Just Google it - How Search Engines Work

16 Sep, 2020

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We are so accustomed to using search engines like Google to find the answer to any questions we can think of, within seconds, that many of us have never even wondered how this is possible. How does a search engine produce millions, sometimes billions, of results for any query we type in?

To help you understand this modern magic, today we are going to learn about two key processes that make it possible for search engines to find and show everything the searcher is looking for: indexing and ranking. Google is by far the most important search engine, answering 90% of all online searches (outside of China). That’s why today we will just be focusing on Google. The processes described are very similar with all major search engines.

Search Engines Indexing 

The main way Google finds pages to display in the majority of its results is through its search engine crawler called Googlebot. Googlebot is constantly crawling  as many websites as it can find, across the globe, as often as possible, to find their useful information. These useful pages are then ready to be displayed in the results for relevant user queries. This process is called indexing. 

Signs of indexing issues

If your website doesn't appear on Google at all, even when you type in its exact URL, it is very likely that your site is having problems being indexed. This means that Googlebot is having trouble finding or identifying its content, or worst case scenario, your site has been deindexed by Google for breaking the Google terms of use, also known as performing Blackhat

Sorting out any issues with indexing is always the first step to achieving top rankings on Google; if your website isn’t indexed, it’s not even in the game to be the first result. To solve any issues in this area you need to do a full technical audit of your website to make sure it is set up correctly for indexing.

Why Site Changes Don’t Appear Instantly 

You may wonder why it takes a few days for new or reworked pages to appear in the Google results. This is all because of the indexing process. Most of the billions of websites found on Google are scanned every few days by Googlebot, this is currently as quickly as Googlebot can crawl around all the sites that don’t deal with current events; The sites that do, such as news websites, are often scanned by Googlebot several times a day. so this information appears in the search results quicker. If crucial information from your business, such as opening hours or addresses, is not appearing in Google’s search engine results correctly, the best and quickest way to put this right is by claiming a Google My Business account for your business

Search Engine Ranking

Now we’ve worked out how Google finds the info from your websites, the next question is how does it decide which information to place at the top of the results? If you ask Google the question who was the 34th President of the United States? The search engine will return over 261 million results. Most of them, except the ones about the illuminati and lizard people will have the right answer to this question ( it’s Dwight D. Eisenhower if that was bothering you). But how did the first result  www.whitehouse.gov get to the top? 

This is all down to ranking and ranking factors. Google takes over 200 factors into consideration for each website it lists and gives the top ranking to the site that scores best with these factors. The idea is that the site which has the best overall score from these 200+ factors will be the best result for the user.

Key Groups of SEO Ranking factors:

Page Authority, with the example www.whitehouse.gov , one of the first things you may notice about the website is the .gov domain ending. This is an example of a ranking factor that makes a site more trustworthy as .gov sites have to be government connected. This gives the page more authority for its subject area. 

There are many other factors that contribute to how much authority a page has for its subject area with Google. Backlinks also help to build authority: when another reputable website links (a follow link) to yours, this is evidence that your page’s content is trusted which leads to more authority and better rankings.

Content quality: is another important ranking factor. Googlebot is able to detect badly written content including spelling mistakes, poor sentence structure and robot generated writing. If Google doesn’t think a user will find content easy and enjoyable to read, it won’t rank it well. 

Technical SEO: is also a crucial group of factors. Examples from this group include the quality and existence of a sitemap, presence of broken links, and how easy it is for Googlebot to crawl your site. Google won’t rank a site so well that doesn’t have these areas covered because it doesn’t reward websites in the rankings that make indexing difficult. 

So which Ranking Factors Should I Focus On?

As soon as you become aware of ranking factors, the next question becomes: which ones should I work on? The first group is easy, the ones relating to indexing so that your site can be found in the results, but after that you need to be working on all 200+ of these factors a few at time. You also have to bear in mind that Google changes the power and importance of ranking factors a few times every year as well as creating new ranking factors regularly. So you need to spend a few minutes each week working on it to make sure you build and hold your rankings. The quickest and easiest way to do this is to use rankingCoach. rankingCoach identities all the ranking factors your website needs to work on, and gives you easy to follow click by click tutorials to work on them. 

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