What are Google Algorithms?

Aaron Haynes
Feb 12, 2024
what is google algorithm

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Google’s algorithms are at the center of what makes Google, Google—it’s the beating heart of its search engine. Without them, the ability to interpret billions of web pages and deliver search results that match user intent would not be possible.

But why should an understanding of Google’s algorithms matter to the average user or, more importantly, to website owners, marketers, and content creators?

To answer this question, in this comprehensive guide, we will

  1. tackle the question, “What are Google algorithms,”
  2. dissect their importance,
  3. and explore their future, providing you with a blueprint to maneuver through the potential influences on SEO.

What are Google Algorithms?

Put in layman’s terms, Google’s algorithms are sets of rules and instructions used by Google’s search engine to rank and retrieve data from its search index—a database of web pages. If it helps, think of Google’s algorithms as an interpreter, translating a user’s search query and meticulously combing through the staggering 30 to 50 billion odd indexed web pages in Google’s repository, all to deliver a precise and pertinent result.

The term “algorithm” might imply a single, monolithic entity, but in reality, what people call the “Google algorithm” actually comprises multiple algorithms and machine learning processes, each serving a unique purpose. Some deal with the relevance of content, while others focus on factors such as the user’s location, the device used, the freshness of content, or the web page’s credibility.

So what does Google’s algorithms look like in action? Well, let’s say you’re in New York City, and you’re hankering for a coffee. You grab out your phone, use Google to search “best coffee shop,” wait just a brief second for Google’s algorithms to sift through the vast amount of data in its index and deliver results relevant to coffee shops in New York, and, if your location settings allow, the results will show you the closest coffee shops in New York relative to your current location.

If, however, you were to do the same search in Seattle, the results would be different, tailored to Seattle’s best coffee shops. This adaptability and precision are great examples of the complex workings and abilities of Google’s algorithms.

Learn more: what is an algorithm?

Why is Google Algorithms Important?

Google’s algorithms matter immensely, and their impact reaches far beyond just being able to find the nearest coffee shop or answer a quick trivia question. They shape the internet landscape as we know it, determining what information is discoverable and accessible to billions of users worldwide.

But why should this matter to you? The answer lies in the relationship between Google’s algorithms and search engine optimization (SEO).

As SEO is centered around optimizing websites to align with search engines’ algorithmic preferences, the better optimized your website is to the taste of these algorithms, the higher the likelihood it will rank well on the search engine results pages (SERPs). The benefit of this lies in exposure. The higher your website’s web pages rank, the more visibility your content will receive, the more organic visitors land on your product and services pages, and the more conversions you’ll make.

Take an e-commerce store as an example.

Without a good understanding of Google’s algorithmic preferences, or as they’re known in the SEO world, ranking factors, the store’s product pages are likely to remain in the obscurity of later search pages, pages two through to infinity, making it easier for potential customers to find them. But with careful attention to SEO—such as targeting the most appropriate keywords, creating high-quality content, and ensuring fast page load times—the store gives itself the best chance of appearing higher in the search results, directly impacting its success and profitability.

Beyond SEO, from a user’s perspective, Google’s algorithms are pivotal in shaping user experience. The sophistication of these algorithms ensures that users get the most relevant and high-quality information in response to their queries and search intent. In other words, they help filter out low-quality content, prioritize user-friendly sites, and, through rich snippets, even tailor search results based on individual user behavior and location.

Learn more: SEO glossary 250+ terms explained.

Notable Google Algorithm Updates and Their Impact

Google’s relentless pursuit of the best user experience involves regular algorithm updates. While most updates are minor, fine-tuning the search engine’s capabilities, some are ground-breaking changes that reshape the SEO landscape. Here are some of the most notable of these updates and their impact:

  • Panda (2011). This update was a significant shift in Google’s algorithm, aimed at lowering the rank of “thin” content and promoting high-quality content. Websites with excessive duplicate content or stuffed with irrelevant keywords saw their rankings plummet overnight.
  • Penguin (2012). Penguin took a swing at webspam and manipulative link practices. Sites indulging in obtaining links through link networks designed primarily to boost Google rankings were heavily penalized.
  • Hummingbird (2013). Google made a significant stride towards understanding search intent with the Hummingbird update. Instead of focusing solely on individual keywords, Google began to consider the context of a query to provide results that best matched the user’s intent.
  • Pigeon (2014). With the Pigeon update, Google improved the ranking parameters for local searches, bridging the gap between its standard search and Google Maps and providing more accurate local search results.
  • Mobilegeddon (2015). This update emphasized the importance of mobile-friendly design. Websites not optimized for mobile saw their rankings drop, reflecting the growing importance of mobile browsing.
  • RankBrain (2015). As Google’s first step towards AI, RankBrain was introduced to improve the understanding and interpretation of complex long-tail queries that had previously confused Google’s algorithms.
  • BERT (2019). This update marked another significant leap in Google’s understanding of natural language. BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) enhanced Google’s ability to interpret the context of words in a search query, particularly for longer, conversational searches.

Learn more: what is Google PageRank?

The Future of Google Algorithms

Google’s past and present give us valuable clues about the future trajectory of its algorithms. As the search giant continually strives for improved user experience, greater accuracy, and a deeper understanding of content, we can make a few educated guesses about what might be next:

  • Increased use of artificial intelligence (AI). With the introduction of AI-driven algorithms like RankBrain and BERT, it’s clear that Google is leaning heavily on artificial intelligence to better understand search queries and content. We expect AI to play an even more significant role in future algorithm updates.
  • More emphasis on UX. Google’s Core Web Vitals update points to an increased focus on user experience. Metrics like site speed, mobile optimization, and overall page experience will likely become more critical in the future.
  • Greater focus on semantic search. Semantic search is all about understanding the context and intent behind a search query. As seen with the Hummingbird and BERT updates, Google is making significant strides in this area. We expect this focus to continue, with algorithms becoming even better at understanding context and delivering relevant results.
  • Continued emphasis on E-E-A-T. Google’s algorithms will likely continue to prioritize high-quality content that demonstrates E-E-A-T (experience, expertise, authority, and trustworthiness). It’s part of Google’s mission to ensure users receive accurate and reliable information.


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

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Written by Aaron Haynes on February 12, 2024

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.