How Does Google Decide Your Website Ranking?

You want patients to find you when they enter your name in a Google search. Ron Harman King, in this edition of “The Wired Practice” featured on MedPage Today, explains how to get a high Google search website ranking and what affects your placement on search results.
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Video transcript

If you have any doubts about the power of the Google search engine and its role in the visibility of healthcare providers, consider two statistics. At the present time, there are 30 trillion web pages on the internet – that’s trillion with a “T” – and Google searches them 100 billion times a month. That’s billion with a “B.” These statistics may help comfort you that if your medical practice’s website ranking isn’t showing up on page 1 of Google search results, you’re a very, very long ways from being alone.

However, if you’re not happy with your Google website ranking, there is an easy fix. Notice that I didn’t say a cheap fix. Rather, if you want a sure bet for appearing on page one of Google, you can always pay to be there by buying a Google ad.

Now, let’s make sure we all understand how Google searches work. When you enter a search term on the Google home page, you get search-engine results pages with two kinds of displays. Most of the listings on search-engine results pages – or SERP, as it’s called in the vernacular – consists of so-called organic results, or natural search results.

Google’s top-secret website ranking algorithm

To determine these results and their rankings, Google uses an extraordinarily complex, top-secret algorithm that its engineers change hundreds of time each year. In order to appear on page one organically for the most popular search terms, a web page generally has to have hundreds of words of extremely clear and useful information. Plus, it has to have been read by thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of Google users. We’ll talk more about natural searches in the next installment of The Wired Practice. For now, the important point is that it can be very difficult to have your website rank organically on page one.

Which brings us to the reason Google even exists in the first place: Advertisements. Under its AdWords program, Google sells ads to anyone willing to bid on any search term – a phrase that a Google user might type into the search engine’s home page. The nifty part is that these are pay-per-click ads – that is, the advertisers don’t pay until a user clicks on the link in an ad and goes to what’s called a landing page that the advertiser has chosen on his website. The advertiser then pays anywhere from a few pennies to tens of dollars or more each time to bring the Google user to that web page.

An interesting part of Google AdWords is that it’s a blind auction system. You place a bid on a search term for each click without knowing what any other advertiser is bidding. The ads appear in a ranking based on two factors: How much an advertiser has bid for a click, and what Google calls the click-through rate. That’s right, you can rarely buy your way to the top of the ads. You have to earn your way there partially by crafting good landing pages that link from the ads. The Google search engine analyzes each landing page and awards website ranking by what’s known as a Quality Score, using a scale of 1 to 10 and based on expected click-through rate, number of ad clicks to the page to date, and relevance of the page’s content to the search term.

Google AdWords are like every other kind of paid advertising in three critical aspects. Firstly, you can turn the ads on and off whenever you like, like a faucet controlling the flow of water. Secondly, you control where the ads appear, because AdWords allows you to select geographic locations for your ads, much as though you get to choose locations of billboards. Thirdly, probably most people who see the ads know they’re paid advertising, and thus there’s some loss of credibility in comparison to organic Google rankings.

For this reason and others, as a digital communications specialist, I think far too many doctors, clinics and hospitals rely far too heavily on paid internet advertisements.

In our next segment of The Wired Practice, we’ll talk more about organic Internet search and how it can be far superior as a way of raising your practice’s profile.