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Why It's Important to Understand Google Ranking

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"Question Mark Made of Puzzle Pieces" by Horia Varlan
"Question Mark Made of Puzzle Pieces" by Horia Varlan

Students rely heavily on ranking--or how search tools decide the order in which to display results--to help them select sources to read. Most of us do, but the data about students comes from researchers Andrew Asher of Bucknell University and Lynda Duke of Illinois Wesleyan University.

The researchers presented the findings of their latest study and forthcoming paper on how university students do research, at the American Library Association Annual conference, and in the talk they emphasized some of their takeaways about what research skills should look like, including an overall focus on critical thinking skills and the ability to evaluate the quality of sources.

Because of the reliance on ranking, Asher and Duke argue, it's critical for students to have some understanding of how each search tool they use makes these decisions.

To that end, here are a few resources to help understand and communicate with students about how Google ranks search results. Understanding the fundamentals of ranking will help students write better queries and make better choices about where to click.

  • This video, How Search Works by Matt Cutts gives a nice overview of how items are ranked.



To dig even deeper, check out the monthly posts on the Inside Search blog that cover the changes made to improve search quality. Here, you can see results to the query [ intitle:"search quality highlights" ranking], which uses a site: operator to limit results to pages within the Inside Search blog and uses an "intitle": operator to limit to posts that have the phrase “search quality highlights” in the title. If you click on the link, you can also note that the time filters in the left-hand side of the screen are set to show articles just from the past year, and that the articles are sorted by date so you can look at the changes in order, starting with the most recent.