What is the Google Algorithm and the Role of SEO?

In its most simple form, SEO can be defined as a data-driven approach to optimizing a website in order for it to generate more traffic organically from Google and other search engines. On average, there are about 10 results on the first page of Google. The pages that fill these positions are ordered by rank. The higher your page is on the search engine results page, the better your click-through rate is.

Brief History of SEO

Nowadays, Google and other search engines are smarter than ever- they use artificial intelligence to help process and rank information, and are able to understand human speech, providing incredibly relevant results that not only understand words but the meaning and intent behind them.

Before 1995, search engines determine relevance by looking at the text of a website, domain names, and basic site structure. Fortunately, One of the founders of Google, Larry Page, decided to create an algorithm to evaluate the relevance of certain pages by analyzing the patterns formed by hyperlinks. Instead of using text to determine relevance, Page would calculate the relevancy of the page based on a numerical value of links embedded in its HTML and by outside links to the page. This eventually became known as PageRank. However,  PageRank is not the only factor that Google currently uses to determine search engine result placements. Over 200 signals are currently in use and feed into the master algorithm.


In fact, Google has a very long history of famous and mysterious algorithm updates, search index changes and refreshes. Google releases more than two algorithm updates to their index every day, most of them relatively unnoticed as they cause very little changes. The following are some of the most important algorithm updates that changed the way SEO was done at their time, listed in chronological order:

  • Panda
    • Panda was launched on February 24th, 2011. The Panda algorithm penalized websites that had plagiarized, duplicate or thin content. This also included websites with user-generated spam and keyword stuffing. Panda assigned a so-called “quality score” to web pages, this score is then used as a ranking factor. Initially, the algorithm was acting more as a filter rather than a part of Google’s ranking algorithm.
  • Venice
    • Venice was launched on February 27th, 2012. The Venice algorithm filtered out irrelevant results that were not applicable to the location of the searcher. Essentially, the Venice update showed that Google understood that users (at times) wanted search results relating to products and services with closer geographical proximity to them by increasing the frequency and volume of local hybrid results.
  • Penguin
    • Penguin was launched on April 24th, 2012. Penguin penalized spammy or irrelevant links. This also included links with over-optimized anchor text. The objective of the Penguin algorithm update was to demote sites whose links it deems manipulative. Since late 2016, Penguin has been a part of Google’s core algorithm.
  • Hummingbird
    • Hummingbird was launched on August 22, 2013. The Hummingbird algorithm penalized keyword stuffing and sites with low-quality content. Hummingbird helps Google interpret search queries and provide results that match the searchers intent. Hummingbird makes it possible for a page to rank for a related search query.
  • Pigeon
    • Pigeon launched on July 24, 2014. This launch affected those searches that user’s location played an important role. The update allowed traditional SEO factors now to be used to rank for local results.
  • Mobile
    • Mobile launched on April 21, 2015. The launch ensures that mobile-friendly pages rank at the top of mobile searches, while pages not optimized for mobile are filtered out from the SERPs or down-ranked.
  • RankBrain
    • RankBrain launched on October 26, 2015. RankBrain is a machine learning system that helps Google understand the meaning behind queries, and serve best-matching search results in response to those queries. Most important ranking factor.
  • Possum
    • Possum was launched on September 1, 2016. This update ensured that local results vary more depending on the searcher’s location: the closer you are to the business’s location the more likely you are to see it among local results.
  • Fred
    • Fred was launched March 8, 2017. This launch targets websites that violate Google’s webmaster guidelines. The majority of affected sites are blogs with low-quality posts that appear to be created mostly to generate ad revenue.

With these constant changes in Google algorithms throughout the years, search engine marketers have started to evolve with the times, focusing mainly on optimization through on page and off page SEO.

On Page SEO

On-page SEO is the practice of optimizing the pages of a website so that they will rank higher on search engines. These are the easiest changes to make if you have full control over the content of your website. Key factors that improve your on-page SEO include:

  • Title tags
  • Header tags
  • URLs
  • Alt image tags

Another factor of on-page SEO is content. One of Google’s core philosophies is to provide users with the highest quality and most relevant content for whatever they happen to be searching for. So as Google’s algorithm continues to update, you can expect the quality of your content to be the number one factor that influences where you rank in the search engines.

On-page SEO tells Google or other search engines that your website is the most relevant and that you should be at the top of the search results page for the specific search query. Without on-page, your website will be buried.

Off Page SEO

Off-page SEO are actions taken outside of your own website that impacts your site rankings within search engine results pages. When it comes to optimizing for off-site ranking factors this concludes increasing search engine and user perception of a site’s popularity, relevance, trustworthiness, and authority. This can be done by internet linking and or promoting your website, while effectively vouching for the quality of your content. We quote “building backlinks is at the heart of SEO, and the single-most powerful ranking signal”.

When it comes to the greatest contribution of how links are obtained is generally by those that pass the most equity. These are a few signals that positively contribute to the equity passed:

  1. Linking the site’s popularity
  2. The relevance of the linking site’s topic to the site being linked to
  3. The “freshness” of the link
  4. Anchor text used on the linking site
  5. Trustworthiness of the linking site
  6. Number of other links on the linking page
  7. Authority of the linking domain and page

While search algorithms and ranking factors are constantly changing, the consensus within the SEO community is that the relevance, trustworthiness, and authority are effective when implementing off-page SEO.

Local SEO

Local SEO is about optimizing a website to rank better for a specific local audience. This will give you the opportunity to target the entire online world. But say for your business your target audience is located in or near the city you have your office or shop, you’ll need to practice local SEO. In short terms, you will need to optimize so people know where you are located.

A great way to optimize for Local SEO is utilizing the GMB platform. This is essential because it provides information to a variety of places, including the local pack and Google Map search results. The most common place this will be seen will be on the top right of a branded search. Included in your GMD profile will be information that you provide manually, such as services that you offer, contact details, business descriptions, categories, and business hours. Managing your GMB profile with information that is up to date and accurate has a great impact on appearance in the local pack and business credibility.

The Future of SEO

Though the future is uncertain, the world of search engines and algorithm updates is constant. Two recent areas of growth that play a role in the future of SEO is the evolving of voice search and virtual reality.

  1. Voice search will become the future of SEO. As smart home technologies such as Echo, Alexa, and Cortana continue to expand SEO must adjust to fit spoken searches. This will place a large emphasis on content created in a natural speech to play into account the impact voice searches will affect search engine results.
  2. Virtual reality will eventually begin to play a role in the future of the SEO world due to its gained increase in exposure. In SEO research the same rules apply for virtual reality as they do with visual content, yet this is still an area of growth and adjustment for SEO as a whole.