The crux of Google’s success lies in the closely guarded secret: its search algorithm. It determines how search results are matched and ranked, ensuring fairness and authenticity.
Keeping it secret prevents manipulation and maintains the quality of the search.
While Google provides guidelines to webmasters, the exact ranking factors remain undisclosed. This balance between secrecy and transparency ensures an unbiased search experience for users.
Main mantras of serving search results
It was nearly two decades ago when Matt Cutts started discussing how search works more broadly with the SEO community. Somewhere around the Panda launch back in 2011 was one of the breaking points for SEO and his engagement was valued above all.
But even back then I feel like they have been repeating the same mantras:
- Relevance: Show results that best match the user’s search intent.
- Authority: Prioritize content from trustworthy and reputable sources.
- Freshness: Display recent and updated information when relevant.
- User Experience: Optimize results for a seamless and user-friendly experience.
- Diversity: Offer a variety of perspectives and sources in search results.
- Accessibility: Ensure search results are accessible to all users, regardless of disabilities or limitations.
Any change or update to the search engine algorithm boils down to these.
It’s the technology, culture, and user behavior that change over time so these updates need to reflect that.
For example, the Hummingbird update launched back in late 2013.
This was one of the biggest updates of the Google Search algorithm, it was explained by Matt Cutts himself as a complete rewrite of the core algorithm itself.
He stated back then:
“Just to do a better job of matching the user’s queries with documents, especially for natural language queries, you know the queries get longer, they have more words in them and sometimes those words matter and sometimes they don’t.”
It was at that point that smartphone usage basically doubled from two years back.
And voice search on Google which was introduced back in 2011 for Google.COM only, grew as well and got a compatible version for iOS devices as of 2012. But the service demo was live way before that and people had been experimenting with speech recognition for search.
Just Google what calling this number did (650) 623-6706.
This was a stepping stone where suddenly a good number of search queries on Google started to be more natural language based.
It was the voice search that shifted the needle from typing in the prompt “apple pie recipe” to simply asking “What do I need to make an apple pie?”
Matt Cutts discusses how voice search changed query syntax
And the SEO community followed this signal, praying mantras like “Content is king” and shifting away from using keyword-stuffed, overly optimized content.
Should the search adapt to the algorithm or should Google adapt to the search?
So what happened with people who just wrote and published their content, never, ever investigating anything SEO related?
A person who published a website for their flower shop and just simply wrote, irregularly, passionately about nurturing flowers, making flower arrangements, or various facts about them.
A person who never thought about the % of keywords, number of backlinks, anchor text distributions, and page rank.
A person that kept their content fact-checked or empirically backed, and always used their own visual media to present their work.
And their website had to be as lightweight as possible with no animations, with simple elements as internet speeds were so shitty at the time that if they wanted to have larger res images presented so everyone can enjoy them, the page would load for ages.
And if the text to background contrast ratio was black on white, it would be tiresome for reading and kinda boring.
And their content blew up, as people were thrilled. And there were trolls and haters, but their website, photos, and blogs had been referenced and shared all over the web, in communities large and small.
Would you agree with me that this person had covered the mantras discussed before?
But the mechanisms that were used to check the things listed were way simpler at the time and the data sets used for it were limited by a lot of technological and cultural factors.
So many results at the time were ranked higher than this person’s website, which shouldn’t.
So Google “simply” utilized known technologies of the time (speech recognition, natural language processing, Android, cookies, etc), to feed their data sets and adapt their search algorithm at the time, so the output of their mantras stays as is.
The idea that this person’s flower shop website should rank better as it was more relevant to a person who shares the same interest as them hasn’t changed since Google’s launch.
It’s Google that has changed its works to reflect that.
How should you react when Google announces an update?
But here’s where I get to the point of this.
- Google is still a business and it shares the same goals as any other business: survive, sustain, and profit.
- Revealing their search algorithm to the public hurts their ability to survive and profit.
- Not guiding or educating their users and community to adapt to their existing mechanisms of indexation, search, and rankings hurts their sustainability.
- Yet to nurture and grow their client/customer/user satisfaction, they must constantly improve
And in order to achieve this they will constantly have to improve to serve results that are relevant, authoritative, fresh, user-friendly, and diversified.
And any SEO expert worth its salt will focus on these and will constantly explore how these could be achieved. So with each new update, disclosed or undisclosed by Google, you may be sure that the update will focus on achieving these exact mantras.
So that you, as an SEO expert, should always know ahead of its time what new technologies or cultural behavioral changes might affect them. And to be proactive.
Google had three ranking updates this year and a single indexation one so far, according to them.
Algoroo is noticing a ton of ranking fluctuations in the past three months.
Keeping the mantras of relevancy, authority, freshness, UX, and diversification as their end goals, what do you think changed?
What has affected the way they measure and calculate these?
Is there anything you should do to adapt, or has Google adapted to you?