How Google Determines Relevance And Popularity

How Google Determines Relevance And Popularity

To a search engine, relevance is more than just finding a page with the words you were searching for. Search engines didn’t go much further than this in the beginning. Over the year now other factors influence relevance.

Search engines typically assume that the more popular a site, page, or document, the more valuable the information it contains must be. One other factor is how it reads pages for the terms used (the words), so watch your spelling and grammar, as Google looks and judges on quality of the content and a pages layout for users to be able to read and find the information they are looking for.

Here’s Matt Cutts to explain how things work. It’s dated 2010, but the basics haven’t changed much.

Signals, Signals and more Signals


It is a pretty commonly used about term by SEO folks and marketers, but some misunderstand. A search engine uses signals for many things including categorization, geo-localization, behavioral, demographic, and more. Some might be used as signals of quality to determine if you a spammer, while others used in display elements in the search results.

In simplest terms these can include (from

Site-Level Signals:

  • Authority/Trust
  • Classifications
  • Internal link ratios
  • Localization
  • Entities
  • Domain history
  • Thin content

Page Level Signals:

  • Meta data
  • Classifications (and Localization)
  • Entities
  • Authority/trust (external links)
  • Temporal signals
  • Semantic signals
  • Linguistic indicators (language and nuances)
  • Prominence factors (bold, headings, italics, lists, etc.)

Off-site Signals:

  • Link related signals
  • Temporal signals
  • Trust elements (known by the company you keep)
  • Entity/Authority; citations, co-citation, etc.
  • Social graph signals
  • Spam signals (that might incur dampening)
  • Semantic relevance (of the other signals)

Popularity and relevance aren’t determined manually. Instead, the engines employ mathematical equations (algorithms) to sort the wheat from the chaff (relevance), and then to rank the wheat in order of quality (popularity).

These algorithms often comprise hundreds of variables. In the search marketing field, we refer to them as “ranking factors.” Moz crafted a resource specifically on this subject: Search Engine Ranking Factors.


source: to read more and see other infographics.

The Evolution of Search

Here’s a video about relevancy from Google created in 2011 to explain their history and how search works.

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I have been in marketing and technology for more than 20 years and have worked in many industries and worn many hats. From independent consultant, to cooking school, to establishing technology centers, it was a Spirit led adventure that landed me in the president & owner’s seat at Element 502.

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