How Does Google Decide What Comes Up First?


The secret formula to how Google decides what comes up first is just that, a secret – but there are proven tactics that will help you get your site ranking highly. So, we’ve put together this guide to help you understand those tactics, and to show you the basics of how Google decides what comes up first.

Search Engine Results Page

If you search for ‘dog groomers in Cardiff,’ you will be shown results for dog groomers in Cardiff, unless something goes very wrong! These results are pulled from Google’s index of websites, which constitutes most of the sites on the Internet, and displayed on the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).

When a new site or webpage is created, e.g., a site about dog grooming, Google's bots "crawl" it so that they can add it to the index (this particular process can be sped up by submitting it via Google Search Console). Then, when someone makes a search query about dog grooming, Google's algorithm sorts through the data in its index to pull through to the SERP what it believes are the most relevant results. In our example, it would search its index to look for content relating to the search query “dog groomers in Cardiff” and show you what it believes are the right results for you.


Google’s algorithm uses a lot of data to determine what’s known as “search intent,” that is, what it thinks you mean when you type a query into the search engine. This is to ensure you don’t get pages on cat food in Plymouth when looking for dog groomers in Cardiff. To do this, Google combines your search query with additional information to generate its search results.

The extra data Google can use to help determine user search intent includes:

  • Your Google account data (if any)
  • Location of the computer or phone you’re using, taken from the IP address or GPS co-ordinates

Google then combines this contextual data with the website content to bring you what it believes to be the best results for you. For example, if your Google account or computer location data says you are in the Penarth area, then a dog groomer who also lives in Penarth will be shown closer to the top of the search results than one who lives further out towards Newport.

In terms of a site’s content, two of the most basic things Google is looking for are:

  • Keyword relevance 
  • Content quality

Keyword Relevance

If you’re looking for ‘dog groomers in Cardiff,’ those are the keywords Google’s bots will use to scan through its index. A site which uses that exact combination in its on-page content will almost certainly be more relevant to your search intent, and so will rank higher, than one that just happens to use those words. That is, a company that states “we are dog groomers in Cardiff” will rank higher than the blog of a horse groomer who talks about their pet dog and lives in Cardiff.

READ MORE: How to Choose Keywords For Your Content

Content Quality

Google also analyses crawled sites for the quality of their content. Quality is definitely a subjective metric, but there are objective measures that search engines use to determine whether or not content is considered high quality.

If a site just repeats the words “dog groomers in Cardiff” numerous times without any other useful information, it isn’t likely to be a good site! This particular technique is known as “keyword stuffing” and risks a site being flagged by Google as spam content.

Sites that use keywords to make truly informative, easily-digestible content will therefore rank higher. For our example, a good site for dog groomers won’t just talk about the various dog grooming services they offer, but will also show photos of recent clients, and could even have a blog about various aspects of canine grooming, healthcare, and so on.

Just as Google uses contextual data from the searcher to determine search intent, it also scans a wealth of contextual on-site data for indicators of content quality. This data includes customer reviews via Yelp or Trustpilot, FAQs, endorsements, certifications of expertise, and more. Sites with lots of this kind of data will rank higher than those without. After all, it’s better to have your dog groomed by a professional with official certifications and positive customer reviews than someone with clippers and a can-do attitude!


Referrals from other sites, known as ‘backlinks,’ will also improve a page’s ranking because they demonstrate to Google that the page has quality content. If a dog groomer has a backlink from the British Dog Groomers Association, this indicates expertise and quality service from the groomer, but also tells Google that the site is a good one and should rank highly in the results for your query.

READ MORE: Link Building: What to Do and What Not to Do

It’s worth making sure your backlinks come from sites with high domain authority. As above, a backlink from the British Dog Groomers Association will be considered as more authoritative than one from a blogger with twenty readers.

It won’t be harmful to have some backlinks from small-time bloggers if you also have backlinks from sites with high domain authority. However, having too many inbound links from sites that have low domain authority or are deemed as having a high amount of spam content could easily look suspicious to search engines.

Learn More About Search Engine Optimisation

Fully explaining how Google decides what comes up first is a much more complex task than this blog’s remit, but you can use the information outlined here to your advantage in creating or optimising your own site. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) involves paying attention to these metrics and manipulating them so that Google decides your site should come up first.

Here at Designer Websites, we are experts in search engine optimisation. If you have a query about our services, why not get in touch?

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