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What Is Google’s Algorithm?

Episode Overview

Google’s search algorithm has defined the search marketing landscape for the better part of two decades and created an entire cottage industry of SEO alchemists, but what exactly is it, and, how does it work?

In this opening episode of algorithm month, Jordan and Ben set the table by defining the rules and structure that govern Google search algorithm.

Topics covered include:

  • The philosophy of search
  • The components and systems that propagate and support Google
  • How Google’s guidelines support the various objectives that the Google Algorithm leverages in order to serve the best results


Episode Transcript

Ben:                 Welcome to Algorithm Month on The Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro and this month we’re going to take a look inside the black box that is Google’s search algorithm. Joining us today is Jordan Koene who is the lead SEO Strategist and CEO at Searchmetrics, Inc.

Ben:                 And today Jordan and I are going to talk about what the Google Algorithm actually is. But before we get started, 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. And to support you our loyal podcast listeners we’re offering a complimentary consultation 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 consultation, go to

Ben:                 Okay. On with the show. Here’s my conversation with Jordan Koene, lead SEO Strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. Jordan, welcome back to The Voices of Search podcast.

Jordan:             Thanks Ben. Looking forward to diving into this relatively robust topic of what is Google.

Ben:                 We’re going to talk a little search philosophy and I think the first part of this comes with why we didn’t cover this topic when we were first starting the podcast. And without you having to answer it, you know, now that we’re here and we have a large enough audience to really feel like we can dive deep into what the algorithm is and how SEOs can master it, I think now is a perfect time. So hence, August Algorithm Month. I hope everybody’s excited to hear our thoughts.

Ben:                 So, Jordan, let’s start off by talking about what is an algorithm and you know, what’s the difference between an algorithm and Google’s algorithm? I’ll lead you with a couple of definitions.

Jordan:             Sure.

Ben:                 With a quick Google search, when I look to define what an algorithm is, it is a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problems solving operations, especially by a computer. And when I tried to define search algorithm, I got a search algorithm is an algorithm which solves the search problem. Namely to retrieve information stored within some structured data or calculated in the search space of a problem domain, either with a discrete or continuous value. What the heck does all that mean?

Jordan:             Yeah, bunch of mumbo jumbo.

Ben:                 Yeah. So what’s an algorithm again.

Jordan:             An algorithm, ultimately, it’s a discrete system that allows you to define variables and those defined variables will then offer up certain results. You know, in layman’s terms and the way that I like to describe it to my parents is that it’s just a complicated math problem. And that’s really what the algorithm is trying to do. It’s trying to solve a complicated math problem by putting different variables into different places and ultimately coming out with an answer.

Ben:                 I think of an algorithm, to put it in even more layman’s term, this is how I explained it to my parents. It’s a decision making engine that uses technology and it doesn’t even have to use technology. I think that there are algorithms in our head. We go through thought processes of how we’re going to decide to do something where we are saying if X, then Y. Whenever you’re evaluating, you know, what do you want for breakfast? You were thinking about how you feel and what’s the right healthy decision, you’re adding in all of that data to output I want eggs.

Ben:                 So, Google does a very similar thing. Let’s talk about what they’re doing for their algorithm. Obviously they’re using a little bit more technology than how I figure out what I want for breakfast. Talk to me about what goes into Google’s search algorithm.

Jordan:             It’s really funny that you bring up that topic of like there’s algorithms in our head, because that’s actually where all of this starts. It starts off with theory. You know, algorithms are just like any other scientific study or research study. It starts off with a theory or a hypothesis that somebody wants to solve for and then they put that into paper and then they put that into practice using technology code to help determine whether or not that theory is correct.

Jordan:             Google does this with a variety, a collective of systems that they have as well as algorithms that they use and it’s both of these things that come together that help define what we all like to call Google’s search algorithm. Because Google search algorithm isn’t just one algorithm. It’s also kind of a term that we use in the industry to describe the various systems that propagate and support Google to leverage those algorithms and thus serve us results.

Jordan:             I think very much about how we think about Google’s search algorithm, about how we think about the movie, the Matrix, right? Where there is this system that is incredibly complex and does all of these sort of things and is, you know, creating this entire environment. And reality, it’s really just a bunch of systems and technically algorithms that are put together to produce this really rich, robust search experience.

Ben:                 So, what is the, and I’m using air quotes that people can’t see here, but what’s the purpose of the systems that Google has put together that make up their algorithm?

