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Google’s John Mueller: “Search is Not a Science”

In the latest episode of Google’s Search Off the Record podcast, the search team discusses the significance of ranking factors.

Google’s John Mueller: “Search is Not a Science”

Google’s John Mueller advises SEOs not to look at search ranking as an exact science with an absolute right or wrong way of doing things.

Mueller spoke at length on this subject in episode three of Google’s Search Off the Record podcast.

Accompanied by Gary Illyes and Martin Splitt, also from Google, Mueller discusses the flaws he sees peoples’ attitude toward ranking factors.

Here are some highlights from the Google Search team’s discussion on search rankings.

John Mueller on Ranking Factors

Mueller has two frames of mind when it comes to ranking factors:

  • One: Search is not a science
  • Two: Things can change over time

Obsessing over individual components, like the strength of one ranking factor compared to another, is a flawed approach.

Mueller says there can be multiple ways to achieve the desired outcome. Every site does not have to follow the same blueprint, so to speak.

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“I think that’s really important to keep in mind in the sense that there is no absolute truth out there with regards to which page should be ranking for which query…

So it’s not that every site has to do the same thing, but rather there are multiple ways to get there and you don’t have to blindly follow just one ranking factor to get to the end result.”

There’s not ‘one’ deciding factor in search ranking

There is not an individual ranking factor you can point to and say it’s the deciding factor above others.

There’s not even a single factor that consistently carries more weight than others, Mueller says.

A ranking factor may carry considerable weight for one query, and not matter at all for another.

“And it’s also not the case that any particular kind of factor within this big network is the one deciding factor or that you can say that this factor plays a 10% role because maybe for some sites, for some queries, it doesn’t play a role at all.

And maybe for other sites, for other queries, it’s the deciding factor. It’s really hard to say kind of how to keep those together.”

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Optimize for a variety of factors

While there’s no way to guarantee a stable position in search results, Mueller says the best thing SEOs can do is optimize for a variety of factors.

“… the best way for a website to kind of remain in a stable position, which is not guaranteed at all, is really to make sure that you have a wide variety of different factors that you work on and kind of keep this diversity of your website upright.”

Google cares about user feedback

Gary Illyes added to the discussion saying Google takes user feedback into consideration when shaping its algorithm.

All algorithm updates are tested on real users before getting pushed live.

Tests are conducted through live experiments where one set of users gets the new algorithm and another set doesn’t.

Google will then decide whether the update is good or bad for users based on how they reacted to the new results.

“Anyway, I would also like to add there that we also take quite a bit of user voice into shaping the algorithm because when we evaluate new launches, then it is tested first on humans.

Pretty much all the launches – be that live experiments, where actual users are getting the new algorithm, or a piece of the algorithm, into their search results and they can see different results, differently sorted results.

And then we look at things like clicks, like how they reacted to the new results to understand whether the launch is good or bad.”

For more of this discussion on Google search rankings, you can listen to the full podcast below.

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Matt Southern

Lead News Writer at Search Engine Journal

Matt Southern has been the lead news writer at Search Engine Journal since 2013. With a degree in communications, Matt ... [Read full bio]

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