I was asked this week how Google decides which sites to give top rankings in their search results.
To clarify, the question wasn’t the normal, “What SEO actions do website owners need to do to rank top in Google?” Instead, it was how does Google’s search engine work?
A great question, and one I wish I could give a definitive answer to.
The reality is that only a very, very select group of senior people within Google know the full answer to that question. And it’s an answer that is continually changing.
The reason for this is because Google is fixated on continually improving the quality of the search results it delivers.
As I’ve mentioned before, Google is acutely aware that users will only keep using its search engine while they meet users’ continually rising expectations. History shows what happened to previous giants of search which missed that point.
RIP Hotbot, AltaVista, Yahoo! et al…
Back to the question about how Google chooses which sites rank where in their results. For a typical query, there are thousands, even millions, of webpages with potentially relevant information. So, just how does Google figure out what to show in your search results?
If you’re interested in knowing the answer, Google gives a great explanation here about how Google search works and something I recommend you check out. It’s an interesting read, free of techno-babble and includes videos.
As mentioned earlier, Google’s search engine is continually changing. And it looks like that’s happening faster than ever.
Back in 2011, Google stated it implements over 500 changes to its search algorithms each year. A huge figure and why SEO is continually having to evolve to keep up.
Google has just updated its How Search Works pages to reveal that in 2016 an astounding 1,653 new search changes were launched. That’s over 30 changes a week on average. This includes changes to their ranking algorithms, as well as rolling out new ways to present results.
Being a data-centric organisation changes weren’t made on the basis of intuition but based on the outcome of over 150,000 tests.
The video below may be over four years old but it is still interesting to watch because it shows the elaborate process Google goes through to decide whether or not to launch changes to their search engine.
Why should you care?
As a business owner or website manager, the last thing you probably have time for or want to do is become an SEO expert. However, if your business is like most, and gets 50% or more of its website traffic from organic search, then it makes sense to ensure you have a fundamental understanding of how Google works.
Spending a little time reading Google’s guide to how search works is a great place to start.
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Mark is a Partner and Senior Consultant at SureFire which he founded back in 2002. Prior to establishing SureFire he worked for KPMG Consulting. Today Mark heads up SEO, embracing the challenges that can come with complex website implementations. Outside of work, his interests beyond his family are running, snowsports, diving and fishing (badly).