How Google works

27 June 2011

Lots of people say to me “I want my site to be number one on Google”.  This, quite frankly, is not a simple matter at all, and in most cases highly unlikely.

Firstly, one needs to have a bit of an idea about how Google actually works.

Google thinks about a lot of things when you ask it to look for something for you. It looks at all its records of web pages that it has indexed, of which there are several billion. It then decides which pages might be relevant to your query. This figure is usually in the millions, and more often than not in the hundreds of millions. Then it decides in which order to show them to you. This is known as the page ranking. Google bases it’s decisions on ranking on about 500 variables. Some of these include things like: Does this page contain words that are the same as the search query? How many people visit this page? How long do they stay there? How long has this page been in existence? How many links are there to this page? Are they good links? How recently has the content changed on this page?  And so on.

This algorithm changes all the time, and is top secret. In 2010 Google made over 400 changes to the algorithm. That’s more than a change a day. Several hundred software engineers work full time on the algorithm. In truth, there are very few people at Google itself who have a complete understanding of how the whole thing works. It’s just too big.

So, now that we have even a simplistic idea of how Google works, it becomes clear that “being number one on Google” is not an easy task.

Search engine ranking has become a war of sorts between SEO companies and Google. Google wants to give its searchers the best results it can, it wants to give results that they will find useful. Don’t you hate clicking on a link only to find out that it is just a page of links that are no good to you? Lots of SEO companies try to trick Google into putting pages into high positions. Google hates this and has been known to punish companies by removing their websites from the index altogether. This happened to JC Penny in 2010.

Yes, there are quite a few things that can be done to improve Googles opinion of your website and where it places it in search results. But you need to be realistic about your offering vs the rest of the web. There are a lot of companies that tell you that they can make your website number one. You should be wary of these people and read the fine print before you give them your money.

Latest Comments

Robyn D'Alessandro
01/07/2011   |   12:01
Thanks for giving me a simple explanation with which to answer the constant "why arent we on the first page of Google?" question from every "IT savvy" colleague.

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