What Is a Search Algorithm in SEO? The Science of Search

Aaron Haynes
Nov 28, 2023

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Be it Google, Bing, or Yandex, every day, millions of us type search queries into search engines with the expectation that we’ll have an answer to our questions in mere milliseconds.

But have you ever paused and asked yourself how this is possible?

The answer: yup, you guessed it, search algorithms.

To catch you up to speed, by the end of this guide, you’ll know

  1. the answer to the question, “What is a search algorithm in SEO?”
  2. why search algorithms are the backbone of search engine technology,
  3. and, most importantly, dive deep into their role in search engine optimization (SEO).

What Is a Search Algorithm in SEO?

It’s true—from sorting numbers to predicting weather patterns, algorithms aren’t unique to search results. They are used everywhere in computer science.

So, what sets a search engine algorithm apart from algorithms used for other applications?

Think of search algorithms like a recipe search engines follow to sift through the billions of web pages and serve you, the user, the most relevant, quality results. Guided by a suite of ranking factors, it’s these search engine algorithms that decide whether a web page about apple pie recipes or Apple’s latest iPhone appears when you type “apple” into the search bar.

Learn more: Interested in broadening your SEO knowledge even further? Check out our SEO glossary, where we’ve explained over 250+ terms.

Why Are Search Engine Algorithms Important?

Every SEO professional knows the thrill (and also the dread) of waking up to the news of a search engine algorithm update. But why do these algorithms hold so much power over our SEO strategies? Let’s investigate.

Evaluating Website Authority and Trust

Amongst no less than 200 ranking factors, Google search algorithms evaluate a website’s credibility by evaluating its depth of content, how users engage with a web page, and a site’s overall reputation in its respective niche. A holistic view of authority ensures that, if you’re an expert in your field and your website reflects that expertise, search algorithms are designed to ensure you get the visibility you deserve on the search engine results pages (SERPs).

Predicting Search Intent Through Semantic Search

Gone are the days of mere keyword matching. Using semantic search, today’s search algorithms dive deep into the context of words and terms to ensure content truly resonates with a searcher’s intent. Understanding the interplay between the words your potential website visitors use and the intent behind their searches is a game-changer for shaping effective digital marketing strategies. Not to mention delivering relevant content that your target audience will love.

Maintaining Search Integrity

Search algorithms also play a role in sniffing out, filtering, and eliminating spammy, low-quality, and potentially nefarious content from the SERPs. In doing so, at least in theory, search algorithms prioritize genuinely helpful, authentic content and ensure manipulative tactics or misleading information don’t gain undue prominence.

How Do Search Algorithms Work in SEO?

Alright, sweet—you now know what search algorithms are and why their role in search results and SEO is important, but what about the “how?” How do these tidbits of tech do their thing?

Search engines like Google use a mix of techniques and algorithms, including:

Crawling and Indexing

Before a search engine can rank a web page, it, you know, needs to know it exists. Enter web crawlers. A type of algorithm that scours the web, discovering and indexing web pages. Once indexed, the data is stored in colossal databases, ready to be retrieved when relevant.

Ranking Algorithms

It’s not just about finding pages. It’s about ranking them in order of relevance. With over 200 factors in its arsenal, Google’s ranking algorithm evaluates elements like page content, backlinks, and user engagement to determine a page’s position on the SERPs.

Data Retrieval Techniques

Efficiency is key. Instead of combing through their entire database every time, search engines employ techniques like inverted indices. They swiftly pull up pertinent pages in response to a query by listing where specific keywords appear.

Semantic Search and Machine Learning

As we touched on earlier, keyword matching is just the tip of the iceberg. Modern search engines harness the power of semantic search to grasp the nuance and intent behind a query. Coupled with machine learning models like Google’s RankBrain, search results are continuously refined based on evolving patterns and user behaviors.

Notable Google Algorithm Updates and Their Impact

Speaking of RankBrain, let’s face it: Google’s suite of algorithms isn’t static. The algorithms have evolved significantly, with each major update aiming to refine and improve the Google search experience for its users.

Google Panda

Introduced in February 2011, Panda’s focus was on content quality. Sites with thin, duplicate, or plagiarized content, as well as those with user-generated spam, saw a significant drop in rankings. An update that underscored the importance of original, valuable content for SEO.

Google Penguin

Launched in April 2012, the Penguin Update targeted websites that violated Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, especially those using manipulative link schemes and keyword stuffing. Its primary objective was to reward high-quality sites while pushing down sites with unnatural links.

Google Hummingbird

Rolled out in August 2013, Hummingbird was all about understanding the intent behind a user’s search query. Instead of merely focusing on individual keywords, this update considered the context of a query, paving the way for semantic search. It emphasized the need for content that genuinely answered users’ questions.

Google RankBrain

Introduced in 2015, RankBrain is a machine learning-based algorithm that aids Google in understanding and processing search queries. It handles never-before-seen search phrases, interprets user intent, and delivers more relevant search results. RankBrain has become a crucial component of Google’s algorithm, highlighting the increasing role of artificial intelligence in search.

Search Algorithm FAQ

Q1: Do All Search Engines Use Algorithms?

Answer: Yes, all search engines use algorithms. Without the capabilities of algorithms, search engines wouldn’t be able to process and rank web pages based on relevance and quality.

Q2: What Would Be Some Key Components of a Search Engine Algorithm?

Answer: Search engine algorithms evaluate various factors. They primarily focus on content relevance, user engagement, and site authority to determine web page rankings.

Q3: How Many SEO Ranking Signals Are There?

Google’s search algorithm is intricate and multifaceted. It considers over 200 ranking signals, including aspects like content quality, backlinks, and user behavior.

Conclusion and Next Steps

Whether you’re looking to adapt to the latest algorithm updates or build a robust SEO foundation from the ground up, Loganix is here to help. Our expert SEO services are tailored to ensure your content not only resonates with search algorithms but also stands out in the crowded digital landscape.

🚀 Let’s turn your newfound knowledge into tangible results with Loganix’s SEO services. 🚀

Hand off the toughest tasks in SEO, PPC, and content without compromising quality

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Written by Aaron Haynes on November 28, 2023

CEO and partner at Loganix, I believe in taking what you do best and sharing it with the world in the most transparent and powerful way possible. If I am not running the business, I am neck deep in client SEO.