For as long as Google has been around, there has existed an inherent mystery surrounding its search algorithm. And although there are numerous articles out there that aim to provide clarity on the subject matter, these more often than not are brim-full of speculation and opinion.
In this article, we’re going to delve as deep as possible into the inner workings of Google’s search algorithm to separate fact from fiction and distil the notion of rising fear each time the words “algorithm update” are murmured.
Let’s get started.
What Is Google’s Search Algorithm?
Google’s search algorithm is a complex system used to retrieve data from the search index and deliver the optimal results for a particular query. In fact, Google’s ranking system is made up of a series of algorithms that look at many factors; the weight applied to each factor varies depending on the nature of a query.
To understand this, we first need to come to terms with the broader context of Google’s ranking process, which is segregated into three main stages:
The is the initial stage where Google’s spiders crawl the web scouting for new and updated web pages. Generally speaking, the more links a page has to it, the easier it will be for Google to locate it. Once Googlebot has scoured the web and located some new content, it moves to the second phase.
In this phase, the URL’s located in the step above will be analysed to divulge what the page is about. Google accomplishes this by closely looking at:
- Media files
From then on, this information will be stored in the Google Index (a massive database).
This is the final phase of Google’s ranking process, also known as the ranking stage. Here it will be determined which of the discovered pages are most relevant to a particular query.
Now that we have some more understanding how Google’s ranking process works, it’s time to get to the part you’ve been waiting for.
How Does the Google Search Algorithm Actually Work?
The fact of the matter is that, aside from Google’s inner circle, nobody really knows how exactly Google’s search algorithm works.
It is a closely guarded secret that if made public, could potentially skew the quality of search as we know it, and dimmish Google’s value in the process. The whole premise behind Google search is to provide helpful answers to queries. If the algorithm’s workings were made public knowledge, people would exploit the system, taking quality out the equation altogether.
However, as secretive Google is around their search algorithm, the company are not exactly silent about it and have on a few occasions offered insight into the mystery.
In fact, Google frequently provides detailed guidelines, hints, and tips through the medium of their Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst, John Mueller. Through blogs, videos, webinars and social media, Mueller often attempts to bridge the knowledge gap that exists between the SEO community and Google.
So, through the learnings from Google’s unofficial spokesperson, let’s take a look at some of the key ranking factors in Google’s search algorithm.
Key Ranking Factors in Google’s Search Algorithm
Given no one knows how exactly the algorithm works, we do know, based on what Google has said in the past, what the main factors are that its algorithm takes into account. Here they are:
- User Experience
- Intent and Meaning
Although it’s difficult to attain an exact idea of what exactly Google’s algorithm gives precedence to, Google has been rather forthcoming with its advice and guidance. The good news is that many of these factors are things that you have control over.
Google Core Updates an Ever-Evolving Algorithm
As of August 2023, Google performed its latest core update. While these updates to the search algorithm can positively affect previously less viewed pages/sites in rankings and traffic, they also have the potential to negatively affect other pages.
How to Guard Against Ranking & Traffic Drops
Google says that these core updates do not target specific pages or websites, while Google is tight-lipped about the specifics of the latest core update, we did get a comment surrounding content:
‘We suggest focusing on ensuring you’re offering the best content you can’.
These core updates to Google’s search algorithm happen every few months, and pages that are negatively affected should be audited to determine why the page traffic or rank dropped after a core update.
Maintain High-Quality Content
This leads us back to a key principle of content, quality matters more than quantity, websites that push out low-quality content in bulk typically won’t do as well as websites which maintain high-quality content, if you can do both at once even better.
The effect of Google’s core updates on rankings and traffic is debatable however, it’s something to keep an eye on as these updates are performed regularly and do affect what the algorithm looks for.
Keep Your Users in Mind
Ensure that your users are having a positive experience while using your website, your website should not load slowly or be less usable across devices.
Remember your users can come from a variety of devices, so your website must run well on both desktop and mobile devices as Google uses a mobile-first indexing system. What this means is that Google will judge how high your site should rank based on how well it performs on mobile devices.
While this is not the only ranking factor Google’s algorithm takes into account, it is a large factor to consider when we know that 58% of web traffic comes from mobile devices as of 2023, and this trend is only growing.
By keeping a keen eye on industry developments and staying up to date with Mueller’s latest, the algorithm can be seen as something not to fear, but a partner in your quest to deliver your audience with the best content you can.