Tag Archives: search engines

Written by Caroline Cox on May 2, 2022

Search engine algorithms change almost constantly. But your digital marketing plans don’t have to.

Here, you’ll find:

  • How search engine algorithms work
  • Why updates are nearly impossible to predict
  • Ways to prepare for search engine algorithm changes
  • Why content marketing still reigns supreme

In a way, the search engine algorithm is like rocket science: we know it’s important, but most of us aren’t exactly sure how it works. 

Every year, Google rolls out numerous updates (often with little-to-no warning) that manage to change the playing field for marketers in big and small ways.

But even for pros who have been working in paid search for years, understanding the search engine algorithm can be tricky. Knowing the basics allows you to react to new changes quickly or prepare your campaign for them in advance. 

When you figure out how these algorithms can affect your marketing tactics, you can take steps to prevent them from derailing your plans.

What is a search engine algorithm?

A search engine algorithm is a collection of formulas that determines the quality and relevance of a particular ad or web page to the user’s query. 

Google reportedly changes its algorithm hundreds of times each year. The good news: only major changes (or updates) have the power to affect SEM campaigns significantly.

One of the biggest mistakes marketers make is focusing all their efforts on frantically adjusting the campaign to these formulas instead of looking at the bigger picture.

search engine algorithms blog - puzzle

Google uses more than 200 ranking factors when determining which results to serve and in what order. (Image: Unsplash)

How do search engine algorithms work?

Search engines make the user experience a top priority. Google managed to become the most popular search engine on the planet by creating complex algorithms that improve the search process using sophisticated tactics that serve users the information they seek.

An algorithm works with all kinds of details for context, from obvious clues like the perceived content quality to the spam history of the website owner.

Overall, Google uses more than 200 ranking factors when determining which results to serve and in what order. 

However, no matter how well you adjust to them, each new update has the power to push your efforts to square one. While updates may be mostly focused on organic search, they can have not-so-clear (but oh-so-painful) implications for paid search as well. 

For example, your ads could stop showing up as a response to a big part of your target audience’s queries simply because the landing page they lead to isn’t specific enough.

Types of search engine algorithm updates

Not all updates are created equal. 

It’s nearly impossible to monitor all the updates Google comes up with and still have time to focus on your marketing strategy. 

  • Major updates: These updates are infrequent and often address a specific search algorithm issue. For example, the recent Core Web Vitals update deals with problems related to user experience on web pages. Search engines usually release them once or twice a year.
  • Broad-core updates: Updates in this category focus on targeting low-quality pages. Usually, they adjust the importance of several ranking factors. For example, they may decide that page loading speed is now more important than the total number of backlinks. These updates usually occur once every 4-5 months.
  • Small updates: These updates don’t usually create major visible changes to your site’s performance and analytics. They’re often minor tweaks that improve the searcher’s experience and don’t affect rankings of high-quality websites. Minor updates can be implemented daily or weekly.

Basically, major and broad-core updates are worth your attention. However, only a few of them are strong enough to make a significant impact on your rankings.

BERT update

In 2019, Google rolled out a major algorithm update dubbed BERT. This update’s aim was to improve the search engine’s translation of natural, conversational language queries to improve its understanding of context. 

This forced marketers to pay more attention to user intent than before. Pre-BERT, if you needed to focus on separate keywords in the search phrase, full phrases became much more important after the update.

For example, the query “cooking your own vegetables” shouldn’t simply give a list of tips for cooking veggies. It should also provide tips for cooking vegetables you grew and harvested on your own. In turn, paid ads had to become much more specific targeting the intent of the audience to stay relevant to search queries.

With each new Google update, search engine algorithms are working to become more useful to the searcher. Unfortunately for digital marketers, predicting specific changes is nearly impossible. 

By understanding the overall intent to improve the searcher’s experience, it’s possible to adjust your SEM strategy so it doesn’t suffer as new updates take effect.

MUM update

In May 2021, Google announced its Multitask Unified Model update, or MUM. This AI is designed to analyze content similar to the way a human does. Google calls MUM a powerful evolution of the BERT algorithm.  

MUM’s goal is to process complex search queries that can’t be satisfied with a short snippet. To get answers to these query types, a user needs to do an average of eight searches.

To address this problem, MUM works to predict these searches, and provide answers on the first search engine results page (SERP).

