Oct 17

Google’s algorithms: how do they work?

It’ll be a brief article for you all today: we don’t know, google’s algorithms are proprietary info.

See you next week folks!


So: we may not know for certain the exact details of what is weighted how (and with the complexity of algorithms in play its likely no one person does) but there is plenty we can infer. There are, lucky for us, various ways we can get a glimpse behind the curtain over at Google HQ.

The Background

A brief rundown of search engines history is the best starting place to help understand past problems they’ve faced and the journey Google’s algorithms took to their current incarnation (Spoiler alert: its people. People were the problem).

  • Originally your search keywords were the only factor in play. This often meant the top ranked sites were gibberish created solely with the aim of making ad revenue off of popular search terms.
  • To combat this Google co-founder Larry Page realised that links from one site to another could be used, like academic citations, to demonstrate authoritative content.Thus the PageRank algorithm was born. (Yes, its named after him. Not ‘webpage’).
  • Unsurprisingly, people once again tried to game the system and we saw the rise of Black Hat SEO and link farms where unscrupulous folk sought to boost their ranking by buying links. The Penguin update in 2012 finally torpedoed this by automatically removing such sites from Google’s results.
  • Which brings us to the current phase: perfect SEO placement of keywords. Cramming them into titles, headers, subheadings, the URL and so on.

The Experts

Google itself also gives out some info in its webmasters’ guide.
From this it would appear that backlinks and the PageRank is still a major part of Google’s algorithms. Can we be certain however? Well, while the Webmasters’ Guide is certainly a good starting point for boosting your online visibility, there is more to this SEO game than they’re going to tell you upfront. We can however drill out much more info via experimentation and get at the specifics rather than the wishy washy broad strokes.

SEO experts like Ahrefs have conducted intensive investigations on what exactly affects rankings.
To save you trawling the whole thing, the major points to pick up from that particular study, which will serve as the final takeaway for today, are:

  • Backlinks had far and away the biggest correlation to high SERP ranking.
  • On page SEO had a smaller but certainly noticeable effect.
  • The RankBrain algorithm is starting to make exact keyword matches less necessary.
  • The age of the page has an unexpectedly high correlation to higher rankings. It is definitely worth keeping your older material up to snuff with updates and edits.

It would appear we’re finally reaching the point where sites have to actually provide content with useful answers and well formatted SEO rather than trying to break the system through nefarious loopholes. Hooray!

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