How Google and Other Search Engines Work
For most businesses, hiring a results-focused SEO agency in Auckland is the best approach to improve a website’s ranking in Google. There are things you can do, however, to ensure you get the best results from your SEO investment. This includes knowing how Google works.
With this knowledge, you will have a better understanding of what the SEO agency is doing for your business as well as what you are getting for your money.
So, let’s get right into it. Google and other search engines do three main things:
- Crawl the internet to find websites and web pages
- Build an index of the pages it finds
- Present its users with these pages in a list of ranked results
Each one of the above is important to SEO.
Crawling the Internet
Google uses a crawler to find websites and web pages on the internet. This crawler is sometimes called a spider or bot. After all, Google can’t return meaningful search results to its users if it doesn’t know about the web pages that exist on the internet.
There are two main ways Google and other search engines find web pages. The first is via Google Search Console. Google Search Console is a free tool that you can use to check the status of your website in the eyes of Google.
You can add a sitemap to Google Search Console too. A sitemap outlines the structure of your website and how all the pages are linked together. If your website is new, adding your website to Google Search Console and uploading a sitemap will notify Google your website exists. It will then schedule it for a crawl.
The second way Google and other search engines find websites and web pages is via links. Google’s web crawler follows these links to find new content and get an understanding of how everything on the internet connects together, i.e. how web pages within a website connect together as well as how websites connect with each other.
Google’s crawler visits the websites and web pages it knows about on a regular basis. This could be every few minutes if you operate a news website that publishes huge volumes of content, or every few days/weeks if your website rarely changes.
Building an Index of Pages
Google’s crawler doesn’t just follow links on website pages. It also scans, deciphers, and analyses the content of the pages it visits. This includes the code as well as the text on the page, the images, videos, and more.
Google then stores this information in huge databases. This task is monumental and requires datacentres all over the world that contain information on billions – if not trillions – of web pages. This makes Google’s ability to complete a user search in less than a second so impressive.
Of course, there is no point having massive databases of website pages unless you do something with them. This brings us to the third main function of Google.
Presenting Users with a Ranked List of Results
This third main function of how Google works is often the most misunderstood. For example, one mistake people regularly make is thinking of it as a directory, i.e. it has websites and web pages in various categories and it presents these lists to users when they do a search. This is a much too simplistic description of Google and other search engines, however.
A more accurate way of describing search engines is to call them answer-providing machines. So, when a user types in a query, Google’s main priority is providing the best possible answer to that query.
So, Google can, for example, understand the difference between someone searching for apple the fruit and Apple the tech company. It is also why Google is good at identifying search intent. In other words, it can often tell the difference between a search that is general and one that is from a person who is close to making a purchase.
In addition to presenting potential answers to its users, Google also attempts to rank those answers in order of best to worst, i.e. it shows the web page that it thinks has the best answer to a particular search query in the number one position of its search results page.
For some searches, however, Google goes a step further than this. As well as giving users links to website pages it thinks have the best answers, it also attempts to give the answer directly on the search results page. This only applies to a small number of searches, but it means users get the answer they need without having to click any further.
To see this in action, do a search requesting the meaning of a word or the current time in a location somewhere in the world. You will find a direct answer to the query at the top of the search results page which means you don’t have to click on anything.
For Google, these are successful results, i.e. in both the examples above, it answers the searcher’s query. Without doing anything further, the searcher knows the time in Rome in the first example and gets a definition of the word “fugacious” in another.
For most searches, however, Google presents the user with a list of ranked web pages.
This is the part of how Google works that causes the most confusion – how does Google determine the ranking of pages for the billions of searches it processes every day?
It does this by first looking at relevance and then looking at popularity. This is where Google’s search algorithm comes in. It is essentially a computer programme which assesses the pages of your website to determine how relevant they are to the user’s search as well as how popular they are compared to all the other relevant pages it has in its index.
The only people who completely understand how the Google search algorithm works are the top engineers in the company. What we do know is that Google uses over 200 ranking factors to determine a website page’s relevance and popularity.
What’s the Point of SEO if Google’s Search Algorithm is Secret?
While the inner workings of Google’s search algorithm are secret, the company does give us enough information to understand what it looks for. So, we can’t be sure we know every ranking factor that Google uses, and we don’t know the exact level of priority it places on each one, but we do have a good enough understanding of how it works to improve the ranking of a website page in Google.
You can even find this information yourself by researching on the internet. As with most things, however, it is usually best to use an expert SEO agency in Auckland.
That said, knowing how Google works will help you select the right SEO agency for your business, and it will ensure you get the best possible return on investment for SEO work done.