Google Publishes Guide to Ranking Systems

Google’s new guide will help you understand which ranking systems they use and which have been retired.

Google Ranking Systems

Google also introduces new terminology in its latest guide, distinguishing between ranking “systems” and ranking “updates”.

A system like “RankBrain” runs continuously in the background. An update is a one-off change to ranking systems. So, a helpful content system runs while Google delivers search results but receives updates to improve its performance. 

Also known as core algorithm updates and SPAM updates, ranking systems frequently change over time. Let’s start with Google’s new terminology; look at the highlights from its guide to ranking systems. 

Existing Google Ranking Systems

Here are Google’s ranking systems listed alphabetically.

BERT: Short for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, it allows Google to identify how combinations of words may express different meanings and intentions.

Crisis information systems: Google provides specific sets of information during times of crisis, such as SOS alerts when searching for natural disasters.  

Deduplication systems: Such search systems aim at avoiding duplicate or near-duplicate web pages.

Exact match domain system: It is a system to keep Google from giving too much credit to websites with domain names that match a specific query. 

Freshness systems: Google provided it to display fresher content for queries where it would be expected. 

Helpful content system:  This system is designed to ensure more people see original, helpful content instead of content that is made primarily to gain search engine traffic. 

Link analysis systems and PageRank: These systems determine what pages are about and which might be most helpful in response to a query based on how pages link to each other. 

Local news systems: A local news source is shown when applicable to the query. 

MUM: Short for Multitask Unified Model, it is an AI system capable of understanding and generating language. It improves featured snippet callouts and is not used for general ranking. You may read my article on the Serpstat blog to learn more about MUM

Neural matching:  This system helps Google understand representations of concepts in queries and pages and match them. 

Original content systems: A system designed to ensure Google displays original content prominently in search results, including original reporting, ahead of those who disregard it. 

Removal-based demotion systems: These systems denote websites subject to a high volume of content removal requests. 

Page experience system: It is an assessment system that evaluates various criteria to determine if a webpage provides a user experience. 

Passage ranking system: It is an AI system Google uses to identify individual sections or “passages” of a web page to understand better how relevant a site is to a search.

Product reviews system:  It is a system that rewards professional reviews written by expert authors with insightful analysis and original research. 

RankBrain:  This AI system helps Google understand how words relate to concepts. It allows Google to return results that do not contain the exact words used in a query. 

Reliable information systems: Google has multiple systems to show reliable information, such as elevating authoritative pages, demoting low-quality content, and rewarding quality journalism. 

Site diversity system: This system prevents Google from showing more than two webpage listings from the same site in the top results. 

Spam detection systems: It is a system that deals with content and behaviours that violate Google’s spam policies. 

Retired Google Ranking Systems

These systems are listed for historical purposes. These have been integrated into other Google ranking systems or made part of the core ranking system. 

Hummingbird: The Hummingbird system significantly improved Google’s ranking systems introduced in 2013. However, Google says systems have developed since then. 

Mobile-friendly ranking system: Specifically, it prefers content delivered on mobile devices. Google has since integrated it with its page experience system. 

Page speed system: This system was introduced in 2018 and allowed users to select the content that loaded fast on mobile devices. The idea has since been incorporated into Google’s page experience system. 

Panda system: In 2011, a system was introduced that preferred original content and quality. As of 2015, Google used the ranking system as part of its core ranking efforts. 

Penguin system: An implementation of this system began in 2012, eliminating spammy link-building practices.

Secure sites system: It was introduced in 2014 to secure websites based on HTTPS. Since then, it has been integrated with Google’s page experience system. 

With this new terminology, we need to move away from the phrase Google algorithm update to the phrase update in Google systems. I have long likened such updates to updates to a computer operating system to make it work better. While what is intended is not always the same as what happens, if you stay the course and continue to create helpful content for users, you don’t have to worry about system updates. 


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