page, include your brand name and be attractive enough to intrigue the searcher to click on it.

    how to understand title tags in a website

    Header Tags

    The header tags (H1-H6) function as the subject or headline of your text. They should be used once and included on any page that’s looking to pull traffic. The most important to focus on are the H1-H3 tags.

    how to understand what header tags of a website are for

    Image ALT Tags & Titles

    Tags for images (alternative texts and titles) should be appropriate and helpful. This benefits not only search results but accessibility, too. If someone is using a screen reader, the image tag should clearly label and explain the image. If possible, you can include keywords in your image tags, too.

    how to understand what image alt text and image title tags are

    Meta Descriptions

    Although these arguably aren’t as important in search ranking algorithms, having compelling meta descriptions written for each and every page, post, etc. will help with increasing clicks from the search engine results page (SERP) to your page. It’s critical to understand how copywriting works in order to write in a way that intrigues the user to click through to your website over all of the other results they see on the search engine results page.

    How to understand what a meta description is


    Keywords are an essential part of your content and should be used frequently (but not too heavily!) across your site to direct searches. You want to create content that’s relevant to your keywords and use links from other pages to redirect to your page.

    Both keywords and meta descriptions are also aspects of SEO that come into play when a relevant search occurs. When these aspects of your site are strengthened, the likelihood that your page(s) will be boosted (based on relevant keyword searches) is higher than if your site had none of these on-page SEO aspects enabled.

    Deciphering the Google Algorithm: The SEO Best Practices 1

    Internal Linking

    Internal linking is having content on one of your pages point to another page on your website that is highly relevant to what you’re talking about. This helps to strengthen keywords and allows both users and search engine robots to navigate through your pages, boosting relevancy, page authority and user-friendliness.

    What’s Backlinking & Why’s It Important? 

    Backlinks and link building through digital pr are one of the most important components of organic search rankings.

    A backlink is a link on any page that leads back to your site. These links can also be called ‘inward’ or ‘inboundlinks’ as opposed to ‘outgoing’ or ‘outbound’ links that lead to external pages.

    how backlinks and digital pr work
    Image courtesy of Moz

    When someone puts a link on their site that leads to your site, that’s a backlink for you. And most important of all, the backlinks must be from industry relative websites, or the content must be highly relevant to the page that the link is pointing to.

    Backlinks are used by Google to determine your page and post organic search rankings. The higher you rank on the search engine results pages (SERPs), the better your ‘clickability.’ (People typically click on the first few search results on the Google page – with about 70% of clicks going to the first five results).

    The importance of backlinking is that it helps search engines verify your site as reputable. Rather than just focusing on keywords (which can be easily tossed in pages that may or may not be relevant) backlinks are intentional and across several sites. The more (and stronger) backlinks your site has, the better your website search rankings will be.

    That’s why partnering with editorials on other websites, creating valuable content, and/or guest posting is so valuable for building and winning in SEO.

    Understanding the Google Algorithm

    The Google algorithm has become a buzz phrase, especially to online marketers, business owners, and e-commerce developers. One of the biggest things to understand about the algorithm is that it’s based upon SEO. And SEO trends are always changing.

    Semrush study on the google ranking factors

    In order to keep up with SEO best practices, you can:

    • Follow leaders in the industry and be sure to emulate any of their practices.
    • Monitor strategies for your own page(s) to determine what’s working and what’s not.
    • Read case studies on SEO trends.
    • Invest in digital marketing and SEO overhaul from experts.

    You can also study the SEO best practices and the types of content that the algorithms are pulling.

    For example, if you own a local business, you might want to focus on adding local aspects to your website that will help it be more searchable in the area. You’ll also want to keep all online content up-to-date, too. This means your name, address, phone number (NAP) must be consistent everywhere your business is listed online. No exceptions.

    Google Algorithm Changes

    Google’s algorithm changes almost daily. But, over the years, there have been several large algorithm updates. Two of the most notable are Google Panda and Google Penguin. The most recent was the Google Florida update.

    Google Florida Algorithm Update June 2019

    Google Florida – June 2019

    This is the most recent algorithm update. Here are some notes we have so far:

    Early evidence suggests the following:

    • YMYL (“Your Money or Your Life” websites with lots of ads or lead-gen focused websites) were more significantly impacted.
    • Websites with high-quality scores and high domain authority (measured by the backlinks pointing to the websites) were less impacted and many sites saw traffic increases (although some quality websites that had rankings for medical and financial terms but showed lots of ads were impacted by this Florida update).
    • Pages with thin content (less than 750 words) tended to be impacted more than long-form, informational content (2000+ word) articles.

    Often times, Google makes big changes, then lessens their impact over the next 1-2 months – meaning, if your site was negatively affected, we don’t yet suggest scrambling on adding loads of content just to try and counteract the update. If you are putting out great content, and it’s in-depth (750+ words), you may just have to wait out the changes and keep doing what you’ve been doing (as long as it’s the right thing).

    Deciphering the Google Algorithm: The SEO Best Practices 2

    Google Panda – February 2011

    Google Panda evaluates websites based on content quality. If your site has higher quality content, it will rank higher. But what actually determines the difference between quality or lack thereof?

    Panda looks at how your site’s content answers a search request. If there’s an explicit answer somewhere on your page, you’ll automatically rank higher. (But this has to be relevant, of course!) Panda also looks at things like errors, untrustworthy content, or duplicate content. It’s important to keep your website fresh and not copy from other sites onto your pages.

    To fight against this update and make sure your site is ranking well, do SEO overhaul on all your posts and pages to improve content quality.

