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Understanding How Search Engines Work

Category: SEO / 12 minutes to read
Author: Stephanie Heitman
Published: July 17th

Understanding How Search Engines Work

Category: SEO / 12 minutes to read
Author: Stephanie Heitman
Published: July 17th

Google, Bing, and Yahoo! are all part of our daily lives, but have you ever asked yourself "How do search engines work?" If you have even a passing knowledge of SEO, you likely hear about search engines, like Google, constantly updating their algorithms. But, when you try to find out why or how they updated their algorithms, you can get sucked into the black hole of the internet. 

When you’re a business owner, understanding how search engines catalog websites and display results to queries is a key part of developing a winning SEO strategy. 

If you’re not sure about the ins and outs of search engines, read on. I’ll tell you everything you need to know to make sure your business is positioning itself for search engine success. 

How Do Search Engines Interact with Your Site? 

First thing’s first: How does a search engine know what’s on your business’s website? All search engines are designed to crawl each and every website on the internet. And not just the homepage – but every single page on every single website. The search engine uses robots to sift through every website, determine what the content is about, and continually scan for new sites or updates on old sites. 

Once the search engine’s bots have crawled your site, they store that information in their giant database, called an index. Then, when someone goes to their homepage to enter a search term, the search engine looks through their index for sites with relevant keywords and information and presents that information on their search engine results page (SERP). 

How Can They Tell What’s On Your Site? 

You can now see the importance of having an easily crawlable site. However, there are a number of factors that can make it difficult or impossible for a search engine’s robots to crawl your site. 

From issues with internal linking or sitemaps to lots of JavaScript and CSS elements, there are all kinds of sneaky errors and elements that block the robots from doing their job. This article from Search Engine Land talks a bit more about crawlability if you’re interested. 

What Information Are They Using to Determine what Shows in SERPs? 

Once you’re certain that your site is easily crawlable, you want to make sure that the information the robots find there gives them a clear sense of what your business does. Your website’s title and description are the first things a search engine will take into consideration. 

Your title should be specific and shouldn’t just include your business name; it should also include information about what you do and where you are located. Your meta description is another way for searches to find information about your business, and you can include additional information beyond your title. 

If you run Jane Smith’s Construction, you’d want your title something more descriptive, such as, “Jane Smith’s Construction | Home Renovations in Atlanta.” Suddenly, search engines not only know the name of your business but also can see what exactly you offer (residential, not commercial, renovations) and where you operate (Atlanta, Georgia). 

Once the robots get onto your website itself, they will view the information there differently than a human visitor. They’ll look at alt tags on your images to see what the description is. They’ll look at HTML content, but they’ll be unable to see anything that’s locked up in CSS, JavaScript, or Flash. 

Based on the information they find within your metadata and on your site, they’ll then use an algorithm to assess this information and display search results accordingly. What’s metadata? We talked about your title and meta description, and those are both part of the metadata of a page on your website. The meta title and meta description are what show on the search engine results page for your website.   

No search engine provides total transparency into how they display results, but the more specific and descriptive you can get in your descriptions and on your site, the more information search engine robots have to go on (and the better your site can perform on search engines). 

How to Make Sure You’re Showing Up in the Right Searches 

With the way that search engines personalize results, even when using a private browser, it’s hard to get an accurate picture of when and how you’re showing up in search results. Our SEO director said it best, two people can search “dolphins,” and one will get results for the animal while the other will get results for the team. So, it’s important to understand the metrics that can tip you off to the face that your site is showing in search results. Some of these metrics include website visitors, the number of people clicking your listings, and more.  

If you’re not sure of the best ways to optimize your website for performing well in search results, we’re happy to help. Our SEO solution and website design services can help your organic search presence while our search marketing solution can help you get seen on search engines quickly. When working together, they’re the perfect group for search engine success. Give us a call today to learn more. 

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