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Introduction to SEO – Part 3 – Search Engine Rankings

Introduction to SEO – Part 1 introduced the various components of a webpage including on-page and off-page factors, HTML, and the importance of Keywords.

Introduction to SEO – Part 2 introduced the various types of search engine indexes that exist online, how search engine spiders crawl webpages for information and how that information is indexed for future retrieval.

With this background we can now look at search engine results and ranking factors!

Search Engine Results Page Breakdown:

There are several factors taken into consideration when determining the order of search results provided to users. Below is an example of a typical search engine results page (commonly known as a SERP):

Search Engine Results Page

The elements of the Google SERP include:

  • Paid Search Results have the most prominence at the top of search results (these are paid ad campaigns).
  • Google Places Search Results provide local search results close to the top of search results (based on business location and proximity).
  • Organic Search Results are the results Google has determined to be most relevant to search terms (based on Google algorithms and ranking factors).

SERP Ranking Factors:

We will be focusing on search engine algorithms and page importance. This is by no means an exhaustive list of factors affecting search results, but will provide enough foundational knowledge to understand the effects of the various variables involved in search engine rankings.

SERP Ranking Factors will be addressed shortly. Of recent importance (in 2012-2013) is the integration of social media data in search engine results, as well as the introduction of local search results that are displayed based on geographic location.

Search Engine Algorithms:

Search engines use complex mathematical equations called algorithms to rank webpages. These algorithms make calculations about the relevance of words on web pages in relation to search queries/terms, and the perceived importance and popularity of webpages.

Note – Although search engines publish algorithm updates and best practices/guidelines for users, search engine algorithms are tightly held secrets and not publicly available!

Example: Google Algorithm Updates
Search engine algorithms are constantly tweaked and regularly updated in order to limit the effect of detrimental web page manipulations intended solely to increase search engine rankings.

A Google algorithm update example is the Panda Update (Feb 2011). Google states:

“Our goal is simple: to give people the most relevant answers to their queries as quickly as possible. This requires constant tuning of our algorithms, as new content – both good and bad – comes online all the time…. Google depends on the high-quality content created by wonderful websites around the world, and we do have a responsibility to encourage a healthy web ecosystem. Therefore, it is important for high-quality sites to be rewarded, and that’s exactly what this change does.”

The Panda Update is designed to reward websites with quality content, and penalize websites with weak content.

Page Importance:

There are two main factors that search engines use to determine the position that pages will gain in search results:

  • Keyword relevancy
  • Page importance or link popularity

As we have seen, when carrying out a search query, search engines try to return relevant pages for the query by returning pages that contain the keywords in the search query.

Search engines also take the importance of a webpage into account when ranking search results. This importance is based on the number of external links pointing to the page  (amongst other factors) . The more links pointing to the webpage, the more important the page is deemed to be!

The best example of this system of ranking pages is Google’s PageRank:

The Google PageRank

Google’s PageRank is a system that rates the importance of pages in direct proportion to the number of incoming links.

PageRank uses the network of links on the web in order to determine the relative value of individual web pages. It does this by counting the number of links pointing to one page from other sites. A link from another site is considered a ‘vote’ in favour of that page, the higher the votes, the greater the value or perceived importance of the page!

That isn’t all – Google also takes into account the importance of the website that links to the webpage, in other words the authority of incoming links. If the site that links to the web page is already seen to have a high importance (i.e. it already has a high PageRank), then any link it provides is ‘weighted’ higher than a link coming from a page with a lower PageRank (i.e. of lesser importance).

Google combines PageRank with page relevance to ensure that search results are not only important in themselves, but are also relevant to the search.

Although PageRank is specific to Google, most of the major search engines now use a similar system to determine the position of pages in search results.


There are numerous factors that can have an influence on web page rankings in search engines. Search engine algorithms are tightly held secrets, but they are largely based on two factors, keyword relevance and page importance.

The final article in this series Introduction to SEO – Part 4 looks at search engine optimization and the factors involved in webpage rankings.

SEO Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at 

    • Bunny

      I much prefer intivmafore articles like this to that high brow literature.

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