Google’s Search Engine Algorithm Explained

search engine algorithms
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Any query we may have can be instantly answered by the little boxes in our pockets. All we need to do is open up Google, type what we want to know, and we’ve got an answer instantaneously.

But how does Google dig through the internet, past billions of pages, only to find the one that we are looking for? Not only does it find what we need, but it does it in thousandths of seconds.

Google’s secret, the reason that it is so valuable to humanity, is its algorithm. Not simply a mathematical equation, Google’s algorithm is a multistep process which effectively identifies relevant information. There are many search engine algorithms, but Googles is the most beneficial to users.

So, how does it work?

Understanding Search Engine Algorithms

It’s pretty impressive that search engines somehow have a thumb on all of the existing information on the internet. It’s easy to imagine a little internet bug traveling vast distances for your information and coming back to your screen, all within a millisecond.

The process is more labor-intensive than that, or at least it was, and has developed a great deal in the last few decades. Before any search engine query can be answered, there needs to be a log of the information available on the internet.

This is where crawling comes in.


Crawling is the process of documenting the vast reaches of the known internet. Search engines analyze different regions of the internet continuously, checking for updates or deletions, and archive those sites into categories.

The process of crawling was much simpler before nearly everyone on the planet was using the internet. Now, with an untold amount of websites to search through, artificial intelligence is utilized in identifying and classifying the sites on the internet.

Once the search engine knows that a site exists, it has to get a read on the data it contains. There are a number of factors that play into the search engine value of a website. In fact, there are around 200 different variables that Google analyzes before your search results pop up.

That’s why the information you see is so relevant to the query submitted. The information is broken down through the algorithm and classified by relevance. While there are a couple hundred factors, there are a few that hold the most significance.

But how does Google get through the internet and index all of its web pages?


Google’s method for traversing the net comes from software referred to as a “spider.” Have you ever played the Wikipedia game? A friend tells you to search, say, “elephant” on Wikipedia, then tells you that you have to find the page for Snoop Dogg, only by clicking links within the Wikipedia pages.

It’s possible to get from any Wikipedia pages to another by simply clicking links to other pages. This is because Wikipedia, much like the internet in general, is a nexus of hypertext. That essentially means that a lot of websites are connected through a web of association in the form of links.

Spiders use this web of links to travel throughout the web. They start on a few websites, cataloging the information and traveling to other sites through the links embedded in the text of the first.


Google’s speed comes from the fact that it has an index containing hundreds of billions of web pages. Once crawling takes place, the web pages are indexed in terms of the multiple factors that determine their relevance.

Things like keywords, freshness, backlinks, and niche all come into play and hold value within the Google index. Indexes are becoming


PageRank is a system that holds true to name. It’s a way of using the relevant information on a page to determine where that page will end up in a search. So, how does PageRank value things and what are its primary tools for determining relevance?

Backlinks as Votes

A large determinant for the relevance of a site is the number of backlinks that lead to it. A backlink is a link embedded in another site that leads to the target site. So say that your site has an extremely relevant post that thousands of others have linked to in their sites.

Each one of those backlinks would up your relevance in the eyes of the Google search engine. It’s pretty simple, but that simplicity poses a problem: couldn’t someone just blast the internet with links on social media and spam, quickly moving to the top of every search?

That issue is solved by the qualities of authority and relevance.

Authority and Relevance

Not all links hold the same value in the eyes of the search engine. Sure, you may have paid a company to get you two thousand backlinks, but if the links are coming from sites that no one visits, you won’t have a lot of authority.

Sites that hold the most value in the search engine hold a lot of authority with that engine. So, any site that has a lot of backlinks, quality content, and freshness. Linking to and from sites with authority will give you more authority.

At the very least, having a backlink from a reputable website will give you a better chance on the search engine that a site that has a similar link from a weaker website.

The content of a link is also relevant. Having links from high-authority sites within your niche is a key factor in search engine optimization. Again, in these cases, it’s really the quality of your link over the quantity.

Words and Proximity

One primary way that Google picks its pages is through the keywords used in the search. Say you search the words “funny donkey eating noodles.”

Google will find all of the pages that contain the words funny, donkey, eating, and noodles. It will then identify all pages that contain two or more of those words. Selecting the pages that have the most repetitions of the words in your search, the algorithm will then bring proximity into play.

