Google is the biggest search engine in the world. But does this mean Google controls what you see and don’t see in the search engine results pages (SERPs)?
The answer is not as simple as a yes or no, so let’s dive into the details.
As much as we rely on Google to generate search results for any query we throw at it, we also have to realize Google’s algorithms are constantly changing.
This means that what we see in the SERPs today might not be what we see tomorrow. Is there a way to affect what appears?
In this blog post, we’ll explore whether Google controls search results, how its algorithms work, and what factors influence the results you see.
Knowing these details can help you understand how to optimize your business or personal website and possibly improve search rankings and what people find about you via Google’s search engine.
The reason for this article?
The point of this article is not to paint some big bad picture of us versus them (them being Google).
It’s also not meant to entertain conspiracy theories about why Google constantly updates its search algorithm. Instead, we aim to walk you through how the most popular search engine works and give you some advice on how to have more control over what you and others can find about you or your business.
Now, we’re going to talk about the details of Google Search. We’ll break this down into two parts: The different stages of search and the factors that affect what you see.
Google Search is an integral part of almost every online experience, but few people are aware of the three stages that make it possible. Each stage is necessary to ensure that users get meaningful search results for their queries.
Search engines use web-crawling software, also known as spiders, to search the World Wide Web and create an index of all the pages it discovers.
The primary purpose of crawling is to find new pages based on a list of “seed” URLs. Freshly discovered pages are visited and indexed by these spiders, which also analyze and classify them according to their content.
This process helps search engine algorithms understand what types of content are on a particular page to determine whether that page should be included in relevant search results for a particular query. For example, “Is it a blog post? A product page? What?”
When the crawlers find a new site, they follow any links they can find from that page to discover even more pages and add them to their list of known sites. In this way, Google can systematically explore vast amounts of information through the internet and build its database of websites and their contents.
Indexing is the process of making a webpage or website discoverable on the internet.
Google does this by analyzing and understanding what a page is about, as well as examining its text and key content tags such as title elements and alt attributes. After this analysis, Google clusters together pages that have similar content and selects the best one (which it calls the canonical page) to serve in the search results for certain questions.
Google collects signals from this canonical page that can be used in later stages, for example, when displaying the page in search engine rankings.
When a user enters a query into a search engine, the machine quickly searches for matching pages and returns the results that match the query best.
Relevancy is determined by hundreds of factors, including location, language, and the type of device the searcher is using. Google can show localized results depending on where the user is located. For example, a user in Paris searching for “bicycle repair shops” might receive different results than someone in Hong Kong searching for the same term.
This leads us to the second half of our post—that is, finding out some of the factors that determine what people find about you, your business, or anything else one might search for.
You might not know this, but there are over 150 (around 200 according to Backlinko’s 2023 ranking guide) factors that Google uses to determine what content is most valuable and thus should appear at the top of the search results.
But today we are only going to touch on the big three:
These are the three areas that control what people see, bearing in mind that the results you see for a query might be completely different than what others see. Still, we felt it’s something you should know.
Today’s search engines are adept at providing tailored results according to the user’s context.
Context-based search considers several factors that help determine the precise result that is most relevant for the user and his or her search query. Sometimes, that’s a blog post. Other times, it’s rich snippets (expanded results Google displays in the search results above any organic results).
For example, location can be a useful factor for searches. If you happen to search for “pizza” in Chicago, then you will get listings of pizza places that are specific to Chicago.
This saves users from having to refine their Google search or sift through results from other places across the US.
Another type of context search engines take into account is language. No one wants to have to scroll through pages of results written in another language. Oftentimes, it can even be difficult to understand if there are both English and foreign words on one page.
Language settings allow users to select their preferred language so they only get results consistent with what they can understand, making searching much more efficient and clear-cut than before.
Lastly, the device type is also taken into consideration. Back in March 2020, Google announced they are mobile-first indexing the entire web.
That’s because 92.3% of internet users who access the internet are mobile users.
In response to this shift, Google can now detect whether a search is being made from a mobile device or a desktop search user, then show different sets of content depending on this information.
So, if you want to cater to the massive size of mobile users and possibly increase the chance of your content ranking on page one, you need to make your content mobile friendly. You can start by improving your mobile design and load speeds, and making your pages responsive.
Personalization helps improve the relevancy and quality of a user’s search experiences by delivering tailored content based on the individual’s data, preferences, browsing behavior, and history.
It can also help people find what they are looking for faster and easier by reducing the amount of irrelevant or outdated information that appears in their results.
Personalizing your search experience doesn’t extend to every result on Google Search. Instead, certain queries may return more personalized content than others depending on the nature of your query—this helps keep you up to date with the latest news, trends, and topics applicable to you specifically.
To ensure accurate personalization, Google encourages users to take control of their own data including language settings, web and app activity, as well as their location when setting up their account.
Time can be an important factor when it comes to the outcomes of search results.
As technology advances and more content is published, those who search for recent results will have better access to more up-to-date information. Search engines take into consideration new content from the web soon after its release to provide users with the most accurate answers to their queries.
Additionally, there are data centers around the world that constantly contribute new information to search engines.
Improvements made to ranking systems have a trickle-down effect that may take some time before fully being implemented in all these data centers.
This causes differences in search results depending on which data center you use for your query, as well as how close in time you’re searching for a particular topic or item.
The idea of having “real-time” searches is becoming increasingly popular as people want more immediate and accurate answers to their questions or needs. To make this possible, search engine algorithms must depend on data centers around the world that process updated information faster than older databases do.
This is the million-dollar question.
This is what SEOs and marketing “gurus” work so hard at. They are trying to crack the code. Plus, with Google constantly updating its algorithm, the effort it takes to stay on top keeps growing.
But there’s a pattern emerging. Do you see it?
SEO has been around for years, it used to be full of keyword stuffing and blackhat tactics to rank high on Google and own the SERPs. You could say it was a digital wild, wild, west.
But Google has become hip to these tactics and recently told us the direction they are going in.
On Google Search Central (a resource you should bookmark if you want to really know how SEO works), Google released information about Google Search’s Helpful Content System.
This document talks about how this new system works and how to create people-first content.
The theme here is it’s not only about the keywords now. It’s also about people and creating useful content. That’s the theme.
As you improve at making people-first content and following Google’s guidelines, you will begin to improve your organic results. This means more people looking for what you offer will find you, with no ad spend required.
Having a content strategy that serves your customer and not just Google will be what keeps you ahead of the people ignoring the shift in how to create quality content.
For over 15 years, ORM firms have been popping up and offering this service.
It’s usually discussed in the same breath as a way to remove bad content about you on the internet. However, reputation management has evolved into a preventive advantage for controlling what search results show up and what people find about you online.
Now, you can have websites, specialized content, and search results managed in such a way as to engineer your online reputation—meaning you’re not at the mercy of what Google chooses to show people.
These online reputation management professionals, like ReputationDefender, can also provide you with personal branding and help with getting more reviews for your business.
For more information, start with our free online reputation report card, which will show you exactly how people see you online. If you need more professional help, you can get it because you should know what people are going to see when they search for your name.
This post was contributed by Rockey Simmons, founder of SaaS Marketing Growth.