As an everyday Google user, you probably haven’t given much thought to what goes on behind the scenes to generate such relevant search results. What you’re focused on is finding the information or answer you’re looking for in an efficient manner.
But when you’re on the business side of things and want to make sure your content is being found on Google, it’s important to understand how the search process works from start to finish.
Like a baby must crawl before it can walk, Google must crawl a web page before it can be displayed in search results. This is when the “Googlebot,” also known as a robot or spider, analyzes site content and sorts it by topic. It determines which sites to crawl and how frequently, as well as which pages should be ranked. You cannot pay to have your site crawled more often, and the Googlebot determines frequency based on how regularly your content is updated or new pages are added. It’s also important to remember that Google cannot read media files like images, videos, and infographics, so you must include alt text in order for them to be interpreted.
Next is the indexing process. Google takes the pages it has crawled and organizes them into specific categories so relevant content is pulled from the index when a query is entered. Spammy pages are typically removed from the index automatically, and website owners are notified that their content was marked as spam so they can make the necessary corrections. These are pages that feature too many ads, have little to no content, or are overloaded with keywords a site is trying to rank for, and Google has taken several measures to prevent this type of content from taking precedence in search results.
Enter: Google’s Algorithms
In order to understand search queries and provide the best results, Google relies on over 200 ranking factors. These are enforced through algorithms, or mathematical solutions that target specific needs or challenges that impact search result quality, like backlinks, PageRank (the relative importance of a web page based on the pages that link to it), advertising, mobile-friendliness, and site content.
In the early days of search engine optimization, the main focus points were the presence of keywords and backlinks. Site managers simply tried to stuff keywords and link to other websites as many times as possible to manipulate the system and improve their rankings. There was little thought given to the quality of the content or the reputation of the websites being linked to.
Webmasters also put site architecture on the back burner, typically creating new pages without organizing them into relevant categories and subcategories. They merely wanted to get as many keyword and link-stuffed pages on their site as possible, rather than considering what layout or structure would be easiest for users to interact with. However, today’s algorithms make sure websites can’t use tactics like these to their advantage. Over the years, Google has made content quality and search intent greater priorities in their ranking process to discourage these “black hat” practices.
Google’s algorithms have led to major developments in the way we conduct searches today, such as the introduction of autocomplete, advanced search, suggested searches, and video thumbnails within results. The SEO landscape continues to evolve as a greater share of searches are conducted on mobile devices and user preferences change, and Google’s algorithms experience hundreds of updates every year to keep up.
How Do These Algorithms Impact Search Rankings?
With user experience becoming a higher priority, Google is doing everything it can to ensure that the first result clicked on is exactly what the user is looking for. This means rewarding websites that provide a positive experience and giving less precedence to those that do not.
These 200+ factors are the foundation of how websites appear in search results, so neglecting these established guidelines can hurt your chances of ranking at the top. Violation of Google’s algorithms can result in penalties, which hurt rankings for that particular page and keyword phrase. And if your rankings drop, your web traffic will too. Since Google doesn’t necessarily plan out when algorithm updates will occur, it could be months or even a year before a penalized web page restores its standing in search results.
If you’ve been notified of a penalty or suspect that a page may have been penalized, you can submit a Reconsideration Request to hopefully reestablish your rankings in a timely manner. To improve the page, consider updating or refreshing content, building links with reputable sources, or making the design more user-friendly.
If you’re just starting to develop an SEO strategy, Google provides a variety of resources to help you choose the right keywords for your audience and make sure that user experience is top priority. Their Webmaster Guidelines outline the methods that will get you higher in search results and those that will lead to a penalty, as well as remind you of the necessary tags and alt text for file types that cannot be read on their own. For a website that hasn’t yet been indexed, you can submit it to Google directly or via a Sitemap through the Search Console.
Before you write any pages of content, it’s important to first understand who you’re targeting with this information. If you don’t know your audience inside and out, you’ll likely create content that ranks for irrelevant phrases or reaches an audience that doesn’t add value to your business.
The next step is to identify keywords that best describe what your business has to offer, and Google’s Keyword Planner is a great place to start. Don’t underestimate the power of long-tail keywords, as most searches constitute fragmented sentences or more specific terms. For example, a consumer looking for a nearby shoe store isn’t going to simply type “shoe stores” into the search bar. They’re probably going to type “shoe stores near Buffalo, NY” to get relevant, local results.
Once you’ve established your target audience and identified keyword opportunities, you need to think about what you want those visitors to do once they arrive at your website. What are the next steps?
Make it as easy as possible for them to navigate your site and accomplish these intended tasks. Write website content for your users, not search engines. Google will acknowledge that your content is educational and reputable on its own; it doesn’t need spammy links, duplicate content, or keyword stuffing to figure it out.
In addition to keywords and site content, building natural, quality backlinks is another key factor in Google’s ranking algorithms. These are instances where a page of your website is linked to a page on another site, and it’s important to ensure that you’re only linking to sites that are reputable and related to your industry.
A great place to start is to reach out to industry colleagues and tactfully ask them to link to your website. Whether you ask someone to share a link to one of your blog posts, quote you in one of their articles, or use your business as an example of industry best practices, these are all impactful ways to build authority with Google.
Now that you have a handle on how Google’s search process works and how it impacts your website’s rankings, you can begin to develop an SEO strategy that will establish your business as a credible source and give your site the visibility it deserves.
Keep an eye out for our next SEO post, where we’ll dig a bit deeper into specific Google algorithms and the updates we’ve seen over the years!