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How Does the Google Search Algorithm Work?

From simple Boolean search terms to a huge algorithm that organises and ranks the entire internet, Google search has changed significantly over the years. While the company does publicly share updates, any specifics remain a secret.

So how do marketers know how to rank on Google? Some of it comes down to following best practices and testing new ideas. But arguably, the most important factor is simply understanding how algorithms in general work. You won’t get the best performance from your car if you don’t know how the engine works – and the same can be said for SEO.

Sub-Algorithms

An algorithm is defined by Google as ‘a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer.’ This describes not only their trademarked algorithm PageRank, but all of the smaller sub-algorithms that make up PageRank.

Let’s focus on a few components of a website:

  • URLs
  • Content
  • Links
  • Images
  • Speed

Each of these components have their own set of sub-algorithms that determine whether they are valuable. This information is then fed to PageRank, which then provides us with relevant search results.

When marketers work to improve rankings, we are typically focusing on these sub-algorithms. What back-links do we need to be considered valuable? How much content do we need to write and how many keywords need to be included?

Entities

Google sees the world as a collection of entities. A website is an entity, as is a page on that website and a link on that webpage. You are also an entity interacting with the website. By classifying everything this way, Google can effectively judge our connections with other entities.

Before entities, Google assigned relevance based on word proximity, density and other easily manipulated results. Now, every part of your SEO (links, content, etc.), needs to be closely related to the entity your website is focused on.

User Intent

As an entity, you interact with other entities. Through that interaction, Google determines other entities you may also interact with based on similarities. This is called user intent.
User intent is determined by another sub-algorithm that compares your search history to your current search terms. It will also compare results from similar entities to you who have made similar searches.

It can be difficult for Google to determine user intent if there is little information on the topic being searched or on the entity doing the searching, but it is constantly learning and comparing data.

Final Thoughts!

PageRank is ultimately the most important algorithm as it monitors all others and displays websites as easy-to-understand SERPs. But by knowing there are countless other sub-algorithms behind the scenes, you can get a better understanding of the different aspects of your website you need to focus on to improve your Google rankings.

Glossary

SERPs: Search Engine Result Pages.

PageRank: An algorithm used by Google Search to rank websites in their SERPs. See more on Wikipedia here.