Jordan:             Yeah. So, that’s a great question Ben. And you know there’s a variety of systems that Google has and uses. Some that we know about, some that we don’t know about. But basically these kind of boil down into three main areas of focus, which is evaluate, sort and then retrieve or show these results.

Ben:                 Let’s call it match match.

Jordan:             Match. Yup.

Ben:                 Evaluate, sort, and match. What they’re doing is they’re looking at all of the content. They need to collect it, compile it, sort it out, pick the one off the top that they think is the most appropriate, and show it to the user. That’s the purpose of the Google Algorithm.

Jordan:             Correct. And has been doing the same thing for 20 years.

Ben:                 And doing it quite well. And as much as we can simplify into evaluate, sort, and match. And that’s really all the math goes into is those three parts. It’s really broken up into multiple different systems. And you mentioned that there are some that we know and obviously some that we don’t. Talk to me about what some of the systems are that we know about. What are the main systems that go into the evaluate sort and match?

Jordan:             Yeah. So, the systems that we know about the most and that we talk about in the SEO field are the crawler, right? How Google comes and crawls all these billions of web pages across the world. The index. So, the actual index, the repository from where Google retrieves or matches your query, your search query. And this index, I think it was one of the interesting things people still sometimes forget about this. Is that it’s really one index. It’s not like Google. Google certainly classifies their index in different ways and they’ve built tools to help support the classification of their index. But it’s really one index. Google says, “Hey, we’re going to put it all in here and from this one bucket we’re going to try to find the best results.”

Jordan:             And then on the match side, one of the systems and tools that they have is the actual SERP. So the visualization of what we end up seeing is a tool. It’s a system that they have to maintain, that they have to keep up, they have to evolve. And the SERP itself is one of the most overlooked but often critiqued systems that Google has.

Ben:                 So, when you say that these are systems related to the algorithm, I don’t think of the webpage that is shown to me as an algorithm. I don’t think of the data warehouse that Google is using to create their index as an algorithm. I don’t think of the crawl of the spiders as an algorithm. Help me think about, you know, there is the code and the math that goes into running all of these systems. And then there are the sort of tangible outputs. What’s the difference between the algorithm and, you know, the physical storage space that is holding all of the data that they are using to compile this? You know that you mentioned the index, to me I think of the index and I think of a bunch of servers sitting in a room somewhere.

Jordan:             Yeah. And that’s one way to think of the index. And the index has evolved a lot over the past years and Google has implemented different tools as well as algorithms to help maintain the integrity of the index. Including how they maintain spam, and how they evaluate what is considered spam or not conserved spam and whether it should or shouldn’t be included in their index. So the systems by itself are kind of like the backbone. They are the infrastructure. They’re grid that the power runs through. Or the highway that the cars and trucks go on. And with other systems Google can’t really provide a great service.

Jordan:             Now we don’t necessarily feel the impact of those systems. We see them, we use them, but we don’t necessarily attribute what is the real impact of having and leveraging these systems? The algorithms sit on top, right. The algorithms are the decision of whether or not you want to have power coming from a nuclear plant, or you want it from wind or solar. They’re the choice of whether you have a diesel truck or a gasoline truck on that highway.

Jordan:             The algorithms, and I want to make sure that this is one thing that we kind of end this note on it. It’s not just one single algorithm. There are many algorithms and these algorithms have evolved and they introduce new algorithms. If you look at any publication that Google ever provides, they always have a plural tense. It’s not an algorithm, it’s algorithms. There’s many of them.

Ben:                 So, talk to me about the, the multiple different algorithms. If it’s not just as simple as we have one crawl and there’s some math that goes into what we crawl and then we have one index. So there’s some math into, you know, how we’re collecting all that information in one SERP experience. Obviously that’s not what happens. Talk to me about the different algorithms, plural, that Google uses to make their search experience.

Jordan:             So, there are algorithms that we’re pretty familiar with in the SEO industry and that have been discussed by Google representatives in the past. Things like Google’s freshness outlook. So this allows Google to materialize the update and the changes that are taking place on a piece of content and take that into consideration when they go back to evaluating and matching to your query. So freshness in the relevancy of how often that content is being updated is one of the algorithms that Google has at their disposal.

