How Search Engines Work
Now it’s time to learn how search engines like Google actually work.
When you search for something in Google (or any other search engine), an algorithm works in real-time to bring you what that search engine considers the “best” result.
Specifically, Google scans its index of “hundreds of billions” of pages in order to find a set of results that will best answer your search.
How does Google determine the “best” result?
Even though Google doesn’t make the inner workings of its algorithm public, based on filed patents and statements from Google, we know that websites and web pages are ranked based on:
If you search for “chocolate chip cookie recipes”, you don’t want to see web pages about truck tires.
That’s why Google looks first-and-foremost for pages that are closely-related to your keyword.
However, Google doesn’t simply rank “the most relevant pages at the top”. That’s because there are thousands (or even millions) of relevant pages for every search term.
For example, the keyword “cookie recipes” brings up 349 million results in Google:
So to put the results in an order that bubbles the best to the top, they rely on three other elements of their algorithm:
Authority is just like it sounds: it’s Google’s way of determining if the content is accurate and trustworthy.
The question is: how does Google know if a page is authoritative?
They look at the number of other pages that link to that page:
(Links from other pages are known as “backlinks”)
In general, the more links a page has, the higher it will rank:
(In fact, Google’s ability to measure authority via links is what separates it from search engines, like Yahoo, that came before it.)
Content can be relevant and authoritative. But if it’s not useful, Google won’t want to position that content at the top of the search results.
In fact, Google has publicly said that there’s a distinction between “higher quality content” and “useful” content.
For example, let’s say that you search for “Paleo Diet”.
The first result you click on (“Result A”) is written by the world’s foremost expert on Paleo. And because the page has so much quality content on it, lots of people have linked to it.
However, the content is completely unorganized. And it’s full of jargon that most people don’t understand.
Contrast that with another result (“Result B”).
It’s written by someone relatively new to the Paleo Diet. And their website doesn’t have nearly as many links pointing to it.
However, their content is organized into distinct sections. And it’s written in a way that anyone can understand:
Well, that page is going to rank highly on the “usefulness scale”. Even though Result B doesn’t have as much trust or authority as Result A, it will still perform well in Google.
(In fact, it may even rank HIGHER than Result A.)
Google measures usefulness largely based on “User Experience Signals”.
In other words: how users interact with the search results. If Google sees that people really like a particular search result, it will get a significant ranking boost:
My #1 SEO Tip for Higher Rankings
Create a website that people love! Search engines are designed to measure different signals across the Web so they can find websites that people like most. Play right into their hands by making those signals real and not artificial.
And now it’s time to put this stuff into practice with a step-by-step SEO tutorial.
How SEO Works
SEO works by optimizing your site for the search engine that you want to rank for, whether it’s Google, Bing, Amazon or YouTube.
Specifically, your job is to make sure that a search engine sees your site as the overall best result for a person’s search.
How they determine the “best” result is based on an algorithm that takes into account authority, relevancy to that query, loading speed, and more.
(For example, Google has over 200 ranking factors in their algorithm.)
In most cases, when people think “search engine optimization”, they think “Google SEO”. Which is why we’re going to focus on optimizing your site for Google in this guide.
Organic vs. Paid Results
Search engine result pages are separated into two distinct sections: organic and paid results.
Organic Search Results
Organic search results (sometimes referred to as “natural” results) are natural results that rank based 100% on merit.
In other words, there’s no way to pay Google or other search engines in order to rank higher in the organic search results.
Search engines rank the organic search results based on hundreds of different ranking factors. But in general, organic results are deemed by Google to be the most relative, trustworthy, and authoritative websites or web pages on the subject.
I have more details on how search engine algorithms work later on. But for now, the important thing to keep in mind is:
When we talk about “SEO”, we’re talking about ranking your website higher up in the organic search results.
Paid search results are ads that appear on top of or underneath the organic results.
Paid ads are completely independent of the organic listings. Advertisers in the paid results section are “ranked” by how much they’re are willing to pay for a single visitor from a particular set of search results (known as “Pay Per Click Advertising”).