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How Search Engines Work

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

People want relevant information fast. They go to their computer–or, increasingly, their mobile device–do a quick search for the information they’re trying to find, quickly browse through the first page of links that comes up, and are on their way.

As of February 2012, PEW reported that 73% of Americans use search enginesExit Disclaimer to find information. Because of this, search engine optimization (SEO) is a necessary part of your overall digital strategy. After all, if you have valuable content but users can’t find it, nobody wins.

So the question becomes: how do you create findable content? Web managers who follow user experience best practices by providing customer-focused content have a leg up on the competition.

Building a Search Engine Optimization Strategy

This is the first blog in our 3 part series on SEO. Through this serious, we hope to provide you with an understanding of

  • How search engines work
  • Writing SEO friendly content
  • Measuring SEO success

Getting Started: Understanding How Web Search Engines Work

In general, for content to appear in search results, it must be:

  1. Published to the Web
  2. Found by search engine crawlers (bots)
  3. Indexed by search engine databases
  4. Ranked in terms of relevance for each query based on a set of factors (an algorithm)
  5. Searched for (queried) by a user

The user receives ranked results for their query on the search engine results page.

Major Search Engines: Similar, But Different

What sets search engines apart really comes down to step 5 above. To rank terms or phrases in order of relevance, search engines apply an algorithm to their process. An algorithm is a mathematical equation that calculates and assigns a value for any given webpage in relation to a given search term.

Although each company’s algorithm is technically unknown secret, so as to avoid competitors stealing one another’s algorithm and to prevent web managers from manipulating results, ranking factors typically focus on:

  • On-the-page factors like content relevancy, proper HTML elements marked-up, site architecture
  • Off-the-page factors like links, social signals, trust, authority
  • Not having violations (black hat SEO tactics) used
  • Not having bots blocked

Next week, we’ll discuss how you can use the know factors of the search process to write SEO friendly content. Check back with us soon for the next installment in this series.

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