December 15, 2021

What Is Search Engine Optimization (SEO) And How Does It Work?

When you start blogging, one of the most heard terms that you bother most is SEO. So let’s try to understand what is SEO in simple words.

What Is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It’s the practice of optimizing content to be discovered through a search engine’s organic search results.

You can think of a search engine as a filing system in a library. The library has potentially billions of books with hundreds of trillions of pages.

So let’s say you want to find some information on ‘health supplements’.

So when you go to any search engine and search something like ‘health supplements’, the search engine will then look through all pages in its index and try to return the most relevant results.

Now the first search engine you might be thinking of is Google but there are tons of other search engines you can optimize your content for.

Google’s SEO is the process
of optimizing your website to rank on Google and drive more traffic to your web pages.

Almost all search engines use sophisticated algorithms and technology to return the best results for any given query.

Nobody knows exactly how these algorithms work, but we have some clues particularly for Google. So we can make some optimizations for our blogs in this search engine.

Why Is SEO So Important?

You might be thinking, why should one incorporate SEO into the marketing strategy?

Well there are three major benefits of Search Engine Optimization that attracts marketers from all over the world.

There are several benefits of Search Engine Optimization.

Number one : traffic from your SEO efforts are free.

Number two : your traffic will be consistent once you’re ranking high.

And number three : you have the opportunity to reach massive audiences which you wouldn’t have access to otherwise.

How Does Google’s Search Engine Work?

Since every search engine has unique algorithms, you and i won’t be able to cover how each of them works.

And for that reason we’re going to be focusing on how Google works to rank pages.

Since it’s the largest search engine, so let’s see how does Google work.

Well there are two main terms you need to understand. These are – crawling and indexing.

To actually retain information, Google uses ‘crawlers’ also known as ‘spiders’ which gather publicly available information from all over the web.

The spiders start with a list of URLs which they may have previously crawled or found in sitemaps.

These are called seeds. They then follow the hyperlinks on the pages from the seeds and then crawl those newly discovered pages.

This process goes on and on allowing them to build a massive index of information.

Then they take all of this data back to Google servers to be added to what they call their search index.

Their algorithms then work by taking things like – keywords and content freshness to categorize queries so that they could return the most relevant results to searchers in a fraction of a second.

Now Google isn’t just about matching keywords within a search query.

They’ve created something called the knowledge graph, which according to Google, goes beyond keyword matching.

To better understand the people, places and things you care about, see some examples of this in a bit for now.

Let’s dig into the details of how their search algorithm works.

Google’s goal is to sort through hundreds of trillions of web pages within their search index and find the most relevant results in a fraction of a second.

About Google’s algorithms, they say that they look at the words of a searcher’s query, relevance and usability of pages,
expertise of sources and your location
and settings.

What Are Ranking Factors In Google?

These ranking factors aren’t linear but
they’re weighted differently depending
on the nature of your query.

As an example, they mentioned that freshness of content plays a bigger role in answering queries about current news topics.

However for definition-based queries like – what is search engine optimization,
freshness wouldn’t play as large of a
factor since this core definition itself
hasn’t really changed in addition to
technology-based innovations like
artificial intelligence and machine
learning.

Google also uses a group of people to manually assess how well a website gives people who click on their results what they’re looking for.

These people are called search quality raters.

These people don’t directly impact rankings but rather help Google benchmark the quality of the results.

Now let’s dig deeper into a few broad categories of Google’s ranking factors.

The first and most obvious thing they need to do is – understand the meaning of a query.

For example, if you search for ‘slow cooker recipes’ what do you expect to see in Google’s search results? probably a list of recipes right ? and that’s how Google interprets the query too.

But what if you just search for the word ‘slow cooker’ what would you expect to see?

You’ll see product listings and e-commerce category pages Google is able to interpret that someone searching for this phrase likely has the intent to purchase the appliance rather than look for recipes.

In that time understanding the meaning of a query comes down to language.

Google has created language models to decipher strings of words they should look up.

They understand that when you type slow cooker that you’re actually looking for slow cooker.

They also understand synonyms. For example, looking at the search results for “how to make a website”, you’ll see that they’ve bolded synonyms within the search results beyond language.

Search algorithms also try to understand the type of information.

If you search for ‘ps4 unboxing’ you’ll see that the top 10 Google search results are full of pages from YouTube.

