What do we really know about Google’s ranking algorithm?
What do we really know about Google’s new ranking algorithm?
Seeing as the print industry is moving on we have decided to invest some of our time into helping our clients with some of their digital marketing needs, so when we heard that Google is coming out with a new ranking algorithm we felt that it was absolutely necessary to share the news. We have found this great article about Google’s new ranking algorithm. Have a read and let me know if we can help with any of your digital marketing needs.
Google is the dominating force in the world of search engines, and there’s an entire industry dedicated to maximizing visibility within its search engine results: search engine optimization (SEO).
People like me have built their careers on finding ways to benefit from the central ranking algorithm at Google’s core. But here’s the interesting thing: Google doesn’t explicitly publish how its search algorithm works and often uses vague language when describing its updates.
So how much do we really know about Google’s ranking algorithm? And why is Google so secretive about it?
Why Google Keeps Things Secret
Google has come under fire lately, most recently by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, because it keeps its algorithm secret. Her main argument is that transparency is vitally important to maintaining a balanced society; after all, our daily searches shape our behavior in subtle and blatant ways, and not knowing the mechanisms that influence that behavior can leave us in the dark.
But Google isn’t withholding its algorithm so that it can manipulate people with reckless abandon. There are two good reasons why the company would want to keep the information a closely-guarded secret.
First, Google’s algorithm is proprietary, and it has become the dominant search competitor because of its sheer sophistication. If other competitors have free and open access to the inner workings of that algorithm, they could easily introduce a competing platform with comparable power, and Google’s search share could unfairly plummet.
Second, there are already millions of people who make a living by improving their positions within Google, and many of them are willing to use ethically questionable tactics or spam people in an effort to get more search visibility. If Google fully publishes its search algorithm, they could easily find bigger loopholes and ruin the relatively fair search engine results pages (SERPs) we’ve come to expect from the giant.
How We Learn
So if Google withholds all the information on its algorithm, how can search optimizers know how to improve the search rankings of webpages?
- Google revelations. Google doesn’t leave webmasters totally in the dark. While it refuses to disclose specifics about how the algorithm functions, it’s pretty open about the general intentions of the algorithm, and what webmasters can take away from it. For example, Google has published and regularly updates a guidelines manual on search quality ratings; 160 pages long, and last updated July of last year, it’s a fairly comprehensive guidebook that explains general concepts of how Google judges the quality of a given page. Google has also been known to explain its updates as they roll out—especially the larger ones—with a short summary and a list of action items for webmasters. These are all incredibly helpful sources of information.
- Direct research. Google doesn’t give us everything, however. If you scroll through Moz’s fairly comprehensive guide on the history of Google’s algorithm changes, you’ll notice dozens of small updates that Google didn’t formally announce, and in many cases, refuses to acknowledge. How does the search community know that these algorithm changes unfolded? We have volatility indicators like MozCast, which measure how much the SERPs are changing within a given period of time; a period of high volatility is usually the signature of some kind of algorithm change. We can also conduct experiments, such as using two different tactics on two different pages and seeing which one ranks higher at the end of the experiment period. And because the SEO community is pretty open about sharing this information, one experiment is all it takes to give the whole community more experience and knowledge.
- Experience and intuition. Finally, after several years of making changes and tracking growth patterns, you can rely a bit on your own experience and intuition. When search traffic plummets, you can usually identify a handful of potential red flags and come up with ideas for tweaks to take you back to your baseline.
What Do We Know?
So what do we really know about Google’s search algorithm?
- The basics. We know the basic concept behind the search platform: to give users the best possible results for their queries. Google does this by presenting results that offer a combination of relevance (how appropriate the topic is) and authority (how trustworthy the source is).
- Core ranking factors. We also know the core ranking factors that will influence your rank. Some of these come directly from Google’s webmaster guidelines, and some of them come from the results of major experiments. In any case, we have a good idea what changes are necessary to earn a high rank, and what factors could stand in your way. I covered 101 of them here.
- Algorithm extensions and updates. We also know when there’s a new Google update, thanks to the volatility indicator, and we can almost always form a reasonable conclusion on the update’s purpose—even when Google doesn’t tell us directly.
While we still don’t know the specifics of how Google’s algorithm works—and unless the EU’s transparency campaign kicks into high gear soon, we probably won’t for the foreseeable future—we do know enough about it to make meaningful changes to our sites, and maximize our ranking potential.
Moreover, the general philosophy behind the algorithm and the basic strategies needed to take advantage of it aren’t hard to learn. If you’re willing to read Google’s documentation and learn from the experiments of others, you can get up to speed in a matter of weeks.
About the author
Digital Marketing Assistant
As Digital Marketing Assistant at Print4UK, Lewis helps with all aspects of digital marketing – from social media, to web design and from email campaigns to PPC. Being social media savvy Lewis settled into the role with ease. He is looking forward to making a real impact on what goes on at Print4UK, by taking their digital marketing to the next level.