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How Google interprets website context and settings

Episode Overview

Google’s search algorithms must consider the users context: their location, language, custom settings and inherent personalization attributes. Optimal search results depend on it. On the flip side, SEO’s must consider the very same signals and their limited ability to customize their content and settings to reach niche audiences.

Topics covered include:

  • Shock! The importance of site speed
  • Customization versus personalization
  • The vast body of resources available to SEO’s that are willing to invest the time


Episode Transcript

Ben:                             Welcome back to Algorithm Month on the Voices Of Search Podcast. I’m your host, Benjamin Shapiro, and this month we’re taking a long look into the black box that is Google search algorithm. This week we’ve been publishing an episode every day discussing one of the key factors that Google States impacts how their algorithm interprets your content.

Joining us for Algorithm Week is Jordan who is a world-renowned SEO strategist and the CEO here at Searchmetrics, Inc.

Today to wrap up algorithm week, Jordan and I are going to discuss how Google interprets your context and settings, but before we hear from Jordan, I want to remind you that this podcast is brought to you by the marketing team at Searchmetrics. We are an SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise scale businesses monitor their online presence and make data driven decisions. To support you, our loyal podcast listeners,

We’re offering a complimentary digital diagnostic where a member of our digital strategies group will provide you with a consultation that reviews how your website, content, and SEO strategies can all be optimized. To schedule your free digital diagnostic, go to

Ben:                             Okay. On with the show. Here’s my conversation with Jordan, lead SEO strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics, Inc.

Ben:                             Jordan. Happy Friday and welcome to the last episode of Algorithm Week on the Voices Of Search Podcast.

Jordan:                         All right, we’re almost there. See the finish line.

Ben:                             We’ve covered a lot of ground. We’ve talked about how the Patriots always win the Super Bowl, about how the Packers aren’t good and how Google’s algorithm tries to interpret the meaning of your pages, and how they reflect that towards what query shows up for what makes your web pages relevant, how Google evaluates the quality of your content and your domain.

Ben:                             And yesterday we talked about the usability of your pages, which is site speed, site speed, site speed and site speed. And maybe a couple of other factors, but really just making website faster. Today we’re going to talk about how Google’s algorithm interprets the context and the settings for your website. So talk to me about what that means.

Jordan:                         Yeah, this is a big one for our listeners because it’s kind of a bit of a moving target. And what I mean by that is that context in settings are a variety of tools and resources that you can enable, and you enlist, or you have already, that make the search more relevant.

Jordan:                         And competition settings is something that, in some cases, you can take advantage of and find a lot of value in it. And then in other cases, it’s not something that you can leverage.

Jordan:                         And I’ll explain why. Competition settings is really about the ability for Google to tailor search results. And this is where oftentimes people start to get a little frustrated with Google. But the concept of Google basically manipulating search results based on different criteria, based on different moments, is really the core element of their search out in this theme.

Ben:                             Huh?

Jordan:                         Is this where you get lost, Ben?

Ben:                             I’m lost. Jordan, I’m lost.

Jordan:                         All right, let’s use some examples, right? So the most common, and the most levied element within this theme is location. Right? So where is the search taking place? Where are you, as a publisher of content, providing that text and information and is Google going to map those two things?

So let’s take for example, we continue with our theme here of the new England Patriots.

Ben:                             Let’s change it up and let’s talk about how the Packers are going to start world domination next year.

Jordan:                         I love this. It’s Friday. Thank you. Absolutely. So the Packers, the most winningest team in the world, has now won 10 consecutive Super Bowls at the dismay of Ben and his 49ers. Really liking this one.

Jordan:                         Let’s say I’m publishing this content from Green Bay, Wisconsin and I’m publishing-

Ben:                             So it’s fictional content.

Jordan:                         Well played. So this content’s being published from Green Bay, Wisconsin, and I have a big audience from Green Bay, who’s loving in this content and reading this content.

Ben:                             Who likes science fiction……

Jordan:                         The odds of me showing up more frequently for search queries that are done in Green Bay, Wisconsin is more likely because my content is about the green Bay Packers, I’m publishing this in Green Bay, and my websites available to these users in Green Bay, and these users are searching in Green Bay. It’s going to become a more common search results in that scenario.

Ben:                             Okay, so if you have locally focused content and people are searching for your content in that area, it’s going to impact how Google’s algorithm determines where you should be ranked.

Ben:                             I think another example of this is what’s your domain? If you have a domain that ends in, so Canadian or, there’s a high probability that Google is going to rank the domain ahead of the Canadian one. Dotcoms are a little different cause they’re kind of universal, but you know your domain location down to what your actual domain is, that has an impact as well.

Jordan:                         You’re right Ben. So one of the biggest driving forces is language as well as your country TLD.

Jordan:                         We’ve covered two of the big elements within context and settings, which is your location and your language. And in some cases these are elements that you can control. In other cases, these are elements you cannot control. But Google is using these as elements of their algorithm to determine what results to show.

Ben:                             So, what else is under the hood? What are some other settings that you can manipulate?

Jordan:                         Right? Manipulate might be extreme here. In some of these cases, what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to understand personalization. With personalization, you have less control over what you can do.

Then there’s personalization and customization. These are areas that you can control and you can change as a webmaster, or an SEO. With personalization, you’re dealing with just the pure nature of the searcher. And those are the settings that that searcher has determined to be important to them.

Like the language by which they’re going to search the query or the location that they are in or the fact that they have, you know, done 10 other searches prior to this one.

And those are elements that are personalization and Google and the user are the main drivers behind personalization. But it’s something that us as webmasters and SEOs need to be aware of.

