Google’s algorithm is amazingly smart and incredibly dumb at the same time

Google is really smart, amazingly smart. The algorithm is very close to reading texts like human-beings. At the same time, parts of Google’s algorithm aren’t smart at all. Computers aren’t that good at understanding ‘what is what’ on a page. If you have a recipe site, you’ll need to tell Google what an ingredient is, what the preparation time is and what a photo of your recipe is. Otherwise, Google will not understand that properly. Quite the contradiction: amazingly smart on the one hand, pretty dumb at the other! In this post, I’ll dive a bit deeper into this and give you some practical tips on how to use Google’s excellence and flaws to your advantage. 

Amazingly smart in understanding text

Google reads texts. And overall, the algorithm of Google is trying to mimic a human. We’ve known for a while that Google reads texts. And we know that Google is getting better and better in parsing text and matching keywords and search queries with results. 

In the early days, Google could only understand the basics of language. It could recognize words. That’s why it was a common SEO practice to focus on mentioning your keywords over and over in a text. The Panda update was one of the first indications that Google was getting better and better at understanding texts. The Hummingbird update and the recent BERT update make it even more clear that Google is amazingly smart in understanding text and the meaning of different words. 

The consequence of Google getting better at understanding language is that the demands for web texts get higher. You cannot get away with a text that is poorly written or over-optimized for a certain term. In order to have a chance in the search engines, your text should be original, easy to read and findable. 

Incredibly dumb in understanding structure

Google and its algorithm really need help in order to correctly understand ‘what is what’ on websites. Knowing what is most important and what is of less importance. Understanding what a heading is, what an image is, what things mean on a page: Google needs metadata to understand all that. That’s basically what Schema does. It’s a way of helping Google grasp the meaning of your page by using structured data. Structured data can be seen as pieces of code that you add to your site that let search engines know the meaning of your content.

Google knows about the weak spots of computers. Computers need much more metadata, much more help in understanding structure than human beings do. That’s why Google is really investing in Schema. The parts in which computers and search engines are flawed are actively being improved by tools like Schema. 

The consequence of Google improving upon its flawed understanding of context and structure is that site owners need to use Schema. They need to up their game in that respect as well. You cannot really compete in the search engines anymore without implementing Schema the right way on your website. 

3 practical tips to help with your ranking

Knowing what parts of Google’s algorithm are really smart and which parts of the algorithm require a bit of attention, could really pay off to your advantage. If you make sure to write awesome content and to help Google with a correct Schema-implementation, you’re really increasing your chances to rank in the search engines. 

1. Schema and Schema Blocks

Structured data gives search engines more insights into how your pages are built and how you describe your content. And, if you implement your Schema correctly, you could end up with these really awesome rich results. 

Example of a rich result showing a recipe for homemade ice cream

And what do you think about having a knowledge panel like this?

Example of Google's knowledge panel about Marieke van de Rakt

Implementing Schema.org helps Google figure out what is what on a page. And, using Schema could really be rewarding because you end up with such nice rich results. Schema is a piece of code that lets search engines know the meaning of your content. With Yoast SEO, you don’t have to write any code though. The only thing a site owner has to do is give us some input: choose whether your website represents a person or an organization. The tool will automatically add the necessary structured data that search engines need.

Search appearance tab in Yoast SEO
The Search Appearance section in Yoast SEO

There are various types of Schema, depending on what you want to describe. Yoast SEO has some awesome structured data blocks that’ll make it super easy to implement that kind of Schema on your website. With the blocks, you can create pages that contain specific types of structured data such as an FAQ or How-to. That will increase your chances to qualify for rich results.

2. Writing a readable text

With Google’s algorithm getting more and more able to understand texts, you just have to become better at it as well. Make sure to spend some time on your SEO copywriting to write a text that is nice and easy to read. Make sure you write something that your audience wants to read. It should be fresh, new, original. Your text should have a good structure. Paragraphs should follow each other in a logical order. 

The Yoast SEO readability analysis can really help you write a text that is nice and easy to read. It can be hard to comply with the analysis, especially if you have a complicated topic you’re writing about. Shortening your sentence is a really good way to make a text readable, even though the topic is really hard. And, if your topic is hard, your readability is even more important: people should use their precious cognitive load to understand the topic instead of your difficult sentences. Right? 

3. Optimize in a natural way

Optimizing your content should never comprise the readability of your text. Google’s algorithm is much too smart for you to get away with a text that is stuffed with keywords. Instead, you should make sure that your text is focused upon a clear topic and use lots of related keywords and relevant synonyms in your text. 

The use of a focus keyword will remain of importance because the words your audience uses in their search query are of importance. For example, they could search for ‘cupcakes’ instead of ‘fairy cake’. In that case, you’re better off focusing on the keyphrase ‘cupcakes’. Connecting to the vocabulary of your audience is really important. That’s why you should always do keyword research. Get inside the heads of your audience, use the words they’re using. They’ll recognize what they’re searching for if you use the right terms. 

Trying to optimize your text for a specific keyphrase feels a bit outdated. The exact matching keywords become less and less important. That’s why our plugin recognizes different word forms. It’s able to recognize plurals, past tense and a different word order. And it’s able to take related keywords and synonyms into account. Optimize your text for a certain keyword, but never overdo it. Make sure to add a lot of words that are logically related to the keyword as well. The most important tip here: don’t turn optimizing your text for the search engines into a trick. Have focus, but try to write the text in a natural way.

Conclusion on Google’s algorithm

Google’s algorithm is amazingly smart. It’s insane how much the algorithm is able to understand. You’ll need to have very well-written texts that are optimized in a natural way in order to stand out in the search engines.  At the same time, Google needs some help in understanding the structure of a webpage. Implementing Schema.org will help Google with that. Make sure to match Google’s strengths by writing the most amazing texts and make sure to help Google’s flaws by implementing structured data on your site. Good luck!

Read more: A brief history of Google’s algorithm updates »

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8 Responses to Google’s algorithm is amazingly smart and incredibly dumb at the same time

  1. Lisa Ferrel
    Lisa Ferrel  • 7 months ago

    Google needs help to understand that Facebook users aren’t necessarily spammers. Every time I get a lot of referrals from FB, Google shuts down my ads.

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 7 months ago

      Sorry to hear that, Lisa! Although I would love to, I’m afraid I can’t help you with that. Lots of luck and I hope your issue will be resolved soon!

  2. Kumar Sankalp
    Kumar Sankalp  • 7 months ago

    Amazing article. Although we have already implemented Schema.org tag on our education based platform and we are getting amazing performance report using this markup.

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 7 months ago

      That’s great to hear, Kumar. Keep up the good work!

  3. annette
    annette  • 7 months ago

    Thank you. This is the start of my learning curve for SEO.

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 7 months ago

      You’re welcome, Annette! We also have an SEO tutorial for beginners that can tell you more. Good luck :)

  4. Chris Maze
    Chris Maze  • 7 months ago

    Thanks for sharing this information. Hopefully, it will be helpfull

    • Camille Cunningham
      Camille Cunningham  • 7 months ago

      You’re welcome, Chris! And good luck :)