The Wall Street Journal Launched An Extensive Investigation Into Google’s Search Algorithm. Here’s What Every Small Business Needs To Know
Last week, The Wall Street Journal published an extensive investigative report titled How Google Interferes With Its Search Algorithms and Changes Your Results. In the article, the Journal discusses the results from their investigation of Google, concluding that Google employees and contractors play a role in determining search results and rankings, contradicting the perception that Google’s algorithm is objective and free of human bias.
Lara Levin, a spokeswoman at Google, countered the Journal’s claims saying, “We do today what we have done all along, provide relevant results from the most reliable sources available.” She continued, “the company is transparent in its guidelines for evaluators and in what it designs the algorithms to do.”
Google is the most highly trafficked website in the world, capturing more than 90 percent of the market share for all search engines, according to the report. While the article isn’t intended as a search engine optimization playbook, it includes numerous takeaways small businesses can use to optimize their search results on this powerful platform. Knowing how Google determines search engine results, as well as what features they use to flag a site as relevant, is essential for businesses looking to bolster their online presence.
How Google’s Algorithm Works
Google is in the business of relevance. When you enter a search query, Google’s algorithm is designed to prioritize the most relevant results from authoritative sources.
In the age of misinformation, authority continues to grow as a valued attribute for sites in the algorithm. To combat misinformation, Google engineers “emphasize factors on a page that are proxies for ‘authoritativeness,’ effectively pushing down pages that don’t display those attributes,” said the report.
How does the algorithm define authoritativeness? No one knows exactly, besides Google. Their complex algorithm is undisclosed to avoid companies from manipulating results and profiting off the system. To make things even more difficult, Google’s algorithm changes every single day.
“Google made more than 3,200 changes to its algorithms in 2018,” according to the report.
We rarely hear about these changes because they are constantly evolving to keep up with the 3.8 million queries typed into Google search every minute.
Practical Takeaways From the Report
Search engine optimization, a practice designed to organically enhance search rankings and direct more search engine traffic to a website, empowers businesses to take some control of their Google standing and visibility.
According to the Journal, “Google attempts to keep users on its results page, where ads are placed, instead of losing the users as they click through to other sites. In September, about 55% of Google searches on mobile were ‘no-click’ searches, according to research firm Jumpshot, meaning users never left the results page.”
If your business is not showing up on the first page of results, you are likely missing out on a sea of new business opportunity. Out of the information Google discloses, we know the algorithm factors in freshness, location, language signals, bounce rate and backlinks to determine what qualifies a first-page placement:
- Freshness determines how relevant your content is to breaking news or developing stories. Businesses can hire PR professionals who specialize in this service, but if you cannot afford professional services, think of ways to frame your pages and posts to create news relevance.
- The algorithm also factors a user’s location into search results. The engine ranks results based on how close they are relative to the user’s location. For businesses, it is important to make sure the location is explicitly listed on your site, so you appear in searches within your region.
- The algorithm looks at language signals and how the words being searched create meaning and generate different results in the search engine. To check language signals, your business should review its content, to make sure you are using keywords your audience would use in a search.
- The search engine looks at how long people stay on your site, also known as the bounce rate. If a user quickly clicks out of your site, your bounce rate will decrease and Google will index your site as irrelevant for that search. To increase your bounce rate, invest time in your website’s content and design to keep visitors engaged. The more engaging and appealing your site is, the more likely users will linger.
- The algorithm takes into account how many backlinks refer the user to your site. Each time a blog or news website includes a backlink to your site, it contributes to your domain authority and signals to Google that your site may be more reverent than others with similar keywords. To increase your backlinks, find reputable blogs, podcasts, news outlets and other quality websites to contribute content to, or hire a public relations agency equipped to execute a robust, sophisticated backlinking campaign.
For more information on implementing SEO strategies for your business, download our free infographic Understanding Search Engine Optimization.
Emma McClain is a public relations associate at Flackable, a national, full-service public relations agency headquartered in Philadelphia. To learn more about Flackable, please visit www.flackable.com.