How Can Google Tell if Your Website is Relevant?

How Can Google Tell if Your Website is Relevant?

We’ve long been told that Google’s ranking algorithm evaluates websites on, among other things, relevance. In other words, how much does the website (or, more accurately, web page) have to do with the topic the searcher is looking for?

The theory goes that the more relevant the page is to the query, the higher the page will rank (all other things considered equal). But how does Google figure out how relevant your page is?

Well, we know that Google – while powerful – may not be as sophisticated as we thought when it comes to evaluating relevance. Case in point: you may have heard about a search-related controversy on social media involving a search term – “unprofessional hair for women” – and search results.

Someone discovered that when you do a Google image search for “unprofessional hair for women”, the images are overwhelmingly of black females. But when you search for “professional hair for women”, the results are overwhelmingly of white females.

That sounds very outrageous, and many suggested that there was some nefarious intent behind the algorithm. But in truth, Google was doing its best to find what was relevant. In fact, one image was pulled from a Pinterest board with the headline, “It’s Ridiculous To Say Black Women’s Natural Hair Is ‘Unprofessional’!”.

You can probably see what happened. Google just grabbed keywords without parsing the meaning of the words in their proper context. Thus, they correlated a picture of a black female with the words “unprofessional” “women” and “hair.”

This suggests that Google’s relevance algorithms aren’t very sophisticated. It still cannot determine the context of a keyword and the words that surround it, and it can’t yet figure out the intent of the searcher. That’s why people got the results they did for “unprofessional hair for women” – they were the closest results Google could find, based on its own algorithms, to the search query.

So, how does Google determine relevance? It still uses keywords as a way to determine what a page is about. That’s why on-page SEO is still very important – and how even the basics are crucial to helping Google figure out what a page is supposed to represent. But you should try to incorporate other related terms throughout your page copy, because Google can understand semantic search a bit better than they used to.