How Does Google Work?

If you are like most people, you probably think you know what Google does and how it works, but if you’re new to SEO, you might not fully grasp everything that the search engine giant actually does. Understanding Google could really help you create an SEO strategy that works.

In a nutshell, Google is the largest search engine in the world. The name of the search engine originated from a misspelling of the word “googol“, which in coding terms is the number 1 followed by 100 zeros and was chosen to signify that the search engine was intended to provide large quantities of information. It does that behind the scenes, of course, but to the average user, Google is a way to find products, services and information.

Over the years, Google has become so dominant that the name has actually evolved into a verb meaning “to perform a Web search”. You have either said or heard someone say that they “Googled” some information rather than saying that they searched for it.

Crawling and Indexing

For a typical search query, there are literally thousands, and more likely millions, of webpages that contain potentially relevant information. So, how does Google figure out what to show in your search results?

Search engines such as Google follow links across the World Wide Web. Google consists of a crawler, an index and an algorithm. Before you search, web crawlers gather information from across hundreds of billions of webpages and organize it in the Search index. These crawlers scour the internet 24/7, essentially going from link to link and bringing the data about those webpages back to Google’s servers in the form of an index.

The Google Search index contains hundreds of billions of webpages and is constantly updated to find new or revised web pages. The new version of this page is saved. Google crawlers will frequent your website more or less often depending on the traffic and the amount of changes you make on your site.

How Search Algorithms Work

Google’s ranking system sorts through the hundreds of billions of webpages so you don’t have to. These ranking systems are made up of a series of specific algorithms that analyze exactly what you are looking for and then decide which pages are shown in which order to give you the most useful and relevant results in a fraction of a second.

Google’s algorithms are continuously refined to assess searches and the results in finer detail to ensure that you find your information quicker and easier. Specifically how the algorithm works is a secret. Nobody knows exactly which factors decide the ordering of the search results, but Google does tell us which things are important. They do not, however, tell us how important each factor is and they have never told us whether or not we know about all the factors they use.

Google’s Results Page

Search Engine Results Pages, or SERPs, is the page displayed by a web search engine in response to a query by a searcher. The typical results page will show 7-10 links to websites that best fit your search terms. These “organic” results are unpaid and rely on SEO tactics for higher ranking. More results are found on the second page, but the further down you are on the results page, the less likely someone is going to stumble upon your site.

Google has also rolled out a relatively new feature, called Rich Snippets. A snippet is a result Google shows to the user in the search results. An example: I was searching for “Is Vapor Mitigation Safe?“. Google showed me a results list with normal snippets and rich snippets.

A normal snippet usually looks like this with the title in blue, the URL in green and a brief description of what the page is about:

Normal Google Snippet

A rich snippet shows extra information and looks like this:

Rich Google Snippet

How Search Engines Value Links

Basically since the beginning of the internet itself, search engines have viewed links as a vote for importance and popularity of a website. The search engines now use complex algorithms to perform nuanced evaluations of millions of websites and pages based on prescribed formulas.

Links certainly are not everything in SEO, a large portion of Google’s algorithms can be attributed to link building. Through links, search engines can analyze the popularity of websites and pages based on the number of pages linking to them. Links also establish whether a site is trustworthy based on the trustworthiness of the sites linking to them. Spammy sites will inevitably receive very few links from a trusted source, so the algorithms attach a fairly hefty weight to legitimate links.

Google-Friendly SEO Strategies

Search Engine Optimization (SEO), is the process of getting a website ranked in search engines for specific keywords or phrases. The most important aspect to Google-friendly SEO is to simply provide high-quality content on your pages, especially your homepage. Useful information and keyword rich content will attract many visitors and entice webmasters to link to your site. Next, make your site easily accessible by building your hierarchy with a logical link structure. Every page should be reachable from at least one static text link.

SEO is often about making small modifications to parts of your website to influence Google’s algorithm. When viewed individually, these changes might seem like incremental improvements, but when combined with other optimizations, they could have a noticeable impact on your site’s user experience and performance in organic search results.

While there is no magic button that you can press to guarantee a top Google ranking, by paying attention to certain factors and actively working to improve them, you can vastly improve your website’s rankings in Google.