    Deciphering the Google Algorithm: The SEO Best Practices 3

    Google Penguin – April 2012

    This update is primarily focused on profiles rather than content. This relates to where your information or sources are coming from. Any shady or untrustworthy links on your site will directly affect you. If you have multiple links with the same anchor text, for example, that can penalize you. If you stuff keywords to the point that they seem unnatural, that will hurt your ranking, too.

    It’s best to scan your website for strange or bad links and update them. It’s also good to look through your keyword usage and make sure it’s natural.

    Deciphering the Google Algorithm: The SEO Best Practices 4

    Removing Unwanted Content from the Google Algorithm

    An important component of boosting your rank is removing certain pages and content from being crawled. If a page contains sensitive or non-relevant information, you may want to hide it from being indexed by Google.  

    Google Search Console offers a robotx.txt generator that helps you create a file to prevent search engines from crawling certain pages. When you create a txt file for a subdomain, it’s not crawled.

    Here’s where you can learn more about using the robots.txt files for your site.

    Deciphering the Google Algorithm: The SEO Best Practices 5

    What Happens Without Strong SEO?

    SEO is something that is continually changing, and therefore needs to be continually updated, too. This is a process, not a temporary fix. Without strong SEO, your website will fall down the pages in search engine results. (Even if it started at a high rank!)

    With SEO, it’s also important to focus on the navigation of your site. This goes beyond how menus are working and into the structure of the site itself. Regardless of what stage you’re in with website-building, it’s important to layer your pages so that they are easily navigated by users and search engines alike.

    For example, an author page should be nested within the main ‘Authors’ page. Other pages should also be ordered by date, content, or relevant main or sub-pages. You can also build navigation through ‘breadcrumbs’ which is a row of internal links that appear somewhere on your site. This helps users to easily flip-flop between pages and know where they are.

    Without navigation or strong SEO, the credibility of a site falls apart. Thus it ranks lower and is harder to find in the search engine results pages. And this hurts your business!

    Deciphering the Google Algorithm: The SEO Best Practices 6

    Implementing SEO Best Practices

    Aside from boosting on-page SEO, external links, and navigation, it’s extremely important to focus on the content of your website. The content is the ‘meat and potatoes’ that builds your site and engages users and potential clients alike.

    When it comes to creating blog posts for your website, you want to create a combination of long-form content and educational content. According to Forbes, blog posts that contained over 1,500 words are 68% more likely to be shared on Twitter and 22% more likely to be shared on Facebook.

    Although it’s smart to have different lengths of content to keep things varied, having long-form guarantees users will be on your page(s) longer. Keeping the tone informative and engaging, too, will reflect that your site is credible as well.

    Here are the best practices for website content:

    Deciphering the Google Algorithm: The SEO Best Practices 7

    Make Your Site User-Friendly and Engaging

    Your site should be clear. It should be very apparent what you offer or sell and ways the consumer can engage with, or purchase your products. There should also be an aspect of fun, too, that shows why your company differs from the rest.

    You can use images, infographics, videos, quizzes, calculators and more to help you achieve a transformation of your website to be highly-engaging for visitors.

    Deciphering the Google Algorithm: The SEO Best Practices 8

    Make Your Expertise Clear

    Convey a tone of an informative, yet trusting nature. You should appear to be an expert—but not a condescending one! As users read your content, they should be educated and confident in pursuing your services.

    Deciphering the Google Algorithm: The SEO Best Practices 9

    Focus On Users over Search Engines

    Although keeping SEO in mind is invaluable, you shouldn’t feel pressured to write to engines over an audience. You want your site to be a relevant landing page for potential customers. Design your site around your visitors’ needs first.

    Deciphering the Google Algorithm: The SEO Best Practices 10

    Avoid Overdoing It

    Keep your site distraction-free.

    Remove or modify unwanted ads, especially if they consume the site content. If there are links that pull viewers quickly from your page, be sure to include them in more productive ways by ensuring they open in a new tab.

    Be sure that your content is an appropriate length for the subject. And don’t worry about explaining everything with your words. That’s what diagrams, pictures, and videos are for!

    Deciphering the Google Algorithm: The SEO Best Practices 11

    Prioritize Mobile-Friendliness

    Beyond clear web navigation, it’s important to consider mobile usability as well. Over 5 million people have mobile devices. You want to be sure that those people are reaching your site with ease and can navigate your pages without issues in layout or page positioning.

    Deciphering the Google Algorithm: The SEO Best Practices 12

    Ready to Power Your Website?

    You’ve done the research into what SEO best practices involves. Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of the Google algorithm and what that really means. We’ve reviewed on-page optimization of your posts and pages, and what components make a strong blog. You’ve read about developing simple site navigation and even the dire importance of mobile-friendliness.

    Although understanding the Google algorithm and the ever-changing world of SEO can seem difficult at first, it’s manageable when you break down the components and assign them to different members of a team.

    Plus, once a campaign has started, keeping on track with SEO by understanding the deliverables you’re receiving from the company you’re working with will ensure you understand how and why your site is continually climbing higher on the search engine rankings (or the other way around).

    For more information about SEO or to learn answers to questions on other popular digital marketing questions, check out our blog.

    About The Author:

    Chris Kirksey

    Chris Kirksey

    Chris Kirksey is the CEO of, a Local SEO software & SEO services company reflecting the culmination of a 15+ year obsession with digital marketing. It all started with an eBay business at 9 years old, then transitioning from domain investing and website building. After a 6-year US Army career leading intelligence collection teams both in the US and overseas, Chris now brings a sophisticated approach from cryptologic language and adversary data intelligence to digital marketing and business intelligence. His precision and planning of military campaigns, now reflected in SEO campaigns, have proven successful for clients in industries ranging from law firms to technology startups.
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