Champion Lists & SEO: What You Should Know

The concept of a champion list is not new, but you might not have heard of them before. In this article, I’ll explain what they are, why they matter, and how you can use them to improve your search engine optimization.

What Are Champion Lists?

Champion lists are a precomputed list known singularly as a champion list. A champion list is also called a top doc or fancy list.

A champion list is used in computer science for information retrieval. The purpose of the list is to avoid recalculating relevancy rankings for all documents in a collection whenever the collection is queried.

Inside the collection, the documents with the highest weights are stored in advance, such as the results on a search engine. This allows for faster, more efficient information retrieval when a collection is queried.

A champion list can also be used to rank new documents added to the index of documents. This can be achieved with methods such as top-k retrieval, cosine similarity, and more.

You can even use champion lists to weight and organize words.

What does this mean? Essentially, it tells us that new documents added to an index can rank higher when they more closely match other documents’ weights in the champion list.

The top document in a champion list is often given special consideration as it can become the main source for comparison of existing and new documents. This is also why it can be difficult to displace the top result on Google.

So while a champion list can be used for displaying search results, it is not limited to that use. The champion list or even the top document in a champion list can also be used as the baseline for which all other documents are compared for almost any metric or ranking factor.

This means that search engines could also use champion lists as a collection of ranking factors from the top doc to compare other documents in a collection.

This fits in well with Jason Barnard’s excellent theory and article on Darwinism on Search but at a more granular on-page level.

Do Google Use Champion Lists?

The Google search engine is a living example of a champion list that uses ranked retrieval for search queries. So, yes, Google does use champion lists, and we call them SERPs (Search Engine Ranking Pages).

What we do not know is how extensively they use champion lists in various other algorithms. However, even with machine learning and artificial intelligence becoming more prominent in Google’s ranking process, champion lists are highly likely used in numerous ways.

Historically, champion lists have been a useful way for search engines to compare on-page factors like keyword density, keyword frequency, and TF-IDF. Therefore, it could be that this is still used to determine the score for certain on-page ranking factors.

How You Can Use Champion Lists for SEO

Many tools on the market directly use the concept of champion lists to help you rank better. The idea behind these tools is that they will compare the on-page metrics of competitors in the SERPs to provide you with a guideline for how many times to include things like images, words, and more.

The problem with this approach is that they’ve misunderstood the real utility of a champion list. Optimizing for average will most often provide you with average results. Instead, we should optimize toward the champion, not the mean of the entire group.

Top DocRunning Shoes3Running15Shoes25
Competing DocRunning Shoes7Running22Shoes19
Competing DocRunning Shoes5Running25Shoes15

The above table demonstrates how a bag of words can be used along with term frequency to compare competing documents against the top document.

In this model, we see that the top document ranks better despite having fewer mentions of the primary search term. Note that this is example data, but look at a few of your SERPs!

You can use Mozilla Firefox to do extremely granular term frequency counts on a page compared to Google Chrome if this sounds appealing to you.


So the basic idea of utilizing the champion list for SEO is to use the ‘top doc’ as the baseline for analysis, not the results that are being compared against it.

Give it a go, and you might be surprised by the results.


The champion list is an important information retrieval concept for both efficiency and relevancy considerations. Champion lists are also an important concept that you should be familiar with if you’re interested in SEO. They can help you avoid many problems with current industry practices while offering a better alternative for on-page optimization.