And then there’s customization and customization of things that we can control. We can control the ability to buy a country TLD and serve content in the UK. Or serve continent Canada. We can control that. And the ability for us to customize our website so that we’re more relevant in those contexts and settings. Scenarios is what’s important. And I think that you asked me the question, what other settings are there?

Well, there’s a lot of them. There’s so many that we could probably have 20 episodes on it. But there are things like AMP. There are elements like location. There are other metadata that we can provide to help us influence the customization of the algorithm and the expectations that the algorithm would see through those settings.

Ben:                             So, you mentioned AMP. Talk to me about how that is interpreted by Google’s algorithm and why should people implement it.

Jordan:                         AMP specifically is a framework that can be levied by webmasters to allow Google to quickly search and render your content. And one of the reasons why you should use it is because it’s lightning fast.

Jordan:                         We’ve already talked about speed, that speed, speed, speed is important. This is one of the ways that you can implement a relatively fast and straightforward experience for users. Now, whether or not you should use it depends on a variety of different requirements. And that’s why it’s this particular theme is nested in this context and settings. Because it may be a setting that you want to levy because the industry that you’re in and the users that you have expect an AMP experience. And so I would focus on making this investment as a webmaster if my users really expected it and needed it.

Ben:                             Jordan, as we think about Google’s algorithm and we get close to the end of Algorithm Month and Algorithm Week, and we talk about all of these different things that SEOs can do to understand how Google’s algorithm, their set of systems that are weaved together, can be optimized.

Give me some high-level takeaways about what people can do to not only understand what the algorithm is, where can they go to learn more about it, but how can they master it?

Jordan:                         Mastering it is a journey, so let’s start in the beginning here. I think that one of the most important things to process in this journey is reading the very public and available content that Google publishes.

Whether it’s through the webmaster blog, whether it’s the videos that various experts from Google have published. Everything from the Mac cuts videos to the John Mueller Hangouts to the various other resources that are being made available from Google. I think that’s the starting place, to understand and really master the algorithm. From there, there’s a variety of other resources that can help you interpret this information.

Jordan:                         Searchmetrics being one of them. We publish a lot of content on our blog. We have the ranking factors and these are resources that you can download to help understand some of these concepts because many of these concepts are described well by Google, but they’re not necessarily explained in a way that can be utilized and implemented on your website.

Jordan:                         That’s what we try to do at Searchmetrics. We try to explain this and allow you to access this information and leverage it to improve your search results.

Ben:                             Jordan, you forgot one important thing.

Jordan:                         What’s that?

Ben:                             Listen to the voices of search podcast.

Jordan:                         Absolutely. Well, there’s no question that said you’re already here though. So you’re doing a good job.

Ben:                             Keep listening to the voices of search podcast and make your site faster.

Jordan:                         All right. And always make your site faster. That is a key.

But I mean, you know, going back to this concept of context and settings, which is this theme that Google search algorithm is centered on, learning how to master that is one that requires you to do all the other building blocks first.

The other four episodes we just did. You have to do those right before you get to this piece because this piece is highly customized, and it is highly personalized.

And in both of those scenarios you don’t have as much control. You can’t dictate every single step. This is where it gets challenging for webmasters, and I think that if you want to master this, you have to ensure that the other four areas are in good health.

Ben:                             My biggest takeaway after having this conversation with you and talking about the algorithm for the month is that it is a system that is so complex, right?

There has been countless number of talented engineers dedicating their career to building out a system that interprets your content to try to understand what is right. At the end of the day, everything matters. You know there are some things that matter more than others in terms of mastering the algorithm, right?

Building a domain, creating content. Being clear about what the intent of your pages is. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned site speed yet in this podcast, but site speed, site speed, site speed.

There are some basic blocking and tackling, but at the end of the day Google is looking at all of the signals and all of the data, and they have a system that is larger than just … obviously one person looking at a piece of content evaluating it and so you need to incorporate as much data and try to understand the signals that you’re broadcasting out to get a grasp of how Google is going to interpret them.

It is a lifelong journey, right? Mastering SEO. It is both an art and a science. Understanding what data you have, being able to evaluate it and being creative to be able to try to change your website, whether it’s on a page level or on a domain level, to be able to have Google’s system interpreted their algorithm, their multiple systems, interpret it to drive the effect that you’d want it to be.

At the end of the day, as we talk about the algorithm, can we talk about it like it’s this one big thing. And it’s not. It’s a system that’s been put into place to interpret data for every website across the world, with rare exceptions, that has taken countless man hours. So from some of the smartest and most sophisticated marketers and engineers and data scientists in the world.

There is no mastery. Rather it is not realistic for one brand to think “I’m going to master Google’s algorithm.”

What you can do is keep working and keep trying to understand and test what signals you’re getting to see if you can continue to iterate and be more performance.

Jordan:                         Correct.

Ben:                             And that wraps up algorithm week on the Voices of Search Podcast. Thank you for listening to my conversation with Jordan, the lead SEO strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics, Inc.

Ben:                             We’d love to the conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Jordan, you can find a link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes. You can contact him on Twitter where his handle is @jtkoene. That’s J-T-K-O-E-N-E.

Or if you have general marketing questions or if you’d like to be a guest on this podcast, you can find my contact information in our show notes or you can shoot me a tweet @benjshap. B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to use search data to boost your organic traffic online visibility or to gain competitive insights, head over to for your complimentary advisory session with our digital strategies team.

If you like this podcast and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app and we’ll be back in your feet next week.

All right. That’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.


Jordan Koene

Jordan Koene

Jordan Koene is the CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. a wholly owned subsidiary of Searchmetrics. Previously, Jordan was the Head of SEO and Content Development at eBay. During his time at eBay, Jordan focused on utilizing eBay content to improve user experience and natural search traffic.

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