Ranking refers to the position of a website in the search engine results, usually at Google.

How the rankings come about

When a user enters a search term in the search box of a search engine and starts the search, it searches its index for relevant websites. These must then be issued in a sequence. To determine this sequence, the search engine determines the relevance of the selected websites. They are then issued with descending relevance, thus the ranking is created.

The position occupied by a site within this ranking changes depending on the keyword. For example, a website that deals with fish feed, may appear in place 1 under the search request “fish feed guppies.” However, if you search for “cat food,” the search engine will assign a low relevance to that website and if it is listed at all, it will be very far down on the SERPs.

Positive ranking factors

Because Google is the most relevant search engine for optimizers, the ranking factors are explained below using the Google Webmaster Guidelines.[1] The following ranking factors are specifically mentioned by Google:

  • Clear website structure
  • Traceability of every subpage with one static text link
  • Availability of a sitemap with links to the main pages of the site
  • “Reasonable” number of links on a page
  • Useful information with added value, written for readers
  • Use of relevant keywords that users would type in the search engine
  • ALT attributes for images that reflect the textual content
  • Correct use of HTML syntax
  • Avoidance of broken links
  • Specific use of images and video and rich snippets

Negative ranking factors

Anything which makes indexing more difficult for Google negatively affects the ranking. That includes any measures that serve to deceive or circumvent the Google algorithms. Negative ranking factors mentioned by Google include:

  • Use of features such as JavaScript, Flash, Frames or cookies that detract from the readability and accessibility of content
  • Use of session IDs or parameters for the recording of the path which the crawler takes
  • Negative influence through crawled ads from Google AdSense and double-click links
  • Long loading times result in poor user experience and dissatisfied visitors

Additional measures and criteria which may also result in the devaluation of a webpage are explained in this Google Webmaster Help video.

Black hat SEO

Black Hat SEO is a special branch of SEO whereby conscious violations of the Webmaster Guidelines are risked in order to achieve better search engine positioning. This includes doorway pages, cloaking, link exchange, and spamming. Black Hat SEO is similar to gambling. They can represent an enormous potential, but also pose a big risk. If the search engine finds out about the violations, typically over-optimization penalties will be imposed. At best, the webpages in question will “only” be lowered in position, but at worst, they may be completely removed from the index. Any efforts to improve the ranking would then have been in vain.

Relevance to search engine optimization

The ranking is central to the efforts of search engine optimization. The higher the position of a website on the SERPs, the more traffic it will get from Google search results. With each update that is rolled out by Google, it is more likely that searchers will find their answers directly in the top 10 search results, because the search engine understands better and better what users actually would like to know (keyword: semantic search). Accordingly, the first rankings at Google will also receive the most traffic.

According to a survey, about 32.5 percent of total traffic or about one-third go to the first position. Only 6.1 percent of the traffic clicks the website in position 5. At page 2 the share of the search results decreases sharply. Place 11 receives an average of only 1 percent of the traffic. Hence the great importance of placing in the top 10 of the search engines. Depending on the industry and the selected keyword, the competition for these spots is great.


  1. Google Webmaster Guidelines Google Support. Accessed on 01/15/2014