Three Myths and Truths about Google’s Complex Search Algorithm

Despite how ubiquitous Google is in our lives, there is still a lot we don’t know about how it actually works, making it easy to waste time optimizing websites for factors that don’t end up helping your pages appear higher in search.

From metadata to backlinks, SEO experts have spent years debating the best way to get a website to rank prominently search. And while there are a number of factors that even many experts are still unsure about (and even more that change from week to week), Google has publicly confirmed that the following three factors — long thought to be critical to securing a high search rank — are, in fact, not included in Google’s algorithm:

  • Word Count — In a Reddit thread last year, Google’s Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst, John Mueller, flatly stated that word count has no impact on where an article ranks in search. While many users in that same Reddit thread found this hard to believe, the statement is impossible to interpret in any other way. This doesn’t mean you should skimp on good, quality content, but Google will not reward content for content’s sake.
  • Moz Domain Authority — On Twitter, Mueller also stated that Domain Authority, which Moz defines as “a search engine ranking score developed that predicts how well a website will rank on search engine result pages,” is not included in Google’s algorithms. Again, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you should ignore the domain authority of your website, as the qualities that result in a site achieving a high domain authority are the same qualities that Google looks for in “reliable” content. However, it’s important not to get too hung up on your Domain Score.
  • Google Ads Data — We all want a quick fix, and while Google Ads may help promote a link or website, it won’t impact organic search results, according to Google’s Public Liaison of Search, Danny Sullivan. As he noted on Twitter, “We don’t use any ads signals in determining the relevance of our search results.” Unless you’re trying to drive sales or conversions, your money and time is better spent focusing on the organic factors that Google values in quality content.

So just how does Google decide what constitutes as quality content? Well, they’re not going to tell us exactly, but recently on Google’s official blog, “The Keyword,” they shared some unique insights on what goes into the their ever-evolving search algorithm. This rare peek behind the curtain highlights three critical factors that define how we see the results we see:

  • Research — It’s no surprise that the massive amount of search data that Google accumulates each day needs to be studied and thoroughly analyzed. Google states that its mission is to “make information universally accessible and useful,” and their research team is devoted to speaking to people from around the world to better understand how search can be more useful. From search data in emerging markets to the use of voice search, the research that Google collects is critical to the evolution of their algorithm.
  • Search Quality Raters — Google employs more than 10,000 people around the globe they describe as “search quality raters,” whose job it is to provide ratings, based on Google’s 168-page Search Rater Guidelines, on how well Google’s ranking system is working. Data from users around the world is used to ensure that Google searches return relevant results from the most reliable sources available.

In-Product Experiments — From time to time, Google will test tweaks to their search platform by selecting a random group of users and evaluate the metrics of how these users interacted with these new features. These “live experiments” are designed to test if users actually use new features in real-time, so it’s important to remember that what you see in Search can be dramatically different from what others see at any given time.

Ultimately, there are no magic bullets when it comes to Google. Their search algorithm is ever-changing and deeply complex. It’s critical to make sure that as a professional communicator you are frequently monitoring results and tracking changes over time. This is one of the many reasons why our Lightbox Search platform gives users the ability to track and save their results on a daily basis and view live search results from any location on the planet.

While you may not be able to change your results overnight, with the right tools and intelligence, you can stay on top of your digital health, and give yourself the best possible chance to improve your online reputation. To learn how you can stay on top of all the latest trends for you or your clients, make sure to download our new guide “Ultimate Roadmap for Digital Agency Growth.” The guide provides a wealth of key details to help retain clients, find new business and maximize your abilities with fewer staff.




Jesse Jacobs is COO of Lightbox Search. Lightbox Search empowers professional communicators with real-time intelligence for Google Search.

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Jesse Jacobs

Jesse Jacobs

Jesse Jacobs is COO of Lightbox Search. Lightbox Search empowers professional communicators with real-time intelligence for Google Search.

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