They understand that anyone searching for an unboxing tutorial would likely prefer video content over text or images, whereas a query like map of New York will show you image results as well as a widget from Google Maps.

But what about a query like ‘best Mexican restaurant’? you’ll see that Google shows restaurants that are close to your location despite not entering a city name in the query.

Another part of interpreting a searcher’s query comes down to freshness. For example, if you search for Donald Trump, Google understands that people likely want recent news over biographies, so they give priority to top stories from reputable sources.

They also understand that if you’re looking for something like ‘best headphones’ then you likely want fresh information, since new models and manufacturers are always on the rise.

And you can identify this right in Google search results as all top ranking pages have the current year in the title.

SEOs often refer to as search intent, which basically means the reason behind a searcher’s query.

This is one of the most important things to master.

As an SEO expert if you’re unable to match the searcher’s intent in terms of content
type and format, your chances of ranking are slim.

Now let’s see how Google identifies relevance through content on a web page.

In the most basic form, search engines will look at the content of the page to see if the words on that page are relevant to the query, but they’re sophisticated enough to go beyond exact match keywords.

Google understands related keywords too. And a page increases in relevance with other semantically similar keywords.

For example, if you have an article on ‘how to get a driver’s license?, you may have subsections on licensing for cars, motorcycles and buses.

These are all automobiles and should have keyword overlaps that help connect to the topic as a whole.

If you are creating a post on the best luxury watches, and look at the content of the
top 10 ranking pages, you’ll see that they all include some popular luxury brands and likely have watch-related jargon like bezel, bridge or chronograph.

Google can see which pages are
the most relevant to the searcher’s request and Google confirms this by saying these relevant signals help search algorithms assess whether a web page contains an answer to the search query rather than just repeating the same question.

Another factor Google looks at is – the quality of content.

Google tries to prioritize and rank the most reliable sources.

While finding quality content is tough, they use three broad categories to help identify quality pages. These are -expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness on a given topic, also known as EAT.

Google mentions that getting websites to link to your content is called backlinks.

Links build up a page’s authoritativeness which is outlined in Google’s famous paper on PageRank.

From a general view think of backlinks as votes when people link to your pages they’re essentially vouching for your content and telling their readers that they should check out your page for more information.

Now to prevent people from gaming the system Google uses spam algorithms to try and identify deceptive or manipulative behavior.

One example would be link exchanges – meaning you’ll contact other webmasters and ask them to link to you and in return you’ll link to them.

We won’t dig too deep into these factors but if you’re interested, you may look up Google’s search quality rating guidelines which has nearly 50 000 words on how they assess quality content.

Another factor Google considers is – usability of web pages.

Google wants to show results that keep their searchers happy, and this goes beyond providing the right content for the query.

There are a couple of confirmed ranking factors that relate to usability. The first is page speed.

Google found that as page load time increases, the probability of bounce or the chance of someone leaving your website without visiting another page goes up dramatically.

It makes sense if Google were to show slow loading pages that result in bounces, then that dissatisfaction would increase amongst their users.

As a result Google announced in 2018 that page speed will become a part of their mobile search ranking algorithm.

The second usability factor is – mobile friendliness.

Today websites should appear correctly,
no matter what device you’re on and no
matter what browser you’re using.

This is often referred to as responsive design. Google has shifted to mobile first
Indexing.

This means that they’ll predominantly use the mobile version of the content for indexing and ranking.

As of July 1st 2019, all new websites will be mobile first by default. All of these things and many more factors can be summarized into user experience.

Google wants to return results that are both relevant and provide a solid user experience.

A very cool and somewhat controversial way that Google works is through personalized data.

Google keeps track of your location, past search history and search settings to tailor your results to what is most useful and relevant for you.

Let’s look at a few examples of how personalization affects your Google searches.

Suppose you are in Toronto, Canada, so when you type in the letter b, Google provides relevant search suggestions to your
location like bluejays which is the baseball team and which is a major bank in Canada.

Now if you change your IP address to one in Chicago, then you’ll see very different results like Bank of America and Barnes and noble which is a popular bank and bookstore respectively.

Now let’s look at how they tailor search suggestions based on previous searches.

Let’s say you want to find hotels in Barcelona, you will start typing in hotels and if you actually changed your
mind halfway through the search, take a second and look through the results, you’ll see that they’re all tailored to your current location.

These are just a few basic ways Google works and it’s absolutely critical that you understand this when you’re learning SEO by understanding how search works.

 

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