Proximity refers to how close your keywords are to each other in the web pages that the algorithm identified. If “funny donkey eating noodles” appears, in order, a few times in the document, you’re likely to see that page at the top of your search.

Google also values the page based on where your keywords pop up in the architecture of the site. If the words appear in the title or headings, the page will hold more value. Additionally, the algorithm looks for synonyms of the words in your search and places value on them.


The final ranking factor that we’ll go over is that of freshness. This is a crucial element, one which keeps your search results relevant. Imagine the vast amount of web pages that still exist on the internet. It’s likely that only 1 of 2 percent of those sites are relevant to a significant amount of people.

If you searched for something, and the first three results that you got were created in 2001 with stock images and boring designs, you would likely just go to a different search engine. Freshness is key in maintaining the quality of searches and is utilized in every engine.


On top of all of the highly sophisticated technology that we’ve discussed, Google has involved an artificial intelligence in their algorithm as well. Since 2015, Google has been using the program RankBrain to produce higher quality search results.

The program uses language semantics to understand more what the person means when they search, rather than what their keywords are. It allows a more human-like understanding in the search engine process, giving users answers that not tethered to keywords.

RankBrain filters incoming information to interpret messages from users on another level. It was only used in fifteen percent of searches when it originally came out, but it is now an essential piece of the Google puzzle.

How Does RankBrain Affect SEO?

Adding an artificial intelligence to the mix has thrown a wrench in many peoples ideas of how to optimize their site. If you aren’t familiar with SEO, will give a quick overview of the basics.

What is SEO?

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of tailoring one’s site to the preferences of the search engine. In doing so, a person can get better odds of coming up in searches, gain traffic, and make money through their site.

It’s a difficult process, though, because while Google’s algorithm was created to produce effective results, it has also been adjusted to punish behavior that tries to overly appeal to it. That being said, there are definitely ways to improve your odds of coming up without being punished.

Optimization revolves around a couple of key principles that we’ve already discussed. Keywords and backlinks are the primary form of currency in the SEO world, and figuring out how to accumulate strong links and balanced keywords is a challenge in itself.

There are a lot of SEO tutorials online that show you how to optimize your site. It seems intuitive, but it can be extremely difficult, as many of the easy, surefire ways to get web traffic are the ones that will flag you to the search engine as spam.

You can certainly do a decent job of optimizing your website yourself, but if you really want to improve your odds, you may need to speak to an SEO professional.

SEO and RankBrain

The algorithm before artificial intelligence was much simpler to optimize for. Keywords and backlinks were the main currency of the search engine world, but now that the system understands semantics, the process of getting SEO results has become more difficult.

What’s different about RankBrain is that instead of taking the query at face value, it reads into the query and understands the intent that user had when typing. So, if a person searched “best coffee shops” and “great place to get coffee” the results would be the same because the searches are getting at the same idea.

This process devalues the use of keywords because relevance comes from the user’s intent, not the matching of similar words and phrases. Additionally, backlink diversity is less important.

RankBrain determines it’s ranking factors based on the intent of the user. It’s no longer a hierarchical method that takes links first, keywords second, etc. If a small query wants a simple question answered, it’s likely that keywords will be a large factor.

If a query is looking for the newest music to listen to, it’s likely that freshness and link authority will be factors.

In reality, different factors should hold different importance depending on the query. That’s why Google has so many different ranking factors in the first place, but with the algorithm weighing factors differently, you need to know your niche in order to optimize your site.

What Should I do to Optimize My Site?

In order to optimize your site for Google’s algorithm, you need to understand the nature of the content on your site. If you are a fresh, up-to-date site that gives breaking news, focus on factors that reflect freshness and authority. Alternatively, if you are a fact-based website that answers questions or has a single topic, focus on keywords.

The thing is, people spend years and years trying to understand these algorithms. You may have a knack for optimization, but unless you do your research and grasp the nuances of consumer behavior and search engine functions, you aren’t likely to get anywhere significant with your SEO.

Even linking, which seems like it would be pretty easy, is difficult and requires significant effort. In order to get a backlink, you may need to correspond with other website owners to request a favor.

In any case, doing it yourself is hard.

Hire an SEO Professional

In the face of the complex world of search engine algorithms, investing in professional SEO help might just be the best thing you do for your company. If you’re looking to get connected with a professional or get some more tech-based information, contact us and we’d be happy to help.