Search Engine Optimization: A Primer on Algorithms

Search engine optimization (SEO) is one of those flagship terms that permeates the field of online marketing. The popularity of SEO has created a huge source of noise with regards to information on how to successfully implement SEO techniques and run campaigns that center around SEO.

There’s a lot of people out there shouting and telling you about some arbitrary number of ways you can increase your rankings in search engine results pages (SERPs). Some of their advice might be accurate and some might completely miss the point, but how can any newcomer to the world of online advertising and SEO really put both their feet down and start really thinking about the reliability of such advice?

The definitive, final answer to this question is looking at Google’s ranking algorithms. Really, part of the issue is being willing to really put in the work to understand how algorithms influence search results rather than blowing it off as a black box that only smart people understand. This Forbes article is an egregious example of this self-defeating attitude when it comes to understanding, as the author quickly dismisses comprehending the details of the algorithm with the remark that “there are more than 200+ factors” that contribute to your Google rankings before telling you how you can dominate SEO in 2017 as long as you understand how trust works.

Numbers, Charts, Statistics, Analytics, Code, Algorithms. That’s what sets apart the successful efforts from the abject failures. There’s no real debate here: the person who cracks open a book or scours the Internet making a concerted effort to record and understand how each of the 200+ factors change will undoubtedly design and run SEO campaigns that blow the person vaguely ruminating over what Google’s trust will accomplish. This primer on algorithms is here to help you take your first steps beyond a sea of distracting information and trends to really grasp what matters in SEO.

Google’s Search and Ranking Algorithms

The first step towards elucidating the behind-the-scenes machinery at work begins with identifying the foundational page sorting and ranking softwares that Google applies to its search results. A list of major algorithms of this kind can be located here, you’ll want to pay special attention to Google’s Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird, and Phantom algorithms.

For a basic breakdown of each of these algorithms key functions, Panda and Penguin are geared towards removing irrelevant results and correcting the rank of people trying to game the system by associating their services with positive keywords through fraudulent efforts such as spamming.

Meanwhile, the Phantom algorithm was subtly introduced and the subject of confusion in 2015 for many webmasters because it was an algorithm that redefined how Google valued “quality”, resulting in many informational sites like eHow, Hubpages, or Quora to drop across the board in rankings. Finally, Hummingbird deals with increasing the accuracy and resolution of semantic or “conversational” results.

While many of these algorithms seem to focus on characteristics that are unclear like low-quality sites or semantic search queries, the fact is that there exists a very objective and measurable way of determining the impact that these algorithms have on rankings. In fact, the Phantom algorithm was brought into the spotlight initially because of the focused sleuthing and collaboration of numerous webmaster. Evidence-based speculation and meticulousness when it comes to capturing changes in Google search rankings is at the heart of insight into SEO.

Identifying and Reacting to Algorithm Changes

One of the biggest reasons why informally given SEO advice that doesn’t require stringent research on the marketer’s part simply doesn’t bode well competitively is because Google’s algorithms are constantly changing, being patched and updated. If you depend on news written by self-proclaimed SEO specialists to gain knowledge about the climate of SEO, you’ll be forever behind the curve.


In order to truly grasp the real-time changes to algorithms and apply that knowledge to SEO, you’ll need to be constantly on the lookout for major change and make speculations by yourself and with others on the possible reason or rule dictating the change. This previous link demonstrates a meticulous and evidence-based record and approach to determining algorithm changes.

The author, Glenn Gabe, drew a number of useful comparisons from SEO visibility metrics derived from his own sites, predicting and documenting the positive and negative impact of some algorithm updates. He makes a number of insightful conclusions, like the fact that major algorithm updates are almost always preceded by huge jumps in rankings across the board and observations about how the data is consistent with the idea that Google is weeding out low-quality user engagement sites.


Now, what are you waiting for? Get that jump on insight into algorithms and search trends by looking and current data and corroborating your findings with others. Leave your competitors behind in the dust when you begin designing SEO measures that reflective of the foremost Google search and ranking algorithms.