When adjusting your SEM strategy for MUM, it’s wise to focus on:

  • A high-quality internal linking system
  • Leveraging structured data
  • Working to predict complex queries as part of the buyer’s journey so you can provide answers
  • Creating multi-tiered content and splitting it into snippet-friendly fragments

Pro tip: If you’re focused on user experience (as you should be), then these updates shouldn’t have a major negative impact. However, if you do see your rankings take a dive, here’s how to deal.

person's hand holding a solved rubic's cube

Search engine algorithms are a complex system for helping users find the best answer to their queries. (Image: Unsplash)

How to prevent the negative effects of algorithm updates

Search engine updates can be as unpredictable as the weather. The only thing you can know for sure is that they will happen. 

When they do, many websites and ads may see a drop in rankings, even if the change is temporary. Luckily, there are ways to stay prepared and ready when updates do arise. 

1. Focus on landing page quality

Even when updates roll around, it’s hard to understand immediately how they’ll affect the connection between paid and organic search.

 But one thing is always clear: High-quality content on landing pages is likely to affect your conversion rate positively, regardless of algorithm changes.

Just a few years ago, landing pages weren’t as important for paid search because they didn’t play a big role in the ad-clicking process. Today, with Google’s focus aimed at search relevancy and accuracy, landing page quality is an integral factor, particularly when determining things like your Quality Score.

Search engines pay close attention to the landing page quality and relevance to keywords, and that isn’t likely to change. Now, Google even tracks how often a user returns to the search page after visiting the landing page in an attempt to understand whether they were satisfied with the search result.

To stay ahead of the updates, it’s imperative to maintain the quality and relevance of both landing and linked pages.

2. Don’t rely solely on keywords

The overall tendency of Google algorithm updates is to move away from a hyper-focus on keywords to more long-tail phrases and nuance. Of course, keywords are still an integral part of SEM. But building your strategy solely around them can prevent you from seeing the big picture or creating a well-rounded program.

Rather than only focusing on your keyword, you also want to take intent and relevance into account. Look into how you can best answer the questions your audience is asking. Paying attention to when, how, and what they ask can help you design relevant ad and landing page content while satisfying changing search engine algorithms.  

It can help to focus on the buyer’s journey instead of only on single keywords that users type when starting the search.

For example, Google has a different view of relevance with the roll-out of MUM. Now, it evaluates how your content or landing page fits into the context of the subject. This includes relevant backlinks, internal linking for content clusters, and proper Schema markup.

3. Look for update warnings

In some cases, search engines will offer some advanced notice about an upcoming algorithm update. Back in April 2020, Google announced a 2021 algorithm change that would introduce Core Web Vitals as ranking factors.

This gave marketers more than a year to get familiar with these new factors and adjust accordingly. Since Google isn’t always forthcoming about update details, it’s wise to take notice when they are.

4. Keep calm and tweak your content

When search engines change their algorithms, it can cause chaos for marketers. It’s often a mad dash to adjust strategies and make quick changes to curb significant ranking changes or irregular reports. But sometimes these actions can hurt your campaign even further.

Remember, all you can do is implement relevant improvements and follow the latest guidelines. If you’re using Google Analytics, making note of when an algorithm update took place can explain any out-of-the-ordinary results when you pull reports or debrief clients.

5. React carefully

If you discover a recent search engine algorithm update hurt your rankings, try not to panic or start making frantic adjustments.

Rather, the best results will come from taking the time to study what the new update is targeting so you can review how your website doesn’t meet these requirements. 

Most likely, you only need to make a few simple tweaks to get back in the game.

Pro tip: If another company’s site starts outranking you after an algorithm update, you can run a competitor analysis to figure out why that might be.

The takeaway

Search engine algorithms are a complex system for helping users find the best answer to their queries. To improve user experience, search engines change their algorithms regularly. But studying how algorithms tick isn’t as important as understanding what your target audience wants.

By improving the quality and relevance of landing page content while exploring questions your audience asks, you can work to minimize your dependence on algorithm changes and control, to some degree, how drastically they affect your initiatives.

This article has been updated and was originally published in November 2020.

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Sam Yadegar on Oct 14, 2021

While undeniably dominant and powerful, Google isn’t the only game in town. 

Here, you’ll find:

  • Reasons to explore non-Google search engines
  • A rundown of the top non-Google engines
  • Info about the leading international search engines
  • The latest search engine stats

Google is so popular that it’s officially a verb in the dictionary. That’s an achievement few other brands can boast.

But it’s still worth noting that plenty of other big names in tech — from Microsoft to Yahoo — have search engines of their own. These alternative search platforms could very well have users that aren’t on Google. Thus, they’re worth a look.

Ignoring other search engines could hurt your SEM campaign by leaving out a substantial part of your target audience.

Exploring non-Google search engines can offer a slew of advantages like improving your marketing efforts, widening your company’s reach, and providing valuable insight into your campaign. 

