How Google Works

(according to Google)

Google's ranking systems use a series of algorithms to show the most relevant search results for each query. Ranking systems consider: 

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Words in the search query
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Relevance of webpages in its index(es)
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Expertise, authority, and trust (E-A-T) of the source
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UX of webpages in its index(es)
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The person's search settings and location
Steve Kroll smiling while searching Google

Here's the details on how Google spins up the SERPs

Adapted from: "How Search Algorithms Work," Google (2021)

1. Determines meaning of the search query

This is referred to as "search intent". Google uses natural language processing (AI) to interpret the intent behind all searches. Types of search intent include:

  • NAVIGATIONAL—Looking to find something specific (i.e. "Target patio lighting")
  • INFORMATIONAL—Looking to learn about a topic (i.e. "types of patio lighting")
  • COMMERCIAL—Looking for information help with a buying decision (i.e. "LED lights vs. incandescent lights")
  • TRANSACTIONAL—Looking to complete an action (i.e. "buy string lights for patio")

2. Finds relevant webpages

Google uses algorithms to find content that’s relevant to the search. In order for Google to show content, it has to be INDEXED (more on this later).

  • These algorithms are really good at assessing relevance
  • They are not good at analyzing subjectivity

3. Assesses content quality

Google uses PageRank and manual systems to find content with Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T). E-A-T is a good way to qualitatively analyze content, but it is not a part of Google's ranking systems. E-A-T is a set of standards that Google's content quality raters use to manually review sources.

4. Assesses UX

Google uses JavaScript rendering and field data (from Google Chrome) to find webpages with good user experience (UX). Positive signals it looks for include: 

  • Page is usable in all browsers
  • Page is usable on all devices (mobile-friendly)
  • Fast load times (PageSpeed; FCP + LCP)
  • Stability of page after load (CLS)
  • No intrusive ads or interstitials (no one likes these!)

5. Considers context

Using known information about the person behind the search, Google tries to provide relevant results by considering:

  • Location of person
  • Search history
  • Browsing history
  • Search settings
  • Topic freshness

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