Google Discusses Their Algorithm Change Process

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Those who’ve been involved in search engine optimization for any real duration know that there’s no one Google algorithm to keep up with. In addition to having a couple world-breaking changes per year (Google Instant and Panda being the most recent), there are constant minor changes that change how search works. However, Google recently discussed how those many minor changes are created, tested, and implemented. Knowing this process will help you gauge exactly how seriously to take different types of changes.

The Google Process

Amit Singhal, Google Fellow, was among several engineers who discussed how ideas become realities for the Google algorithm. “While an improvement to the algorithm may start with a creative idea, it always goes through a process of rigorous scientific testing,” said Singhal.

A group of Googlers known as “ranking engineers” come up with theories on why certain search types aren’t performing ideally. Each “reasonable idea” is tested with a group of trained raters. Those raters are shown the altered results side-by-side with the standard results, and asked which one is better.

From there, Google spreads the test to a small cut of the public. That experimental group sees the content in an isolated sandbox. An analyst then looks at the feedback and behavior of those users. The analyst compiles and brings the data to a “launch evaluation meeting,” where the engineers decide whether the change should become a permanent part of the search experience.

Each idea is based on improving the user experience, but not every idea actually shows a positive user impact; while over 500 changes were made last year, over 20,000 experiments were conducted in that same time period. The key takeaway is that, while it’s a good idea to pay attention to experiments, only a small cut will every become a part of the standard – and, with 500 changes a year, even those alterations are subject to reversal.

[Sources include: The Official Google Blog]

Rob D Young
Rob has been insatiably obsessed with Google, search engine technology, and the trends of the web-based world since he began life as a webmaster in... Read Full Bio
Rob D Young

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  • Karim Javed

    500 Changes a year :O they are getting us to use Steroids and then work 😀

  • Ryan

    The raters are trained to apply a set of objective standards through most test projects. To further strengthen the connection between user and ‘collective ideal’, statistical significance is applied the good old fashioned way, where outlying data points within the rating system are scrutinized and, in effect, thrown out. These rogue data points also offer valuable insight, often prompting new studies of their own.

    In the end, this ‘collective ideal’ is the same ideal from which Google became Leviathan, where relevance is king. As Hobbes might describe Google, “which is but an artificial man, though of greater stature and strength than the natural, for whose protection and defence it was intended; and in which the sovereignty is an artificial soul, as giving life and motion to the whole body…”

    Just as the Commonwealth aims to satisfy the collective hierarchy of physical needs in political terms, it grows more difficult to separate such a notion from the hierarchy of information that is increasingly becoming necessary components of liberty, freedom, and even the base-tier of Maslow’s hierarchy. In the digital world we navigate today, information becomes the resource from which all other resources are extracted. In other words, stretch your dollars buying online. Put your dollars to work to replicate themselves through complex investing tactics made available only through digital technology and instant access to information.

    “Build it and they will come.” Google’s algorithm is alive, growing from each decision and suggestion of Google’s army of quality raters. The human element has a larger market share in shaping the quality of Google’s search than its competitors. It’s good business, really- $29 Billion in revenue provides Google the luxury of those old-school strategies- you know, utilizing human beings. I guess the moral here is that the push to automate doesn’t always win, even if the goal is, ultimately, a service of automation itself.

    What are the chances that this strategy has been adopted by Bing or Yahoo?

  • Craig Galway

    Interesting. I figured they changed frequently, like a couple of changes a month. But nearly twice a day? Another good argument for working SEO from the user experience side and not so much from gaming the system.

  • Michael

    Just curious how Google manages not only implement, but deploy and do enough testing as to receive a reasonably accurate feedback on 20,000 experiments per year. That’s roughly 77 experiments per working day. You need more than steroids to get this done! 😛

  • Stav

    actually we need to take into account that not eveything they say is 100% real.
    remember the caffeine update where google promised not to deliver the change only after christmas to keep webmasters calm but then on christmas eve they pulled the switch and the update went live.

    only after a wave of people in the industry talked about google admitted that it has been live…

    therefor it is nice that amit singhal is telling us about the process, but the truth is nobody really knows what’s going on there.