Here’s a closer look at what other search engines have to offer.

person looking at google homepage on laptop

Experimenting with additional search engines may bring you surprising results. (Image via Unsplash)

Why you should care about non-Google search engines

While Google is the bona fide leader in search with more than 86% of the market share, it’s hardly alone on the market. 

Consumers take advantage of other search engines for a number of reasons, from research and comparative shopping to the type of results they get and how they’re tracked.

Besides extending the reach of your marketing campaign, it’s wise to optimize for other search engines for these reasons:

  • While currently dominant, Google’s market share is steadily declining. Back in 2010, it was about 91%.
  • Google isn’t always the most popular search engine for visual and product searches.
  • Many companies ignore non-Google search engines, making the competition less intense.
  • Paid advertising is often less expensive on non-Google search engines.

Sure, Google should still probably get the majority of your attention for marketing purposes. But experimenting with additional search engines may bring you surprising results.

bing homepage

1. Bing

When it comes to market share, Bing is the proud owner of the second spot.

  • The number of monthly visitors on Bing is over 1 billion.
  • The largest age group on Bing is 45-54 years old.
  • 55% of Microsoft Network users (which includes Bing) have graduated college.
  • 42% of Bing users have a household income in the top 25%.
  • 87% of Bing users come from Internet Explorer, a browser with significant market share (more than Firefox and Opera and a little less than Safari). 

When it comes to paid advertising, Bing Ads have their own unique advantages.

When you use them, you’re putting your ads out on the Microsoft Network (Bing, Yahoo, and AOL). Plus, the cost per click (CPC) on Bing is significantly lower than on Google.

duckduckgo homepage

2. DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGo is popular among users who are concerned about privacy. It positions itself as a search engine that doesn’t track or personalize search results. 

Between 2019 and 2021, the market share of this U.S. engine went from about 1.3% to 2.5%.

Today, about 80 million people use DuckDuckGo, with a daily average of about 97 million searches. While the reach of DuckDuckGo is narrower than that of Google or Bing, the number of users is growing steadily. 

Pro tip: The paid advertising on DuckDuckGo is done through Bing Ads. 

yandex homepage

3. Yandex

If a part of your target audience is located in Russia, you want to pay special attention to Yandex. In this country, Yandex is the leading search engine with almost 60% of the market share.  

  • Yandex dominates among non-urban dwelling users while urban users take advantage of both Google and Yandex.
  • Yandex Display ads reach 47% of the Russian internet users.

When using Yandex for advertising, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with Russian web privacy laws. (General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, isn’t active in Russia.)

While the global market share of Yandex is just 0.35%, it’s one of the top 4 search engines in the world.

baidu homepage

4. Baidu

Marketers who work with the Chinese audience may want to pay special attention to Baidu. 

Since Google is banned in mainland China, Baidu is the best alternative, with about 75% of the market share. The second place belongs to Sogou (which boasts around 14% of the market share).

Advertising on Baidu can be tricky since Chinese laws are strict about advertising. To start using Baidu Ads, you need to provide a significant amount of paperwork.

When advertising on this search engine, you also have to work with a local manager who makes sure that you aren’t marketing anything that can be considered “sensitive,” according to Chinese laws.

Struggling to get your brand on the search engine results page? We can help.

ecosia homepage

5. Ecosia

No matter your target audience, there’s likely a significant portion that cares about sustainability. For brands looking to connect with an environmentally conscious audience, take some time to dig into Ecosia. 

This search engine promises users to spend the money it earns through advertising on planting trees.

  • Ecosia reports that it has more than 15 million active users.
  • Ecosia’s global market share is 0.11%.
  • This search engine is especially popular among German and French users in particular.

With environmental concerns growing steadily, Ecosia’s popularity is likely to grow as well. And since advertising on this search engine is less expensive than on Google, it may make sense to spend some of your marketing budget there.

Ecosia’s search results and ads are powered by Microsoft Bing. However, the search engine says that it enhances ads with its own algorithms.

swisscows homepage

6. Swisscows

Just like DuckDuckGo, Swisscows focuses on user privacy. Since launching in 2014, it claims not to store any data, positioning itself as a private alternative to Google. It also claims to be “family-friendly” by not surfacing results that could be deemed explicit.

The majority of traffic to Swisscows comes from searchers in Switzerland. However, more than 22% of its visitors come from the United States.

The search engine gets about 9 million users monthly. Swisscows works with Microsoft Bing for advertising.

The takeaway

There’s no denying Google’s power when it comes to online search. 

However, as more alternative engines grow in popularity for any number of reasons, there’s plenty of value in at least knowing what else is out there — particularly when your competitors could be doing the same thing.

By focusing your attention on other search engines, you’re also widening your reach and potentially increasing your marketing ROI.

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

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