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SEO: How Do Search Engines Work?

Search engines gather, store, and index, the information on websites. People, looking for something online, in their local community, or around the world, enter search terms in a search form provided on the search engine’s web page. The search engine returns a list of the web documents (web pages, web accessible reports, publications, etc.) that appear to best match the terms searched. These search engine return pages (SERPs) often list hundreds, thousands, even millions, of returns. Obviously those near the top of the list will get the most attention.

Search Engines: Key Factors

While there are many factors that apply when calculating a web page’s position in the SERPs, the most important seem to be the relevance of the content, the indicated authority, and personalization or delivery. Understanding each of those, applying and optimizing their key elements, allows you improve your site’s position in the SERPs. Google, and other search engines, want to deliver only the best, most relevant, and most authoritative, results to searchers. Additionally, personalization, that is location awareness, users’ search history, external social connections, and even pattern matching, can further influence the refinement of final search result.

Search Engines: An Example

Let’s look at how this applies to an imaginary business with an imaginary website. Let us say you have an established business selling knitting supplies — yarns, needles, patterns, and such. Perhaps you even offer courses or individual instruction from your shop. You have just launched your website and it reflects what you offer in your store. You list your various yarns on the website.

If someone searches Google for yarn, the search engine will consider the relevance of their keywords, which may be just yarn, or a more elaborate search phrase involving type, color, and brand. That is how relevance is determined. Does your site offer what is being searched for. Because your site lists the brands, colors and types of yarn being searched for your relevance factor is high.

Authority can be established in many ways. The descriptions of the product listings, the blog posts you write about yarn, the announcements you make about knitting courses and other trainings. Google, and many other search engines, actually reads the content of your site. It is valued, flagged, and indexed based on how important it is to the topic at hand. Because your site is rich in authoritative content, and additionally because other bloggers have written posts on their sites, linked to yours, that speak highly of your service, your authority factor is also high.

Personalization is a little harder to understand. The searcher is in your geographical service area. Perhaps the searcher has visited your site on several occasions and even purchased from you before. The searcher frequents the same social media sites and groups as you do, perhaps even liking or friending your business profile there. It all ads up to more value. The personalization factor is high.

In these three areas alone you can begin to see how intricate the factors governing positioning in the SERPs can be. And these are just the top three major factors. There are hundreds of lesser factors added into the mix. Some factors are outside of your control but there are about 120 you can actually deal with if you choose to do so.

Search Engines: Changes

But search engine optimization is an on-going process. Search engines regularly make changes to, and tweak, their algorithms; the rules used to rank the various factors and the weight given to each. The better search engines are always trying to improve the quality of the results they provide for their clients — those doing the searching.

You may have heard the terms Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird, in relation to Google search. These are the code names of three major algorithm changes rolled out by Google in the recent past. They involved significant changes and an on-going process of testing and tweaking. In order for your search engine optimization strategy to continue to have value you, or the SEO professional you hire, will need to understand these changes and apply the necessary modifications to your site. Good SEO is not, cannot be, a static or one-time process.

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