SEO 101: How the Google Search Algorithm Works
Are you learning about search engine optimization and interested in pushing your website to the top of the search engine results for your targeted keywords?
Of course you are!
According to a March 2019 survey by netcraft, they received responses from 1,462,021,378 sites, 232,162,099 unique domains, and 8,526,624 web-facing computers.
That’s why search engines, like Google, use a series of algorithms, that analyze vast amounts of information, parse it into indexes, helping organize it by categories of what you are looking for, and helping to return useful information from the web.
Google is so fast at parsing the data, they can return up to 3.44 million results in 0.28 seconds!
When it comes to search engine market share, Google is top dog.
So, it makes the most sense to optimize your website for Google’s search algorithm.
Before we dive into the finer details of how the Google search algorithm works, here’s a passage from its website that pulls everything together:
“These ranking systems are made up of a series of algorithms that analyze what it is you are looking for and what information to return to you. And as we’ve evolved Search to make it more useful, we’ve refined our algorithms to assess your searches and the results in finer detail to make our services work better for you.”
In other words, Google is in the business of providing users with relevant information based on their search.
How Google Crawls the Web
Before you search, web crawlers (like Google) gather information from across hundreds of billions of webpages and organize it in the Search index.
Google’s algorithm does the work for you by searching out Web pages that contain the keywords you used to search, then assigning a rank to each page based several factors, including how many times the keywords appear on the page.
Higher ranked pages appear further up in Google’s search engine results page (SERP), meaning that the best links relating to your search query are theoretically the first ones Google lists.
Generally speaking, the Google search algorithm can be broken down into five parts:
1. Analyzing Your Words
Google strives to understand what you are searching for. This is the only way it can provide relevant results.
With the help of language models, Google is able to decipher your intention, thus knowing what to look up in its index.
While there is more to this than meets the eye, Google is undoubtedly the search engine leader in regards to returning relevant results.
Here’s another interesting passage from Google that gives you a good idea of how much time the company has put into this part of the process:
For example, our synonym system helps Search know what you mean, even if a word has multiple definitions. This system took over five years to develop and significantly improves results in over 30% of searches across languages.
This shows how dedicated Google is to providing the highest quality, most relevant results.
2. Matching Your Search
Analyzing your words is the start, but matching your search is when the real fun begins.
Google looks for webpages that match your query. It does this by looking up your terms in the index, and searching for websites that most closely match the information you require. This is done by analyzing details such as whether the keyword appears in titles or headings and how often it appears on a page.
3. Ranking Pages
When searching, you don’t care how many pages include information on your subject matter. All you care about is finding the right information. And that is what Google strives to deliver.
For a typical query, it’s not out of the question for there to be tens of millions of websites with relevant information.
So, to ensure that Google provides the best results, its algorithms get to work.
Here’s what the “Big G” has to say:
These algorithms analyze hundreds of different factors to try to surface the best information the web can offer, from the freshness of the content, to the number of times your search terms appear and whether the page has a good user experience. In order to assess trustworthiness and authority on its subject matter, we look for sites that many users seem to value for similar queries. If other prominent websites on the subject link to the page, that’s a good sign the information is high quality.
Of course, this approach leads many people to create spammy sites in an attempt to game the search engine. But once again, Google fights against this with algorithms for identifying spam and possibly removing sites that violate its webmaster guidelines.
4. Context Matters
Not everyone is served with the same search results, even if they search for the same keywords.
A variety of factors – including past search history, search settings, and location – all come into play when generating results.
For example, searching for “top restaurants” as a consumer in Chicago will generate different results than the same search for a consumer in Los Angeles.
5. Returning the Best Results
This is what Google is all about. Before you are served any results (which is done almost instantaneously), Google evaluates the search terms as to provide the most helpful information.
The way Google returns the best results today may not be the same as tomorrow (or next year). Its algorithms are always changing.
So, there you have it. This is a dumbed down version of how the Google search algorithm works, but it should give you a better picture of how things progress when a user searches.
With this information in mind, you may find it easier to build and optimize your website for Google (and other search engines).