How does Google work? What does Google actually do? For many of you, this will be fairly old news. But for all the SEO newbies: let me explain (in easy to understand prose) what Google actually does. Understanding Google could really help you create an SEO strategy that works!
How does Google work?
Search engines like Google follow links. They follow links from one web page to another. Google consists of a crawler, an index, and an algorithm. Google’s crawler follows the links on the web. It goes around the internet 24/7 and saves the HTML- version of all pages in a gigantic database called the index. This index is updated if the Google crawler comes by your website again and finds new or revised web pages. The new version of this page is saved. Depending on the traffic on your site and the number of changes you make on your website, Google crawlers come around more or less often.
For Google to know of the existence of your site, there first has to be a link from another site – one that is already in the index – to your site. If crawlers follow that link, it will lead to the first crawler-session and the first time your site is saved in the index. From then on, your website could appear in Google’s search results.
Google’s secret algorithm
After indexing your website, Google can show it in the search results. Google tries to match a certain search query with web pages that it has indexed. To do so, Google has a specific algorithm that decides which pages are shown in which order. How this algorithm works is a secret. Nobody knows exactly which factors decide the ordering of the search results.
Google’s algorithm isn’t static. It changes regularly. The factors that determine the ordering and the importance of the different factors change very often. Although the algorithm is secret, Google does tell us which things are important. We don’t know how important though, and we don’t know whether Google communicates about all factors. Testing and experimenting gives us a relatively good feel for the important factors and changes in these factors. We incorporate these factors into our SEO plugin and tell you about it in our many blog posts.
Google’s results page
Google’s results page – also known as an SERP– shows about 7 or 10 links to sites which fit your search the best (according to Google). We refer to these results as the organic search results. If you click to the second page of the result page, more results are shown. The further down the results you are, the less likely someone is going to find your site.
Above the 10 links on the first page are paid links, most of the time. These links are ads; people have paid Google to put these links at the top of the site when people search for a specific term. Prices for these ads vary greatly, depending on the competitiveness of the search term.
The value of links for search engines
It’s very important to have a basic understanding of how Google and most other search engines use links. The number of links pointing to a page is used to determine how important that page is. So, the more links a specific site has, the more important search engines think it is. Both internal links (coming from the same website), as well as external links (from other websites), could help in the ranking of a webpage in Google. Some links are more important than others, though. Links from websites that have a lot of incoming links themselves are generally more important than links from small websites with only a few incoming links.
The importance of links actually was something that lead to active link building. As long as you are collecting links that are useful and logical, link building can be a good SEO strategy. But if you are collecting (or worse buying) shady links, Google may punish you for that. Read more about the dangers of link building in this article.
SEO and Google
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the practice of optimizing sites to (attempt to) make them appear in a high position in the organic search results. In order to do so, SEO tries to shape a website according to Google’s algorithm. Although Google’s algorithm remains secret, over a decade of experience in SEO has resulted in a pretty good idea about the important factors.
We monitor all communications by Google about (changes in) the algorithm, and we test what actually works in the search engines. At Yoast, we advocate holistic SEO. Your SEO strategy should never feel like a trick. Google wants to show the user the result that fits his or her search query best. If you want to appear high in the results for that specific search term, make sure your website fits that search term.
Keep reading: How to write a high-quality and SEO friendly blog post »