There are over a thousand different factors that Google use in their algorithm to decide who appears where in the Search Engine Results Page (aka the SERP). It’s also worth noting that SEO has changed over the past few years with updates to their algorithms, the 2 biggest types of updates were nicknamed Panda and Penguin after the developers who created them; and these updates are still going on. So, how does a search engine work?
The most fundamental fact, that has stood the test of time with all the different updates, is relevance. The whole of Google was born on the idea that in the back of a dissertation at a University the sources are referenced (e.g. which book was used for a particular quote or example). Larry Page who co-founded Google took that idea and constructed that the more sources that are referred to, the more important that end source must be. In a dissertation all the sources are naturally relevant, so Google online looks into that by detecting what IP address the links are coming from to confirm they are all different “dissertations” rather than it’s trying to be tricked.
Taking the dissertation idea to the internet, the more links/references to a website the more important it must be. To reduce people trying to trick the search engines, the value of links to a site are heavily weight in favour of relevance. There are other factors that then start to play a part in the value such as number of outbound links already on a page and the amount of times a key phrase appears on a page.
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Hopefully that all makes sense, but please note it’s written by a geek! If you have any questions or need to talk to a real person to explain it in human speak; please feel free to contact us.