How Search Engines Work
When you search for something, Google (or other search engines) navigates the web by “crawling” websites to find the most relevant content based on what you searched for. The goal of Google is to bring you the most relevant content based on what you searched for.
The image below gives you a technical overview of how search engines work. If this seems complicated, don’t worry. While it’s good to have a basic understanding of the mechanics of search engines and key terms, you don’t need to understand all of the details to use SEO strategically.
For most search terms there are MILLIONS of potential websites that Google could show you, so Google must decide which site to show you first.
There are three basic elements that Google uses to determine what you see. We break this down into the ART of SEO – Authority, Relevance, and Technical.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of factors that Google uses in their algorithm to determine which websites they display in SERPs (search engine results pages).
For most searches, millions of websites could be displayed as the search result. Google looks at the authority of your website when determining how high your site will rank in SERPs.
Authority means how important Google thinks your website is. Google determines the authority for both your website overall as well as for individual pages. For example, you could have a website that Google feels is pretty important, but individual pages that aren’t as important.
So how does Google determine authority? In general, Google looks at a variety of factors to determine how important your site is including things like the age of the domain if your site looks like a legitimate business site, social media profiles, and links.
Links: They are one of the most important factors in determining the authority of your site. A link is when another website on the internet links to your site.
Tool: ahrefs Link Checker
The ahref Links Check is a free tool that will check the backlinks for any site. You can see the number of links and the specific links as well. You can also look at competitors to see how you stack up.
Compare your links to the links of your competitors. Are they getting links from somewhere that you aren’t? Are they using strategies that you can learn from?
When it comes to links, not all links are equal. Links from more important sites count more than links from less important sites. Most links that you place yourself in a directory listing or from an ad don’t count at all.
Google and other SEO tools assign a “score” to websites and web pages that show how important they are. These scores are based on several factors and aim to replicate how Google determines how important a site is.
In the screenshot from Ahrefs, you see a number called “Domain Rating” of 44. This means that on a scale of 0 – 100, this website is ranked 44 in terms of overall authority. You can check the authority for an entire domain or a specific page.
Google has its rating for this called PageRank. PageRank is on a scale from 0 – 10 with 10 sites being big and powerful sites like Wikipedia, Amazon, or Facebook.
Tool: Page Rank Checker
The site Rank Checker allows you to check your PageRank to see how important and authoritative Google thinks your site is. A score of 4 and above is good for most businesses.
Something you can do: Compare your PageRank or Domain Rating to your competitors’ to see how you stack up. Your aim should be to improve this over time, but it is helpful to know how your authority compares to similar sites.
Relevance is about how relevant your site is for a specific term that is searched. Let’s say I search for “Healthy Pineapple Cake Recipe.” When Google is searching sites to display in search results it will look not only at how important the webpage is, but which webpage seems to be most relevant for the search.
Relevance comes down to the content on your site. Is your site about what you want to be found for? For example, if you want to be found for Healthy Pineapple Cake Recipe, create a page called Healthy Pineapple Cake Recipe, ideally with the recipe on it, and explain why it’s healthy.
Use the phrases and keywords that you want to be found on your site. Google isn’t psychic. If you are a digital marketing training company like Boot Camp Digital, Google doesn’t know that this is what you do if you don’t use those words on your site.
Big Idea: Have a Blog
This is why many websites have a blog – because the blog allows them to create lots of relevant content that signals to Google what their site is about. In addition, many people link to or reference blog posts, so they are powerful in improving your search rankings.
The more important the content surrounding a topic is on your site, the more relevant Google thinks that content is. For example, a page called Digital Marketing Training will signal what the page is about better than calling the page “Services.”
When it comes to content, it should be natural – don’t try to use words in a way that isn’t relevant or natural sounding when you say them out loud. Therefore, focus on creating content that is about what you want to be found for.
The technical setup means that the site is set up in a way that makes it easy for Google to understand the content on it.
In a technical review of your site, you’ll want to check that your content is organized logically and that you have appropriate sub-pages or category pages as needed to drive search traffic to your site.
There are many technical aspects to setting up your site correctly including things like making sure you have a sitemap, that your files are readable to search engines and more. We won’t go into these in detail, but there are tools that you can use to check the technical setup of your site.
WooRank.com is a free site that allows you to check the SEO score for your site. It includes links and content as well as technical audits. When talking about this site will show you if there are any issues with how your site is set up that will impact your search rankings. Very few sites score perfectly, and you can choose to not have all of the recommended elements present.
It’s important to also make sure that Google can read your site and know how your site is performing within Google. The Google Search Console is a free tool that will show you if Google sees any issues with your site.
Search Console will also show you how your site is performing in search. The keyword phrases that send traffic to your site, are available to help you understand your overall performance.
Search Console is going to be free but must be set up for your website. Your web developer will make sure that it is added to your site.
Tool: Search Console
Make sure that Google Search Console is set up for your website. This will give you alerts if Google notices something wrong and you can also check search engine traffic and performance.
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