Google’s Search Magic Revealed

The closer you look, the less you see…

Caught up in the day-to-day rhythm of business we rarely take the time to zoom out and see the big picture. Google Search seems like magic and it only gets more magical. Let’s take a look at magic.

Your brain, mine too, tricks you. The human brain fills in gaps to make sense of our world. For example, in the image below what do you see?


Do you see a triangle?

You have been misled. Your brain is connecting three gray dots by filling in the gaps to define it as a triangle. Look closely and it’s a triangle, step back and it’s three dots again.

Google Isn’t Deliberately Tricking You!

It is rarely small details that hold your business back from great search engine rankings and results. You might never know that from reading all the SEO how-to’s. While trying to divine Google’s algorithms for organic and paid search quality, people are often misled. It’s only human to fill in the gaps in search rankings by looking at correlated issues and missing important causative issues that are not readily visible unless you’re looking for them. I’m sure you also remember the Google toolbar and the little green PageRank bar. How long were people distracted by that?

How Does Distraction Work?

Great magicians use tricks to create illusions that mystify our brains. We know that magic is all about distraction and misdirection. It’s worth examining.

In this article about the neuroscience of misdirection (missing the wonderful clip below), Penn & Teller share the seven principles of magic and misdirection that can be used for sleight of hand. Watch the short, engaging clip and I will share with you how your knowledge of those seven principles will help your rankings.

The magician banks on the fact that you want to pay deep attention to the minutiae of his movements to “catch” the trick, so they encourage that distraction so that they can use one or more of the principles of magic to pull off their trick.

Watch Closely Now!

The distraction isn’t provided by Google. Hot off the presses is the release of Moz’s 2013 Search Engine Ranking Factors study. I applaud the good folks at Moz for taking the time to add this line to the post: “When interpreting the correlation results, it is important to remember that correlation does not prove causation.” However, I am willing to bet most people skimmed right by it to the actual ranking factors data.

We all want to find the magical formula to great rankings, don’t we?

Step Back!

Want some deep insights into Google’s Quality Score calculations so that your ads show up higher and you pay a lower cost-per-click? According to Frederick Vallaeys, co-founder of a hot, new Quality Score optimization tool at Optmyzr and former AdWords evangelist at Google, there certainly seems to be more than meets the eye when it comes to Quality Scores:

“While Quality Score is represented in your account as a single number between 1 and 10 for every keyword, there are hundreds of ways Google slices your ad performance to come to this number. For example, QS is calculated separately for mobile and desktop. There’s also a real-time QS element that comes into play at the time the user does a query and when Google has tons of additional data to help them decide which ad is most likely to elicit a click from that particular user based on the time of day, previous searches and many other factors. It’s a ‘Big Data’ prediction algorithm and advertisers would do well to apply some of these same methodologies for picking successful ads to ensure users get value from their ads, Google is kept happy, and more sales are generated.”

Google makes claims that it uses over 200 different signals for its ranking factors. I don’t doubt that, do you? Google changes its algorithm quite frequently. In fact, I have been hearing a lot of buzz about a bit of a Google dance this past week in the organic rankings.

I took the liberty, with Frederick’s permission, to bold a couple of phrases in his quote that highlight the secret to great rankings. What he is talking about is massive personalization and leveraging multiple data sets and signals in real time to deliver what Google thinks will be the best results.

Google’s Big Data Set

I encourage you to step back and think much bigger and more broadly about big data before taking these correlated factors to rankings to heart.

What do you think Google knows about you from all the signals you might provide it based on your search query, click-through, Gmail account, and other factors? If you think about all the types of data sets you can get access to when you want to target ads on Facebook, do you think Google might have access to some of those or similar data sets? There is a lot of data available. I recommend you follow the links I’ve provided and familiarize yourself with offerings from: Enigma, Alteryx, and Acxiom. What kind of data sources would you want to use if you were Google to deliver the best results for your searching customers?

Perhaps this must-read blog post on Moz gives away the one secret – satisfy the user. As they wrote: “This isn’t a touchy-feely post that says ‘Make great content and visitors will come’ or ‘Delight your customers and magic will happen.’ It’s not magic. Satisfaction is an actual ranking factor.”

Satisfy the User, Really?

Don’t be distracted by noisy signals. Don’t forget that customer-focused signals are way more important than what you say on your website, who you get to link to you or share your stuff in social media, and/or any silly conversations you might be prompting. If you’re a CMO who isn’t embarrassed by the distraction from magical shiny objects, then either you’re the extremely rare exception or you’re still hypnotized by complexity.

In the near future, companies that will get great rankings won’t think of their websites and digital content as the center of the universe. They will think about the customer as the center of the universe. At the end, a great magic show is about giving the audience a great experience. Google works diligently to provide its users just that – will you do the same?

Related reading

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A cartoon depicting web analytics. It shows a bubble with the letters WWW in it, surrounded by "click! click!". An arrow leads from the bubble to a notepad with graphs and charts on it. Another arrow leads to a chart on a piece of paper, with a lightbulb next to it, which leads on to a spanner with the words "tweak! tweak!" next to it. In the bottom left corner is a box with four bullet points in it: gather, report, analyse and optimise.