Google's Ranking Algorithms Dynamically Change Based On Query & Context

Sep 20, 2017 • 8:07 am | comments (21) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

The other day I reported how Google said there is no such thing as the top three ranking signals despite what may have been said before. I said it is likely because some queries weigh some signals more important than others, such as QDF (query deserves freshness - Google it) and other things.

But what about having different signals with more weigh based on the industry or topic of the query? John Mueller of Google said "I think it makes total sense" to have algorithms that weigh different signals dynamically based on various of factors. He said there is no one-size fits all approach to ranking signals. He said Google "probably" does value links less in some industries that are more susceptible to link spam but he qualified that saying that was from his "limited point of view."

This several minute conversation between myself and John Mueller starts at 40 minutes into the video. Here is a partial transcript, it is a lot to transcribe and my fingers hurt.

(Q) Is there a one size fits all approach to ranking signals in Google?

(A) No!

Wow, that is similar to what I said on Twitter.

(Q) So you actually dynamically change what ranking signals are more important based on the query or the site or something like that?

(A) I think that totally makes sense. I mean if you are searching for something like these Hurricanes that are currently around, so if you are searching for Maria, the new one. If you are searching for that, you probably want something very different from when you search now then if you searched maybe a month ago. And from that point of view it makes sense to use, kind of vastly different kind of ranking signals for those types of queries at this moment.

So that is the most basic situation where something is kind of common where people search for anyway, but depending on the context it makes sense to put completely different search results together for a query like that.

Figuring out when it makes sense to show more shopping results, more brand results or more general information results that’s - I don’t think there is one set of ranking factors that we can just say these are the top three and they apply to all the search results.

(Q) So let’s just make it a little bit more interesting. Back in the day when Tim Mayer was running Yahoo Search, Matt Cutts was on the panel, I think it was back in 2003 or 2005, or whatever.

He is talking about spammers and stuff like that, and you might remember this, and you might remember this quote. He said you don’t bring a knife to a gun fight. And that kind of implied back then you guys were using different algorithms, more spammy industries as well. So if you were doing a search for let’s say for adult content or certain types of drugs or something like that and it is very spammy in nature do you guys say, links are maybe not as important in that space?

(A) Probably.

I don’t have exact answers there but I think that would make sense to kind of treat those kind of search results in different ways.

And it is something that I always see as well with regards to smaller businesses where maybe where smaller businesses are trying to compete for the same terms and one business goes off and does a lot of work with getting links from people parking a lot of product and the other business does something completely different. On one hand there is one page that has a lot of links and on the other hand there is another page that has a lot of other positive signals. And we have to find a way to compare those and rank those. We can’t just say links are important and thus this one will always be on top. Maybe sometimes this one will be on top.

That something because we have so many signals we can combine them in different ways and depending on the query and on the context sometimes we can take more like this and sometimes we take more like that. That from my point of view makes a lot sense to focus on more on all things around that query to try to figure out what is relevant for users at this point in time, which might not be the same thing as a later time, which might not be the same thing for other queries, which might not be the same thing for other users.

I then brought up how Yandex dropped links for some queries because of spam asking "would Google pull a Yandex and weigh links less for certain industries?" John Mueller responded "I don’t know, I think that would totally make sense from my limited point of view. I don’t know the specifics around what Yandex recently announced there."

John said this is why it is hard to say these are the top three ranking signals in Google.

I should note that back in 2013, Matt Cutts of Google touched on this topic - so it is not exactly new.

Here is the video embed from yesterday:

Forum discussion at Google+.

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