When you search the phrase “digital marketing” on Google, you might see a variety of items on the results page.
For example, we see, from top to bottom: a featured snippet linking to a page that defines ‘digital marketing,’ a list of questions that ‘People Also Ask,’ a map with nearby marketing offices and firms, and some standard page results.
If you were to type in a different search query – say, a celebrity’s name, or a question about fixing an appliance – you’d get a completely different list of result types.
How does Google decide which page elements are appropriate for each search query?
A few of Google’s Webmaster Trends Analysts discussed this topic on a recent episode of the company’s Search Off the Record podcast.
How Google Ranks Page Elements
Google search results are determined by what most describe as an automatic bidding process. A search query could relate to standard page results, a featured snippet, a map, a set of images or videos, news articles, and many other possibilities – each of these bids for a spot on the page.
How do these elements earn their ranking?
Mueller says that “it’s almost like all of these different indexes, or kinds of content, have their own search engine. Basically, they’re saying, ‘my result is, like, super relevant, or kind of relevant.’ Then, there’s a ‘super search engine’ on top of all of these search engines that mixes them all together.”
In other words, the type of content is organized first – images go together, news articles go together, and so on.
Then, the relevancy of each page element is determined. This way, the more relevant elements end up competing for a spot at the top of the page, while less relevant elements aim for the middle or bottom.
It’s worth noting that some results will deliberately aim for a specific spot on the page – and it might not necessarily be the top spot.
“We have preferred positions for something like, for example, the video results,” Illyes explained.
For example, ‘related searches’ are often found near the bottom of the page.
So, what factors determine how these elements end up ‘winning’ their bids? Google’s precise ways of ranking are a bit of a mystery, but Illyes and Mueller explain that user interest plays a major role.
“How do you recognize if we should show images or videos?” Mueller asked.
“We learn it,” Illyes says, explaining that users’ clicks are important. “When you search for something that normally doesn’t have images or videos, and you tap the images tab on the result page, you are essentially teaching Google that there was this random person who wanted images for this particular query. If there are enough users doing that, then you are essentially teaching Google that the query might deserve images, or videos, or whatever.”
User behaviour shapes how Google learns and changes. For this reason, digital marketers, advertisers, and site owners should constantly keep up with Google, as it is always modernizing its services. This is especially true considering that Google frequently updates its algorithms – this spring and summer alone, there have been about a dozen updates.