Despite the fact that Google’s algorithm constantly changes, it is only trying to achieve one thing – to best answer the questions or solve the problems of users.

In the past, websites needed to tick a set of standardised boxes to get seen by online audiences. But today, Google employs the assistance of its machine-learning artificial intelligence system known as RankBrain to collect and collate results.

Responsible for solutions such as featured snippets and carousels, there is no doubting the effectiveness of RankBrain. But how does it actually rank websites on the SERPs?

Here’s 4 insights that come from Google’s own research papers.


  1. Multiple intents go from most to least popular

The vast majority of queries and questions Google must deal with will contain multiple user intents. For example, if you search for ‘cheap Italian restaurants London’, which of your chosen keywords is supposed to take precedence?

Well, Google aims to show the most popular user intents first. This is evident in a study about automatically classifying YouTube channels, which looked at results for the term ‘Jaguar’. 45 per cent of people wanted to know about the automotive brand, while 35 per cent were interested in the animal.

As a result, Google ranks the automotive brand in positions 1 and 2, while results about the animal are in position 3.


  1. Links aren’t as important as they once were

Now that user intent is the leading determinant of what ranks at the top of Google, previously pertinent techniques are no longer as important, including links, keywords, and tags.

It doesn’t matter how many links you acquire; your site will not achieve a prominent SERP position if user intent is different to what you’re promising. This is forcing brands to think differently about content and how to satisfy the requirements of users.

So, learn what content best satisfies users. After all, top-ten lists rank well because they are easy to understand, answer questions quickly, and add value to the user’s experience.


  1. Top performing sites are there because people want to see them

In some respects, Google resembles a supermarket. This is because it explicitly shows the results people want to see, much like positioning popular breakfast cereals or fizzy drinks at eye level.

In years gone by, Google would show the most relevant results. In other words, the websites that contained the right keywords or on-page optimisation.

But today, Google shows the results it believes users want to see based on click through rates, dwell time, and other important metrics geared around satisfaction.


  1. Results factor in bias

Some people believe that Google has a brand bias, which simply isn’t true. However, it does favour certain results over others, and again this is based on intent, satisfaction, and popularity.

The same bias argument has also been raised against Google itself. But the reason why YouTube videos and featured snippets appear so regularly is because users find this kind of content useful, interesting, and engaging.

For this reason, adjust your content strategy to take advantage of Google’s bias, not in opposition to it.