An algorithm is a series of instructions. A food recipe is an algorithm. Computers compute complex algorithms very quickly.
When you type some words into Google it uses an algorithm to consider what it knows about you, and those words, as well as what it knows about all of the websites in the world (that it’s aware of) to provide you with a list of sites that it deems most desirable to you for that search.
Google’s algorithms are very complex – hundreds of factors are considered when deciding what sites to list and in what order, and some factors have more sway than others.
Results depend on the type of search too
- Navigational – when you know what site you want but forgot the address. It might be something like ‘max schmaz web design’. If Google recognises the brand it will generally list it first.
- Informational – when you want to know something, eg, ‘how to rank higher in google’. Wikipedia often ranks first for informational searches.
- Transactional – when you’re looking for something specific that you’re considering buying, like ‘pink ugg boots’. Google will often list a row of actual products for sale with prices and links to the stores, followed by the normal list of the highest ranking stores for that item.
- Local – when you include a location in your search, or if you search on your mobile, eg, ‘web designer in avoca’. Google will include a map near the top of the list showing local businesses that match the search.
Google is constantly evolving its algorithms by modifying existing factors and adding new ones – they make small changes around 500 times a year and roll out big changes a few times a year.
Only Google knows exactly
Sometimes they will announce or pre-announce a big change and give it a name like Panda or Penguin. Often they’ll give us advice and guidelines on improving our sites. But the exact details of their algorithms are always kept top secret – if they released that information plenty of people would quickly try to exploit it for their own gain.
Focus on quality and your users
We hate spammy sites so Google hates spammy sites. Google constantly tries to identify and demote dodgy sites so we stay happy with our search results.
As a consequence some well-meaning sites have suffered the wrath of Google just because they shared some similarities with lower quality sites.
So focus on your users, focus on creating relevant and interesting content to keep your users happy. That’s exactly what Google tells us to do.