Jordan:             We could literally have podcasts for an entire year and not cover all the algorithms that Google has created. I think some of the most notable areas that Google has evolved in using algorithms is in how they introduce certain experiences inside the SERP. Say, for example, how they are going to match local data and local inventory of content. How they’re going to match different content assets like, say, video or images and have those things work in harmony with the other algorithms that are supporting the experience on the SERP.

Jordan:             I think this is one of the areas that have made Google very competitive and it’s why they’re still the number one leader when it comes to text-based search in the world. It’s because of that kind of evolution of the algorithm and introduction of new algorithms to help serve content that’s relevant to users.

Ben:                 So, one of the reasons why Google is so compelling is that they’re constantly creating multiple different algorithms to improve their search experience. You mentioned the freshness algorithm, the relevance algorithm, a local algorithm and then algorithms for how to serve content for different formats. Whether it’s video or imagery.

Ben:                 Jordan, it’s not as simple as we’re making it sound where Google is building these algorithms to figure out what to display. They’re actually building algorithms that are self-improving, whether it’s machine learning or AI. Talk to me about, you know, what Google is doing to not just display recommendations but basically learn from themselves and the results that they’re showing.

Jordan:             I mean the amazing thing about Google today is that much of the experience is consistently going through live tests and it’s consistently training itself to examine various results and options. One of the ways that they do this is through relevancy algorithms and factors. So these relevancy algorithm and factors take an input, right. So, it’s inputs like, you know, how often did a user do a subsequent search based off of this initial search. So are people refining their searches? Did someone click on the first result or the 10th result? How often are they clicking on those results? But what happens when we change the layout of the SERP? Is there, how does that distort or change the engagement on the SERP? These become relevancy factors that help Google to better determine what experience they would like to provide users and then also how to prioritize and rank content based off of that experience.

Ben:                 So I guess the big question here is great, we have an understanding of what an algorithm is and in reality for Google’s algorithm, it’s really algorithms. There are multiple, they’re all of these systems that they’re putting into place to make sure that their content is fresh, relevant. That they’re serving the right experience with the right format of content. What do SEOs need to do and think about to understand the algorithm, not only what it is, but how to master it and make sure that their content performs.

Jordan:             One of the absolute critical components that everyone has to understand is the rigorous process that this all goes through. And that Google, hey, they are very upfront about the fact that there’s a process and that process has guidelines. And so one of the things that we’ve talked about a lot on the show, but also I think we’re going to dive into in a more focused way related back to Google’s algorithm, is the guidelines. And how these guidelines have come to be and how they support the various objectives that the “Google algorithm” as we like to call it in the industry, leverage in order to serve the best results, match the best results to your queries.

Ben:                 Great, Jordan. So there’s these policies that Google have and you know, the moral of the story is follow the playbook that Google sets up. Is that all we need to think about when it comes to mastering search and the algorithm?

Jordan:             Absolutely not. If that was the case, right, if everyone would just follow the rules and it would be a done deal and it would be so easy. The reality is that there’s so much more data that we need to leverage as SEOs and as webmasters in order to master Google and master the ability for our content to rank at the highest position. And to do that what we use is data like from ranking factors. Data from sources that can help us understand the different factors that drive these algorithms and systems to better leverage our own content. Better leverage our own technical capabilities and master, not just Google, but ultimately our own internal capability within our website.

Ben:                 So that’s our plan for Algorithm Month. We’re not only going to talk to you about some of the guidelines and policies that you need to know to make sure that you are in line with what Google wants you to be doing to master their algorithm. We’re going to be looking over some of the ranking factors and some of the other tips and techniques that you need to either be aware of, or to be able to have operational experience to make sure that your content ranks. So stick with us for the rest of the month and we’re going to dive deep into understanding and mastering Google’s algorithm.

Ben:                 Okay, that wraps up this episode of The Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Jordan Koene, the lead SEO strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. We’d love to continue this conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Jordan, you can find the link to his Linkedin profile in our show notes.

Ben:                 His handle is @JTKoene. Or of course you can visit his company’s website, which is If you have general marketing questions or if you’d like to contact me about the podcast, you can find my contact information in our show notes or you can send me a tweet @BenJShap.

Ben:                 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. And 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 feed soon to discuss how you can continue to understand and optimize the Google algorithm.

Ben:                 Lastly, if you’ve enjoyed the show and you’re feeling generous, we’d always love for you to leave us a review in the Apple iTunes store or wherever you listen to your podcasts.

Ben:                 Okay, 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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