Learn how search engines work

One of the most important things to understand about search engine optimization, or SEO, is how search engines work. It is because of how they work that you will need to implement some SEO strategy on your website so your target audience can find it. Search engines use a list of critical operations that allow them to determine how information is found in their system. Once you understand how search engines work, you can determine if your website will be favored by them.

One of the things that search engines do is to crawl the web. This is done with automated programs that are often referred to as spiders or bots. They crawl throughout the web and take a look at each of the documents and pages of websites that make up the web.

Processing queries is another function of the search engine. When you log onto the web and enter a search for information online, the search engine looks through its index of websites and documents and matches your query with the websites that seem to best fit it.

Yet another way that these search engines work is through indexing documents and pages. As mentioned, when the spiders crawl through your page, they gather important information about it and then they store these pages in an index. When someone searches for information relevant to the website, such as with the use of key phrases, this ultimately leads the search engine to work through billions of documents in seconds to produce a list (search engine results page) of options for the searcher.

Ranking is also an important process for search engines. In short, all of those indexed pages are ranked by how valuable they are to the searcher. The algorithm used is complex and impossible to know specifically, but through SEO practices and rules, we do know some of these factors, which are critical for you to understand if you hope to build a good website.

According to StatisticBrain.com, when the #1 search engine, Google, launched in 1998 the average searches per day were 9,800. By 2014 that number had reached 5,740,000,000. They’re in the business of selling advertising, and in order to command the highest prices for their PPC (pay-per-click) ads, they have to generate massive amounts of traffic. In order to generate that traffic, they have to present search results which are both relevant, and that offer the best user experience.

Google has rolled out some highly publicized (and in some cases, quite unpopular) algorithm changes in an effort to provide their users with the best search results possible. (Keep up to date with the latest here.) Unfortunately, many thousands of websites have been caught in the inevitable de-listing that occurs. But what exactly does that mean for webmasters?

When Google talks about relevant results, they’re referring to the pages that appear in the search results whenever a user enters a search phrase on Google.com. If you search for business coaches in California, the top results should not show life coaches in New York, because those pages are not relevant to you.

Relevant results also have to match the intent of the search. For example, if you search for “free webinars for entrepreneurs,” Google doesn’t want to show you live events or paid webinars, because that clearly is not your intent. Had you searched for “membership sites for life coaches,” though, Google would point you to a host of membership site services, because obviously you are in a buying mood.

We’ve all stumbled across those sites that are so packed with ads that you can barely find the content that lured you there. How about the sites that are lacking in anything which could be called a navigation structure? Or those that are so concerned with keyword placement that they’re unreadable. These kinds of sites – and many others – do not meet Google’s criteria for “good user experience,” and as the algorithm improves, these sites will likely find themselves with no search rankings at all.

So what does Google consider a good user experience? It can be summed up pretty neatly. Quality content should be self-explanatory. It simply means that the words on your page are well-researched, well-written, and not scraped from other sites or “spun” from a “seed article.”

Having an easy-to-navigate site means that your site structure is organized, that you have well-thought-out menus and links, and that every page is linked to at least one other page. Imagining your site as a top-down organizational chart can help. Your home, about, contact, and other pages are near the top, your category pages are in the next level, and your blog posts are below them. If you’re using WordPress, your site will naturally be organized this way. If you use a different CMS (Content Management System) or plain HTML, you may need to do a little tweaking to ensure your site is well-organized and easy to navigate.

You also want to make sure you practice good interlinking on your site. This not only helps visitors navigate from page to page, but also helps Google discover all the pages on your website. There is one word of caution about linking, though – too much of a good thing can get you into trouble.

Google is actually quite good at telling you just what’s wrong with your website – all you have to do is ask. And you can “ask” via Google Webmaster Tools.

To get started, you’ll need to set up an account. Visit http://google.com/webmaster/tools and click the “sign up” button in the upper right corner of the screen. You will need a Google account to sign up, but this is free and easy to obtain – and if you already have a gmail account, you’re all set.

Next, you’ll need to add your website to the webmaster tools account. To do that, click the “Add a Site” button and enter your site’s URL. You’ll be asked to download an HTML file from Google, then upload that file to your site’s root using either an FTP client such as Filezilla or your cPanel file browser. This allows you to confirm to Google that you do own the site. Once the file is uploaded, click the “verify” button. If you are unfamiliar with uploading files to your website, this is better handled by your webmaster.

Google will now begin crawling your site (they’ll do this anyway, but adding the site to Google Webmaster Tools allows you to control how and when they crawl), reporting errors, and letting you know about any problems they find.