Dear Bing, We Have 10,000 Ranking Signals To Your 1,000. Love, Google

Back in October, Bing announced that it uses over 1,000 signals used to determine how to rank pages. Google has typically quoted using more than 200. Game on! I predicted Google would quickly find a way to match Bing’s figure. Yesterday, it did.

Google’s 200 Factors

For several years now, Google has said that it uses more than 200 signals to rank pages. The figure has been designed to explain the complexity of deciding what pages show up first, but never as some type of “bragging” rights of having a more complicated algorithm. Schmidt: Listing Google’s 200 Ranking Factors Would Reveal Business Secrets explains more about some of the signals used.

Bing’s 1,000 Factors

In October, Bing mentioned as part of its announcement to use Facebook data to create “Liked” results that it had 1,000 ranking signals:

In Bing, we look at more than 1000 signals to try and get you the best result.

Unleash The Ranking Signals War!

Make no mistake. Bing wouldn’t put out a figure like that, 5 times the figure that Google had been citing, accidentally. Suddenly, the number of ranking signals turned into a competitive issue.

I didn’t think Google would take long to respond, writing:

Google’s long claimed that over 200 factors are used to rank its search results. Today, Bing says it uses 1,000 signals. Expect Google’s claim to rise shortly.

Google’s 1,000 Ranking Signals

It took less than a month for Google to publicly “catch up” to Bing. Speaking at Pubcon yesterday, the head of Google’s spam fighting team Matt Cutts said that Google has over 200 signals and many of them have more than 50 variations within a single factor.

Again, there’s no accident here. Take 200 signals, multiply by 50, and you’ve got a claim to having 10,000 signals — and a way to say you just didn’t suddenly “up” the number but that there were always 10,000 factors. (Note: I dropped a zero in my math, originally saying this brought Google up to 1,000 signals, matching Bing. Instead, it’s potentially shooting for a 10X figure).

In fairness, Cutts’ statement came in response to a question that our own news editor, Barry Schwartz, asked about. So it wasn’t like he had a big talking point about how Google’s ranking factors outrank Bing’s. And he said that he didn’t want to get into a “numbers game” over the issue. But then again, he did toss out the figures :)

It Really Doesn’t Matter

It’s all more funny than anything else. I don’t doubt that Google has had variations. I don’t doubt that Bing has 1,000 factors of its own. But goodness, let’s not having anyone think just having more “signals” than your competitor somehow makes for a better search engine. That’s a terrible signal to use!

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google: Marketing | Google: SEO | Microsoft: Bing News Search | Microsoft: Marketing


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • Bob Gladstein

    Actually, 200 x 50 is a bit more than 1000, but no matter. This reminds me of the days when the home page of each search engine would announce how many billions of URLs they had indexed.

  • Hernan Amiune

    In fact, in data mining is well known that less dimensions or features lead to a better classification:

  • awhitfie

    Wow google is Needs to always get a leg up! Your right tho it doesn’t really matter

  • Matt Cutts

    Hey Danny, this article is actually the opposite of what I was trying to say–I like that Google has stuck with its “200 signals” number, and personally I would prefer not to increase that. I clearly didn’t answer the question yesterday clearly enough, so let me try again here.

    Someone essentially asked “Bing says that they have 1000 signals. Are you going to increase the number of signals that Google says it uses?” And my guess was no.

    The example that I gave was that my team has at least one classifier which in the past has looked at roughly 50 different signals to assess how spammy we think a page might be. We didn’t count those 50 signals as part of the 200 though; we counted the final signal, which was the output of our classifier. Likewise, PageRank is essentially a singular value decomposition over tens of billions with hundreds of billions of links. So we could get into a “signal fight” and claim that Google uses gajillions of signals if we wanted to.

    But we don’t want to. Google’s philosophy has been more about engineers writing understandable and debuggable algorithms based on our experience and ranking intuition. You don’t want thousands and thousands of signals in that sort of scenario. An alternate search engine could use (say) a neural net along with thousands of ranking signals. That might work well 95% of the time, but the other 5% of the time when a query fails and you want to debug it, it’s much harder to debug a neural net than to identify why a more intuitive algorithm didn’t work well.

    So my point was that yes, Google could make claim to using tons of signals in our ranking if we wanted to make that claim, but I didn’t see much value in getting into a “we use more signals than X” debate, and that too many signals can come with negative side effects.

  • Michael Martinez

    I use only 1 signal, myself: whether I like what the search engine shows me, whichever search engine that may be.

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