• Date: 4 April, 2021

How Intelligent Is Google?

When Amazon first started in the 90s, it was called Amazon because search engines of the time were ordering websites alphabetically. A lot has changed since then, with Google emerging as the dominant search engine. Google was ground-breaking because it used the same system that psychological papers used to assess the influence or worth of a paper. The more times a paper is cited in other papers, the more influential and important it is. The work of Freud for example is seen as highly influential because so many subsequent psychological papers referenced his work. Similarly with websites, the more links they had from other websites the more link authority they had, and the higher they appeared in Google. The closer they are to the top of the page the more clicks they receive.

This is true today, as can be seen by click-through to position charts showing that the top SEO result gets around 30% of the clicks, the second around 15% and the third 10%. Being in the top 3 results has and still is important. Today Google aggregates information from different sources, presenting videos, images, news, statistics, questions, and social media posts in the main results among web pages. Being above the fold, puts your website above the other content Google aggregates. However, Google soon realised that people could buy links, artificially inflating their worth in order to displace competitors. It then started giving more weight to the type of links, and links from distinct websites, rather than the number of links a page had. The more different websites that linked to your website, the more authority you had, whereas before one website with 5 links counted the same as 5 different websites with 1 link each. An older website would have more authority than a newer website, the opposite of how it arranges news results, giving more weight to recent news vs old news.

This too could be manipulated and paid for and so it tried find a better way for assessing what would be the most useful to its users. The more accurately Google showed its results, the more trustworthy it became, and the more advertisers spent on Google Ads, its main revenue stream. Google included social signals along with the links that it used to measure a page's worth. This meant that the users themselves, who shared the content on their own social media pages and included posts with links to useful content influenced the rankings of websites. However, this too could be manipulated and paid for. On-page content has always been important to rankings, and pages that received links with a specific anchor text (hyperlinked text) but that did not have the same words on the page were seen as spam. For example, if you want you page to show for 'LCD TV' and you have 1000 links from different websites, but the words 'LCD TV' do not appear on your page, you are essentially spamming. Meta data became important to tell Google what the page was about, specifically H1 headers. These are also important today, and websites without a H1 header that matches their main search term, will seldom outrank those with a H1 header that matches.

Today, Google has become more intelligent than ever, and uses a complex range of metrics to assess a page's worth, and to know what search term to show it for. The most important metric is human interaction. Time-on-page is an important factor for Google to see how long people spend on a certain web page once they click on it. After, that the way their user journey with the website is assessed. Do they visit one page and then 'bounce' (leave the website) or do they click on a second or third page of the website? Do they fill out a call to action, like a contact form? How many visitors visit the website? Where do they come from geographically? These factors affect the way a website ranks, and whether it outranks a competitor. This is why these days websites are more visually appealing, with video content included. The longer you spend watching a video on a website, the more time-on-page it has. Thanks to Google analytics, these factors can be easily measured by Google. With the use of cookies, Google can see more accurately than ever who goes where and does what. A few months back, Google announced in a blog post that it will soon stop tracking individual people‚Äôs web browsing for advertising purposes, which will happen when Chrome starts blocking third-party cookies. Personal privacy vs the need to assess human interaction has been an important issue for Google and one that will continue for years to come.