Is Google’s ranking algorithm really that complicated?

It’s easy to take Google for granted. Most of us do searches every day, and some of us do dozens or hundreds of searches every day. Whenever we conduct a search, we are immediately greeted with hundreds to thousands of relevant results, all of which provide the information or destination we need. It’s so simple, intuitive, and easy to use that we don’t think much of what’s going on behind the scenes.

But if you are in industry search engine optimization (SEO), you know there’s a lot going on behind the scenes. And if you want to leverage Google’s algorithm to rank higher and generate more organic traffic, you need to have at least some understanding of how Google’s ranking algorithm works.

Which is problematic and is a big challenge for most SEO newbies. As almost any SEO expert will tell you, Google’s ranking algorithm is extremely complex. But is it really as complicated as they say? And either way, how can you understand it better?

Transparency of Google’s search algorithm

Google wants to build best technology in the world. There is nothing to hide or deny it. But Google isn’t necessarily interested in making sure everyone understands exactly how that technology works.

The company is famous for keeping its core search algorithm secret. It doesn’t officially publish the algorithm, but it does give hints as to how it works. Why keep it a secret? There are a few good explanations. For starters, their search algorithm is proprietary and they don’t want others to copy exactly what they are doing. This is a basic trading platform that should come as no surprise to anyone reading it.

But it is also important because search optimizers are often looking for the fastest route to increase rankings and generate more traffic, sometimes at the expense of users. Because Google wants a reliable user experience, with consistently reliable and authentic results, Google doesn’t want the full information about how the ranking algorithm works to be officially revealed.

Because of this, it’s almost impossible to say exactly how complicated Google’s ranking algorithm is – because we’ll probably never even keep an eye on it.

Google Ranking Factors and What We Know

Let’s focus on what we know. Due to Google’s lack of transparency, we can’t say for sure how Google’s search algorithm is coded or how it works. But by running our own tests and collecting data, we were able to put together a list Google ranking factors.

The process goes like this. Using a variety of tools, we can find out which websites and which pages are ranking for which keywords and queries. We can study correlations, rule out certain possibilities, and ultimately narrow down the list of factors that are likely to allow a site to rank high.

There are some problems with this. Most notably, it is difficult to separate correlation from causality. For example, we know that sites with high user engagement rates, as indicated by factors like time spent on the page, are more likely to rank higher – but is this due to Google? Prioritize ranking of pages with that factor? Or do people naturally spend more time on the page because the page ranks as high as it is?

The safe way to play is to optimize for all causal or correlational factors we can find, ultimately positioning your site and pages to rank as high as possible. The thing is, there are literally hundreds of Google ranking factors. Some of these are more important than others, and some of them are easy to implement – but it’s still a huge list that’s hard to parse, especially if you have little experience in the field.

Start with the Basics

That said, many of the ranking factors we understand can be merged. For example, there are individual factors for the presence of keywords in different title tags and in different places throughout your content – but this can be summed up effectively. results by saying that it’s important to include relevant keywords in your content, especially in areas that users are likely to notice.

If we zoom out far enough, we can effectively reduce Google’s ranking algorithm to two main factors:

  • Suitability. Relevance is simply a measure of how relevant a website is to a user’s query. Is there any content on this page that answers the user’s question? Are keywords or phrases used by users present on this site?
  • Authorization. Authority is a measure of how trustworthy or authoritative a source is. If Google finds thousands of hypothetically relevant results, Google wants to prioritize selecting those that are most likely to provide reliable, trustworthy information.

You can achieve more coverage and authority by focusing on the following:

  • Technical optimization in place. How well is your website technically optimized? In other words, how is your site built, coded, and organized? Technical optimization means making sure your site is easy to crawl and discover, and make sure it loads quickly and efficiently for users, delivering the best user experience possible . It means guarantee Safe site for users. It means optimizing your website for mobile devices. It means optimizing your site for loading speed and dozens of other variables.
  • Local content. What type of content do you have on your site and how is its quality? Websites with in-depth, trustworthy content consistently rank better than sites with no content or bad content. The relevance of your content is also important; Onsite content is your best chance to optimize for specific keywords and phrases.
  • Offline content and links. You will also need to think about your content and offsetting links. This is another opportunity to optimize for relevance, but links themselves are integral to building your credibility and authority, as sites with a lot of incoming links tend to authority over others in a predictable, measurable way.

Additional Google ranking factors for complexity

After reading this simple analysis, you can breathe a sigh of relief because you’ve figured out Google’s ranking algorithm. But remember, there’s a lot of complexity lurking beneath the surface, and it goes beyond even the most comprehensive lists of ranking factors.

  • Semantic search. Google no longer looks at keywords individually or in close, one-on-one relationships. It now uses semantic search, understanding the context and meaning of keywords and phrases. It makes it much harder to optimize for specific terms using old techniques.
  • User behavior. What role does your behavior play in search ranking? We can make estimates based on measurements, but it’s hard to determine how much of these is correlated and how much is causal.
  • Personalized. Optimization is all about help users find what they are looking for. That’s why Google uses many tools to personalize search results. Based on your location, your profile, and even your search history, you may see very different results than others searching for the same keyword phrase.
  • Changes are happening. Google search is not a stagnant entity. It’s constantly changing, with new updates, UI tweaks, and more. As such, the half-life of knowledge in the SEO industry is relatively short.
  • Industry specific variables. Not all industries are treated equally by the Google search ranking algorithm. Some industries require additional strategic considerations – and certain industries simply rank harder than others.
  • Machine Learning and AI. In recent years, Google has try to automate its more search engines (and more search engine updates) the better. Its main way to do this is to combine machine learning and AI algorithms to better understand users’ search behavior and automatically apply updates based on what they learn. Because these updates sometimes happen in a “black box,” it’s impossible to understand all the small details – even for the engineers who designed them.

Google’s algorithm is very complicated

So what’s the point here? The truth is yes, Google’s ranking algorithm is extremely complex if you judge it based on its rudimentary sophistication. But if you’re looking at actual results, it’s easy to summarize some of the “common” ways that Google works. In the span of this short article, we’ve covered many of the basics, and with a few hours of follow-up reading, you can understand most of the elements of how Google’s ranking algorithm works. . But thanks to automatic AI updates, even Google’s top engineers probably don’t understand everything about it – and that’s totally fine.

Nate Nead

Nate Nead

Nate Nead is the CEO & Managing Member of Nead, LLC, a consulting firm providing strategic consulting services across a wide range of areas including finance, marketing, and software development. For over a decade, Nate has provided strategic guidance on M&A, capital acquisition, technology solutions and marketing for some of the most popular online brands. He and his team advise Fortune 500 and SMB clients alike. The team is based in Seattle, Washington; El Paso, Texas and West Palm Beach, Florida.

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