How do Search Engines work?
In Part 1 of our SEO guide, you learned about the basic concept of SEO. Now that you’re all warmed up, we can slowly start to get a little more specific. Let’s get to it!
Search Engine Optimization is all about maximizing your organic reach for search results on Google. Yes, there are other search engines as well! But considering Google dominates the market with a market share north of 70%, we will continue to refer to Google as our Search Engine of choice. And although other search engines might differ slightly, the basics are more or less the same for all.
Together with Search Engine Advertising (SEA), Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is part of the broader term Search Engine Marketing (SEM). Don’t worry, we’ll cover SEA another time. Now, in order to understand SEO in detail, it is important to get a basic understanding of how Search Engines work first.
Understand the structure of Google’s SERP
Most of us wouldn’t give too much thought to Google’s Search Engine Page Results (SERP). However, if you are looking to amp up your SEO game, you should have a rough idea. Below image shows a typical search result to a Google search query in 2020.
Google became very savvy when it comes to matching your search intent to results in its SERP. This also includes placing ads at the top and at the bottom of every SERP (if applicable). Whereas, ads used to be clearly distinguishable in the past (different background color, green Ad icon), this has changed a lot over time and by now it is only a very subtle black “Ad” icon that indicates you’re looking at an ad. It’s clear why Google made this change. Google’s PPC (pay per click) ads substantially depend on clicks – every click on an ad makes Google money.
However, around 70 – 80 percent of the searchers tend to ignore paid ads in favor of organic search results – because, hey, we all feel smart enough to not click on ads.
Local Search Results
As the name implies, these search results are depending on the location of the searcher. That’s why it is important to sign up your business with Google Business. If you are offering a product or service in the vicinity of the searcher, you’re result will pop up here.
Related Search Queries
This section shows what other searchers searched for related to your search query. This is a very helpful feature for your keyword research. In our above example, “What does a dry cleaner do” could be a great suggestion for a piece of content you could write to attract more visitors to your dry cleaning company.
There are still more features of Google’s SERP such as the shopping section (when you are looking for products), sponsored ads on the right side of your SERP or image results. Google is continuously improving its search results to optimize user experience. Happy customers are returning customers!
After the Related Search Queries, Google will show the organic search results. This is most likely where you want to appear by optimizing your website through SEO.
The web is like a giant library and Google is the librarian
To get a rough understanding of how Google works, let’s start off with a little example. Imagine a library – a huge one. When you go to that library and ask for a book on a certain topic, the librarian will certainly not read through all the books in the library to find what you’re looking for. They would much more refer to a comprehensive database. With this database the librarian will be able to quickly find books that you might be interested in.
You’re looking for a book on quantum physics? It’s in shelve 11 row 27. If a book is not included in that database (maybe because someone forgot to key it into the database) then it can’t be recommended to a customer. In other words, if your website is not properly stored in Google’s database, Google won’t be able to recommend it to potential visitors.
Make sure your website is indexed!
Similar to our librarian, Google’s goal is to filter through thousands of websites and select the ones most suitable to provide the information you’re looking for. But how do Search engines know where to look for the right information? There are literally billions of websites out there. In order to make sense of this gigantic collection of data, search engines dig through billions of websites and create a big a** archive, also called indexing (creating an index of the world wide web).
Search engines achieve this by using so-called spiderbots or crawlers. They crawl (hence the name) through the internet and scan websites so they can index them. If your website has never been indexed, you have a big problem. You simply would not appear on any organic search results. Fret not, there is a very easy way to check if your site has been indexed:
Open Google and use “site:yourdomain.com” in the search field. The search result will show you all the indexed pages of your website. If you don’t have a result there, make sure to get indexed ASAP. For this you should consult Google’s Search Console first.
So it’s clear now that when you are “searching the web” you are actually not searching the entire web. You are only searching the index of the web that Google has created. But even then, the index still contains several billions of websites. How does Google make sense of all the different websites and how does Google know which page to show to you based on your search query?
SEO is about showing Google that you have the right answers!
To accomplish this, Google’s software asks more than 200 questions (ranking factors) to determine whether a particular website fulfills your search requirements. Questions like: “how many times is the searched keyword used on a page?”; “does the keyword appear in the title?”; “does the URL contain the keyword?” determine if your website potentially matches the query of the searcher.
Google will also check the quality score of the website. Is the website legit? Or is it spam? Backlinks for instance are a useful indicator of a website’s quality. They are links on other websites that point to your website and thus increase the authority of your website.
Search Engine Optimization is all about trying to optimize your website according to the above factors. The more optimized and well-orchestrated your website, the more likely you will appear on Google’s first search results page.