A Simple Guide to Google Algorithms

The Rise of Google

The story of how Larry Page and Sergey Brin strategised the foundation for what would one day become the world’s largest search engine began in a friend’s garage in the Bay Area in 1998. Whilst the humble beginnings of Google were the first and certainly not the last Silicon Valley startup story, the premise in the minds of the two Stanford University students were not so conventional. The pair shared a mutual idea that soon became Google’s mission and vision: “To organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” This simple mission statement became the very foundation of Google’s guidelines for years to come.

Both Page and Brin had acquired the knowledge of technology essential to crafting a platform that could ‘organise the world’s information’ as per their hopeful vision for the future of the ever-growing Internet. Prior to their arrival at Stanford, Page and Brin earned undergraduate degrees in computer science from The University of Michigan and The University of Maryland, respectively. The similarities in the future entrepreneur’s backgrounds were a stepping-stone to their work on a project at Stanford.

In 1996, the two joined forces on a research project called BackRub, an endeavour with the aim of exploring backlinks as a method to measure the significance of a website. Later that year, Page and Brin incorporated the PageRank algorithm, which they estimated could bring them better results than the search engines that were available at the time. The duo introduced BackRub to the servers at Stanford and by mid-1998, the search engine was a magnificent success. With 10,000 searches per day in 1998, BackRub quickly became more than just a research and development mission. Page and Brin spent $15,000 to purchase a terabyte of disk space and thus, the Google we know and love today was born. Fast-forward 18 years and Google is continuing to grow with numerous algorithms devised in order to ‘organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.’ With well over 1 billion active users, making an impact through Google is undoubtedly a key aspect for any business with a web presence.

Lessons for Google Users

Anyone looking to rise in the ranks of the powerful search engine and improve their SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) must understand how the methods of Google’s algorithms are useful to them. The algorithms implemented by Google are essentially used to clear out any irrelevant backlinks and ensure the presence of quality content that is helpful to the general public of Google users.

From Google’s perspective, certain online actions are worth penalising. Black-hat techniques are aggressive and unfair SEO tactics that are frowned upon by Google. Examples of black-hat techniques include keyword stuffing, buying backlinks, and using irrelevant or unrelated keywords. In comparison, white-hat techniques are a suggested alterative to optimising one’s SEO. White-hat, also known as ethical SEO, involves using relevant keywords, keyword analysis, and appropriate back linking. Ultimately, white-hat techniques are future-proof and therefore recommended as a long-term investment option.

The Core Algorithms

Google makes an estimated 600 changes to their algorithms on an annual basis. However, these modifications typically go unannounced until Google makes an enormous change and thus, a new animal-themed algorithm is born. Since 2011, three new changes have emerged for the SEO world to analyse: the Panda, the Penguin, and the Hummingbird.

Panda — Introduced in 2011, the purpose of the Panda algorithm is to ensure that high-quality websites are ranked higher and that lower quality sites are demoted to the “back of the line.” There are established criteria to meet in order to be considered a high-quality site. Google employee Amit Singhal wrote the questions that must be asked in 2011. These are included but not limited to:

· Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?

· Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?

· Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?

Penguin — Announced in 2012, the purpose of the Penguin algorithm is to reduce the frequency of irrelevant backlinks on a website. Unnatural links are the main target of the Penguin. A single backlink from a well-known website is bounded to have a positive impact, while a large quantity of links from low-quality sites tend to be counter-productive. If your site has too many poor quality links, the Penguin will detect this and decrease your site’s ranking.

Hummingbird — Revealed in 2013, Hummingbird works to better understand the queries of Google users, particularly based on location. For instance, if you search for “Antique shops in Birmingham” versus a conversational query, “Where are the best antique shops in Birmingham?” Hummingbird is able to distinguish the key elements of the queries. Additionally, Hummingbird should be able to identify that the user is searching for antique shops in Birmingham, England as opposed to Birmingham, Alabama.

The Bottom Line

· Google will penalise your website for using black-hat techniques. Don’t try to cheat the system and abide by Google’s guidelines.

· Content is and will always be king. All hail high-quality content that is useful and relevant. Avoid duplicate content or “thin content” on your website. Thin content refers to pages on your site that have little or no information.

· Google’s algorithms are designed to throw your website to the lowest ranking if you try to use black-hat techniques.

· If you’ve committed a web content faux pas — make sure to remove what you are being penalised for. Remember that thin pages and duplicate content relate to the Panda algorithm, Penguin is responsible for reducing the ranking of sites with unnatural backlinks, and Hummingbird refers to issues with obtaining geographically accurate information and answering the question quickly as per the user’s search. Note that algorithm updates can take up to several months and improvements in your ranking may not happen immediately.

· Always keep Google’s mission & vision in mind: “To organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Turn this sentence over in your mind when you consider the steps in generating your website’s content.

Danielle Prieto is a Public Relations Consultant at MBJ London.