Google has introduced the word “algorithm” to a whole cadre of people who weren’t paying attention in algebra class. Business owners and marketing directors everywhere have learned that Google has an algorithm that determines the rank and placement of their company websites.
We get lots of questions about Google’s algorithm. Here are the top 5:
- How does the Google algorithm work? An algorithm is a set of rules, and Google’s algorithm contains at least 200 factors. The rules allow Google’s spiders to look at your web page (metaphorically speaking) and decide two things: what the page is about, and how good the page is compared with other pages on the same subject. How good the page is comes down to two basic definitions of “good.” First, how trustworthy is the website? Second, how good is the experience it offers the user? So the best page for William’s search on “hiking trails” might be completely different from the best page for my search on “hiking trails” because we are in different places, in different demographic and interest groups, and have different friends posting different things on social media. In both cases, though, Google wants to provide a high quality, trustworthy page to us to keep the customers happy.
- What’s in Google’s algorithm? Google says that there are hundreds of factors, sometimes specifying 200. The specifics are a secret, but Google recently announced that content and links to the page were the most important factors, something we SEO pros have known for a long time. The patent for the software gives one example: spelling errors. Google has also shared some of the other factors, including responsive web design, transparency about who owns the website, privacy statements, and easy navigation. Many people have created lists of all the things they think are in the algorithm, and those lists can be helpful and thought provoking, but Google’s algorithm is a secret, and nobody outside of Google really knows what the precise rules and all the factors are.
- Why does it change all the time? The main reason that the algorithm changes all the time is that Google, like any good company, is always working to improve. They put a lot of resources into research and development and they’re doing amazing things with artificial intelligence. Changes in the algorithm reflect the new advances in the technology. The other main reason, we believe, is that people keep trying to game the system. Google has to correct for all the stupid “SEO tips” out there in order to keep providing good results for searchers. People who come up with conspiracy theories about how Google changes the algorithm all the time in order to work their nefarious will on innocent business owners are, with all due respect, in error.
- Since it changes all the time, is there any point to doing SEO? Fortunately, changes in the algorithm are intended to keep good pages coming up at the top of the search results. SEO that is based on communicating well with search engines and with human beings will never be wasted because of changes in the algorithm. Sometimes you need to add things — like secure hosting, one of the factors Google has added recently — but you’ll never be penalized for top-quality content and top-quality links. Make sure that when you “do SEO,” that’s what you’re doing.
- Can’t we just pay to be at the top? This is actually the single most common question we get about the Google algorithm. In fact, you can’t pay to be at the top of organic search results. But you can pay to show your ad at the top of the search results page. Use Adwords to show your website to people searching for your goods and services, and you’re essentially paying to show up well in (paid) search.
The combination of great content designed for findability and conversion with well-targeted paid search ads is hard to beat.