Help! How does Google work?
Nearly everyone uses Google as their primary search engine. You use Google to look up things to buy, to fact-check your friends, and to look for a good local restaurant. Google usually shows you what you want. However, how often do you think about the process behind your constant searching? How often do you think about the search engine algorithm? Wait, what does that mean? What exactly is the Google search engine algorithm? In short, it’s an extremely complex, ever-changing formula, designed to help Google users receive the best possible search results.
The Google search algorithm started out relatively simple. It was fairly easy to get a website to show up in the top of the search results. However, the algorithm has been changed to stop people from spamming or cheating the system, in addition to striving to help serve up better and more relevant search results. Google is constantly making minor improvements, but they have also released several huge updates that have affected many people.
Below are three big updates, as well as how they’ve changed the way you search and the way websites are shown to you. These are not all of the updates, or even all of the big updates, but they are three that continue to change the way you see results today.
The Panda update was released in February of 2011. The main purpose of this update was to try to show high-quality websites higher in the search results while pushing lower quality websites further down. This update attempted to weed out websites with low-quality writing, content copied from other websites, and even sites with very little content. This update tried to show you, as someone searching the web, the best and most well-written content on the web.
The Penguin update was released in April of 2012. Though this update, Google hoped to catch websites that were tricking the search results. As part of the Google search algorithm, links are very important. The more links your site has on the web pointing back to you, the more respected your site is in the eyes of Google. Think of a link as a vote—the more votes the better. Many sites tried to gain as many votes or links as possible, coming from bad or spam websites. This update by Google disallowed these links, making it so that the votes didn’t count. In short, sites with good links went up, while sites with bad links went down.
The Hummingbird update was released in September 2013. Hummingbird radically changed the way Google reads search queries. This caused Google to pay attention to every word in your search, not just a few important words. The goal was to better understand what the user was trying to search for and to meet that need.
This has been a very brief attempt to explain exactly how Google works. To be completely honest, no one really knows. There have been several huge updates that Google has made public, but Google is making hundreds of tiny changes, sometimes several a day! Google is constantly making changes, trying to help its users see better, more expected results.