Is Google's Ranking Algorithm Really That Complicated? – ReadWrite

It’s easy to take Google for granted. Most of us conduct searches every day, and some of us conduct dozens or hundreds of searches every day. Whenever we conduct a search, we’re instantly greeted with hundreds to thousands of relevant results that all offer information or destinations we need. It’s so simple, so intuitive, and so easily available that we don’t much think about what’s going on behind the scenes.
But if you’re in the search engine optimization (SEO) industry, you know that there’s a lot going on behind the scenes. And if you want to take advantage of Google’s algorithm to rank higher and generate more organic traffic, you need to have at least some understanding of how Google’s ranking algorithm works.
Therein lies the problem, and a massive challenge for most SEO newcomers. As almost any SEO expert will tell you, Google’s ranking algorithm is extremely complicated. But is it really as complicated as they say? And either way, how can you understand it better?
Google wants to build the best technology in the world. There’s no hiding it or denying it. But Google isn’t necessarily interested in making sure that everyone understands exactly how that technology works.
The company is notorious for keeping its core search algorithm shrouded in secrecy. It does not officially publish the algorithm, but it does give hints about how it works. Why the secrecy? There are a few good explanations. For starters, their search algorithm is proprietary, and they don’t want other people copying exactly what they’re doing. This is a basic business fundamental that shouldn’t be surprising to anyone reading this.
But it’s also important because search optimizers often look for the quickest path to rise in rankings and generate more traffic, sometimes at the expense of their users. Because Google wants a reliable user experience, with consistently authentic and trustworthy results, it doesn’t want the full information on how its ranking algorithm works officially disclosed.
Because of this, it’s almost impossible to say exactly how complicated Google’s ranking algorithm is – because we’re probably never going to have eyes on it.
Let’s focus on what we do know. Because of Google’s lack of transparency, we can’t say for absolute certain how Google’s search algorithm is coded or how it works. But by running our own experiments and gathering data, we can put together a list of Google ranking factors.  
The process goes something like this. Using a variety of tools, we can figure out which websites and which pages are ranking for which keywords and queries. We can study correlations, rule out certain possibilities, and eventually narrow down a list of factors that are likely responsible for allowing a website to rank highly.
There are some issues with this. Most notably, it’s hard to separate correlation from causation. For example, we know that web pages that have high rates of user engagement, as indicated by factors like time spent on page, are more likely to rank highly – but is this because Google preferentially ranks pages with that factor? Or do people naturally spend more time on page because the page ranks as highly as it does?
The safe play is to optimize for all correlative or causational factors we can find, ultimately positioning your website and your pages to rank as highly as possible. The problem is, there are literally hundreds of Google ranking factors. Some of these are more important than others, and some of them are trivially easy to accomplish – but this is still a massive list that’s difficult to parse, especially if you have limited experience in this field.
That said, many of the ranking factors we understand can be consolidated. For example, there are individual factors for the presence of keywords in different header tags and in different places throughout your body copy – but this can be effectively summarized by saying it’s important to include relevant keywords throughout your content, especially in areas that users are likely to notice.
If we zoom out far enough, we can effectively boil down Google’s ranking algorithm to two main factors:
You can achieve more relevance and more authority by focusing on the following:
After reading this simplistic breakdown, you might breathe a sigh of relief that you have Google’s ranking algorithm figured out. But remember, there’s a lot more complexity lurking beneath the surface, and it goes beyond even the most comprehensive lists of ranking factors.
So what’s the bottom line here? The truth is yes, Google’s ranking algorithm is extremely complicated if you’re judging it based on its raw sophistication. But if you’re looking at practical outcomes, it’s easy to summarize some of the “broad strokes” ways that Google operates. In the span of this short article, we’ve covered many of the basics, and with a few hours of follow-up reading, you can probably understand most of the elements of how Google’s ranking algorithm works. But thanks to automated AI updates, even Google’s top engineers probably don’t understand everything about it – and that’s perfectly okay. 
Nate Nead is the CEO & Managing Member of Nead, LLC, a consulting company that provides strategic advisory services across multiple disciplines including finance, marketing and software development. For over a decade Nate had provided strategic guidance on M&A, capital procurement, technology and marketing solutions for some of the most well-known online brands. He and his team advise Fortune 500 and SMB clients alike. The team is based in Seattle, Washington; El Paso, Texas and West Palm Beach, Florida.



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