Can You Reverse Engineer Google’s Search Algorithm With Logic?

If the conversation about Google’s algorithm updates seems like it will never end, that’s because it won’t. Now that basic SEO is something anyone with a computer can do, the conversation is infinitely expanding.

In many SEO groups, there’s talk about “reverse engineering” Google’s algorithm, although, it’s more of a theory than something that’s been accomplished. Any partial progress is thwarted by the next update and/or “slapdown.”

While you’ll never be able to reverse engineer Google’s algorithm entirely, you can reverse engineer a portion of it through observation.

Reverse engineer part of Google’s algorithm using your own search results

You’ll never figure Google out completely, but there are important clues in your own search results you may have missed. For example, when a user types a question into Google’s search box, the algorithm favors content titled and structured as a direct response.

Check it out for yourself. Pull up Google and do a simple search for “how to tie shoes.” Chances are, the first result will be what’s called a “featured snippet” extracted from a webpage. Featured snippets generally appear in results when a user searches for how-to information. This content is almost always presented in a numbered list as instructions.

The next few results will likely be YouTube videos with a title matching your search phrase – or its answer. The next result (or two) might be pages from established DIY websites like wikiHow and Lifehacker.

Searching for a similar phrase like “tying shoes” also brings up instructional results – just not as many. Google’s relevance algorithm understands that “tying shoes” is related to wanting to know how to tie shoelaces.

This clue points to the importance of creating content with “how to” titles. Titles and content written as answers to questions are clearly favored.

Intentionally formulating blog titles

Another way to craft titles Google considers a relevant answer to a question is to use the formula “can this do that?” In other words, “can (your product or service) + (desired result)?”

Blog titles like, Can Rental Properties Fund Your Retirement? and When Can I Legally Bet on Sports? hit the nail on the head as examples. These articles are not only written for the reader, they’re also written for standard searches as well as searches that come in the form of a question.

Formulating content to cater to questions is imperative for mobile search, since voice search is quickly dominating. According to, 55% of teens and 41% of adults use voice search, and that number is growing.

People who use voice search are going to ask questions in complete sentences because it’s natural to speak that way. Therefore, formulating your content to cater to questions is the future of SEO.

What if we’ve been wrong about SEO for years?

The fundamental premise is that SEO is based on ranking factors that webmasters can intentionally control, and Google’s algorithm is just a collection of complex factors with exponential variations. This simplistic view of SEO is incorrect.

Google’s algorithm originally centered on ranking factors, but what if that’s technically no longer true? What if attempts to reverse engineer the algorithm fail because it’s evolved into something beyond what we know?

What Google calls “search signals” aren’t just ranking factors

Michael Martinez from SEO Theory wrote an article about why you can’t reverse engineer Google’s algorithm. According to Martinez, the immensity of Google’s algorithm is unfathomable, and it’s no longer just about ranking factors. He says, “The Great Google Algorithm is not a set of ranking factors; rather, it is a collection of protocols, operating systems, applications, databases, and occasional information retrieval processes.”

This distinction is important if you want to save yourself from the madness of trying to dominate the first page of Google, which is technically impossible today. Thanks to personalization, there is no objective “first page” of Google search results. There’s also no objective method to work your way into the first page of anyone’s search results.

Keep your eyes open

While you can’t dissect Google like that frog in your high school biology class, you can pay close attention to the input and output of your own searches to identify patterns. However, for a good view, you’ll need to perform the same searches from your friends’ computers. Remember that when you do find patterns, avoid jumping to conclusions, and always test out your theories. You might stumble upon a secret hidden in plain sight.