Digital Publishing Platforms
4 mins read

Google releases guide to search ranking systems

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Google has published a new Search Ranking Systems Guide that explains in detail what you need to know in order for your content to rank highly.

As a publisher, you know that how your website and individual articles rank on Google is a huge factor in getting interested traffic to your pages consistently. As Google is the largest search engine, it carries a lot of weight.

Historically, Google has kept much of its ranking methodology a bit mysterious to stay ahead of spammers who try to cheat the system. While helping Google fight spam, it makes it hard for publishers to ensure their content meets the criteria to rank highly on the first page of results.

To help, Google has published a new Search Ranking Systems Guide that explains in more detail what you need to know in order for your content to rank highly. Understanding Google’s ranking factors gives publishers a checklist so they can provide the high-quality content searchers are looking for.

Google Search Ranking Systems

Google uses a wide range of automated ranking processes to determine the meaning and value of all published content. While this applies to written content, it’s also important for image, video, and audio content when making decisions on how each piece of content is published and presented.

Here are the systems that Google uses to evaluate content. There are still factors that aren’t on this list that only Google’s engineers know about, but this gives publishers a guide to work from.


BERT is an acronym for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers for an AI program that helps Google understand the intent and meanings of words and phrases.

2. Crisis information systems

This is used to determine the level of urgency for the information posted related to a current crisis, like natural disasters (hurricanes, earthquakes), SOS updates from local, national, or international authorities, or personal searches for crisis information on topics like suicide, drug addiction, and assault. Google looks closely at the source of this information to determine if the source is trustworthy and accurate.

3. Deduplication systems

This tool is used to wade through the massive amount of published content (including featured snippets) and reduce duplicate and inferior content. This is done by ranking content effectively, and pushing duplicate, lower-quality content down in PageRank.

4. Exact match domain system

This process reduces results that come up in search due only to the domain name, with names that are chosen just for the exact match, like “” or similar domain names.

5. Freshness systems

This system is highly applicable to publishers. Google ranks content due to how fresh it is including updates to news stories, or added information that amends older pieces. This means that the newest updates are what searchers see first.

6. Helpful content system

Does your content provide the type of help searchers are looking for? Google looks for content that is written for real people and designed to help them, not just to rank highly in search traffic.

7. Link analysis systems and PageRank

Google examines how pages are linked together and at their PageRank, a system that is one of its core processes.

8. Local news systems

Google provides top local stories in real-time, so people can stay up-to-date on what is happening in their local region.

9. MUM

This is an acronym for Multitask Unified Model, another AI program that is capable of both understanding and generating language. This system helps Google improve the quality of search results.

10. Neural matching

This AI program works to match related concepts from page to page or site to site.

11. Original content systems

Key for publishers, these systems find original content for search responses, giving it priority over cited content.

12. Removal-based demotion systems

Removal-based demotion systems remove content from the search engine due to copyright infringement, defamation, counterfeit goods, and court-ordered removals, as well as personal content that is exploitative. Google further demotes other content on the sites where they find this content.

13. Page experience system

This system looks at how a person interacts with a page. For instance, how easy it is to use, how quickly it loads, and how intuitive it is for visitors. Essentially, it is the UX for your content. Google’s Page Speed updates were folded into this expanded initiative.

14. Passage ranking system

Google uses this AI system to compare “passages” or sections of content.

15. Product reviews system

Product reviews are compared for quality, and expert and insightful reviews are given preference.

16. RankBrain

This AI system is used to help understand how words are related to concepts to improve search nuances for relevant concepts.

17. Reliable information systems

This is important for publishers as these systems are responsible for ranking authoritative content, rapidly changing news, and elevating high-quality journalism. They also give suggestions to help searchers ask better questions to find the results they want.

18. Site diversity system

This is used to diversify top-ranking results, so searchers don’t get too many results from the same website.

19. Spam detection systems

Google uses several systems to reduce and eliminate search spam. One such system is SpamBrain.

Older Google Search Initiatives

Since Google is always in the process of improving how the search engine performs, some older systems that affect publishers’ content have been incorporated into their core algorithm or become part of other initiatives:

  • Hummingbird
  • Mobile-friendly ranking (replaced by content that renders well on mobile devices)
  • Page speed (folded into page experience system)
  • Panda
  • Penguin
  • Secure sites (replaced by page experience system)

If you want to learn more about each of these systems, you can read the whole guide here and linked guides on each specific system.

Michael Yeon
VP Marketing, Admiral

By Admiral
Admiral helps digital publishers grow visitor relationships via adblock recovery, per-site subscriptions, multi-site subscriptions, email subscriptions, social subscriptions, privacy consent and more, powered by Admiral’s one-tag, one-vendor, one visitor experience Visitor Relationship Management (VRM) platform.