How Google Search Works & Best Practices for SEO
Understanding how Google search works might seem like a task reserved for the hyper intelligent. I am here to tell you this is not the case. Sure, it might take a tech whiz to understand all the coding and math required for Google to distribute search results. In general terms though, the steps Google takes to serve results to its users is pretty basic. So let’s dig in.
In short, Google uses 3 steps to deliver websites to users.
- Find a new website. A bot crawls the internet looking for new webpages, this is known as crawling.
- Index the newfound site. Googlebot analyzes the page(s) of the new site and indexes everything (it can) on it.
- Serve and Rank. Serve the newly indexed site to users. Google uses a number of factors to rank and distribute sites to users.
See? Simple! You are now an expert, and truly know how Google search works ! You’re right, it’s not that simple. Let’s dig into what each of these steps really entails
What is Crawling a website?
Google needs to know what websites exist on the internet so they can provide users with the most relevant answers to their searches. An all encompassing database that includes all websites doesn’t exist, so Google needs to always be searching for new websites. This is where Google’s crawler comes in, a bot whose sole purpose is to search the internet for new websites.
Get Google to crawl your website
On occasion your website can be crawled without you asking, or telling Google to do so. There are three ways Google comes to know a website, the first, is by following a link from a known page to a new page. Secondly, if you are using a web host, such as Blogger or Wix, they might automatically let Google know when you have any new or updated pages. The third, and most effective way, is to submit a list of pages, known as a sitemap.
What Stops google from crawling a page
While Google might crawl a website without being told to do so, it will also avoid a page or entire site if it believes any of the following to be true. The page can’t be accessed by an anonymous user. This means anytime a login (or any user authorization system) is in place the page will not be crawled. A page blocked in robots.txt it will not be crawled. If another page links to it however, Google can guess at the contents of the page and index it without truly knowing what’s on it.
Help Google crawl your page
The first step is to ensure you have correctly submitted a sitemap for your site. If you’ve already done that then you can submit a crawl request to Google for specific pages on your site. Next take a look at your URL structure. A website should have simple URLs (provide examples) that are easy to read and follow a logical path. One final tip is to make sure your canonical and alternate pages are clearly marked. These tags let Google know which pages are duplicates, or when using alternate pages for similar content, which ones need to be crawled. Finally, you can always view your Index Coverage Report on search console to see which pages have been indexed, and therefore crawled.
What is Google indexing?
Once Google crawls (discovers) a page it attempts to learn what the page is about. This process, done by Googlebot, is referred to as indexing. Googlebot analyzes each page and creates an index of all the words it can see and where each word is located. This isn’t limited to just the content a user sees on a given page. It also indexes things like title tags and alt attributes. Something to keep in mind, Googlebot does have some limitations. It is capable of processing a variety of content types however, it isn’t able to process some rich media files
Improve Google’s ability to index your site (Or my favorite buzzword ‘On page optimizations’)
There are a few things you can do to optimize a website for Googlebot’s indexing process. The easiest method is to hire someone who specializes in Search Engine Optimization(SEO). A SEO Specialist will perform a site audit to ensure your website is optimized for the 3 steps Google uses to deliver web pages to it’s users.
Not ready to hire someone or prefer to do things yourself? Follow these simple tips to help you get started.
- Make your page titles short, easy to read and above all else, meaningful. The page title sets the tone for the page and tells Google what the broad scope of the page’s content is about.
- Utilize page heading tags correctly. I see a lot of websites incorrectly using heading tags for design purposes. Headings tell Google the subject and structure of the page.
- Use text over video and images for content because Google understands text better than any other medium. If you are using images and videos make sure they are properly annotated with alt text and any other attributes as needed.
- Use structured data when you can. Understanding structured data is easier than it sounds. It is a standardized format for giving information about a page and it’s content. Google uses structured data to better understand webpages and provide its users with the best possible results.
How Google Ranks
Google strives to serve the most relevant answer to its users searches. Google pulls these answers from it’s index, thus proving the importance of being properly indexed. This ranking algorithm has dozens of factors and is constantly being updated. This is why I always suggest managing your SEO efforts on a monthly basis or hiring an SEO specialist to do it for you.
Ways to improve your Google ranking
First you’ll want to go back to the top and make sure you are doing everything for your website to be crawled and indexed correctly. If Google doesn’t understand what your website is about then it can’t deliver it to the right people. The more often Google serves your website to its users the higher your ranking will climb.
Keep content current!
You will also want to have content that is useful and kept up to date. This will keep people returning to your page and show Google that it is relevant to the topic you cover. If you have good content and start to gain traction the quickest way to lose that progress is to never update it.
Make sure your site is fast and mobile friendly
Another thing that keeps people coming back and that Google loves to see, page load speed. Ensure your page loads fast! Just because you have a gigabit internet connect and a top of the line PC does not mean that your audience does! And even if they do, you want your page to load quickly regardless of how it’s being accessed. Something that helps with this are Accelerated Mobile Pages or, AMP, these are stripped down versions of your pages. They provide users with a quick way to access your content regardless of internet speed and device being used. Speaking of mobile pages, you will also want to ensure your website is mobile friendly. Google has been pushing for pages to be mobile friendly and is giving more weight to pages that are.
Follow Google’s Webmaster Guidelines
Finally the best thing you can do is ensure you are following Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. These guidelines let you (or your webmaster) know which practices Google does and doesn’t like to see. It’s important to make sure your site isn’t using any practice that Google considers illicit. On top of being unethical these illicit practices give Google the right to take action against your site. This could be as simple as preventing your rank from rising too high, or as detrimental as being completely removed from their index. If you haven’t been following along this would mean Google will no longer display your website in search results.
You made it to the end!
There you have it! You now have a strong understanding of how Google search works. You now know how to have your website crawled, indexed, and served to Google users. What are you waiting for? Go apply the practices I mentioned to your website and watch your rankings begin to climb. Don’t think you can do it alone? I’ve got your back, you can check out my SEO Audit package, SEO Monthly Management package, or simply schedule a free 30 minute consultation and I will help guide you up the mountain that is search rankings.