SEO Academy for beginners part 2: Search engines

Welcome to SEO Academy part 2. This time we’ll take a closer look at the search engines, how they work, how people use them and what are the ranking factors.

How search engines work

Search engines consist of three main ingredients:

  1. crawling
  2. indexing
  3. picking the results

Crawling

Crawling or spidering means scanning the website, its sections, content, keywords, headings, links, images. Any data that can be found on the website are crawled. Crawlers note any hypertext links on a website pointing to other websites. They then parse those pages for new links, and so on, recursively. They come back again regularly to update the data.

Indexing

Once the website is crawled, indexing takes its part. Imagine index as a gigantic catalogue or a library full of websites from all over the world. It takes some time for a website to be indexed. Furthermore, every time it’s changed, our good friend crawler scans it again. Keep in mind that until updates on the website aren’t indexed, they won’t be visible in search engines.

Picking the results

Results are critical for both developers and users. Once the Internet user submits a search query, the search engine digs into the index and pulls out matching results. It’s a process of checking the query against billions of websites based on various algorithms. Companies running search engines (Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!) keep these algorithms in secret. Nonetheless, there are many well-known ranking factors.

Ranking factors

Most of these factors are proven, some are speculations or even myths. On top of that, some are more important than others. Brian Dean from Backlinko made a nice list of Google ranking factors. The most important factor, backlink profile is based on number and quality of backlinks leading to a website. It is like an analogy of academic citation. This is a simplified view on Google’s approximation of the website’s authority.

These are just a few of the most important ranking factors (in no particular order):

  • the frequency of updates
  • website size and loading speed
  • strength and relevancy of backlinks (incoming links to your website)
  • content length and relevancy
  • keyword density, keyword usage in headings, meta tags, URL – these aren’t as important as they used to be from SEO point of view
  • grammar and spelling
  • website structure
  • mobile optimization
  • domain authority
  • social media links
  • citations, comments, reviews
  • internal links
  • website usability
  • spam score
  • bounce rate and CTR (click-through rate)

Ranking factors can be grouped into on-page SEO factors (including technical SEO) and link building or off-page SEO factors. They are extremely important and deserves more attention, so we’ll talk about them in the next chapter: On-page and technical SEO and then in the link building dedicated chapter.

How people use search engines

The main point of SEO is to be friendly to both users and search engines. If you invest all your money and time into perfect technical SEO, it’s fine. But if the user interaction is poor, your positions won’t improve. That’s how you can easily start wasting money. User’s point of view is a number one priority.

User’s interactions with search engines have evolved over the years. However, the principle remains the same:

  1. A need for a solution, information, or an answer
  2. Typing the need in form of query (keywords) into a search engine
  3. Going through the first results
  4. Clicking on one or more results (websites)
  5. Scanning websites for the answer
  6. Going through more results on the first page of the SERP or changing the search query, if the answer wasn’t found.

Search engines market share

In the charts below, you can see which search engines people really use. The data are taken from Netmarketshare’s reports.

How do we classify search queries?

There are three extensively accepted types of search queries:

  1. Navigational search queries
  2. Informational search queries
  3. Transactional search queries

Navigational search queries represent an intend to search for a particular brand or website. It means, people tend to type “youtube” or “google” into search engines rather than using browser’s history or bookmarks. Actually, YouTube, Facebook and Google reach the highest search volumes along with other navigational search queries.

Informational search queries are widely used when a user is searching for information. They aren’t looking for a particular website, yet for an answer or a guidance how to do something. For example, “How to bake pizza”.

The transactional search query is an intention to make a transaction. It usually comes with a product name (Nike Airmax) or category (sneakers). Additionally, it can be written with “Where to buy …”, “… price” or in a similar manner.

There are many blog posts on how to target a particular search query. However, it’s not that easy anymore thanks to the increasing popularity of voice searches such as Siri, Google Now or Cortana. Informational search queries can quickly transform to transactional by opening a new app or giving an option to make a purchase.

1st place vs. 1st page

Being on the first page of organic search results is good, the top three is great but there’s only one winner, right? Well, not that much. It’s a matter of perspective. Websites all over the world are updated on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. When these changes are indexed by a search engine, their positions can change. What we’re trying to say here, is that even if you’re the winner, you can (and probably will) be beaten by competitors the other day, and vice versa.

In the chart below, you can see the importance of the highest rankings on Google. It shows the organic click-through rates (CTR) distribution for December 2016 (based on Advanced Web Ranking).

In fact, being first it’s more crucial than ever these days. And it won’t apparently change in the future. We’re talking mainly about informational or transactional search queries.

Let’s take a look at Google SERP. “How to bake potatoes” is our search query. The first result is a snippet with all information, so you don’t need to check other results anymore.

Informational snippets or Amazon snippets definitely belong to Top 5 SEO trends for 2017.

Vocabulary

  • crawling
  • indexing
  • picking results
  • ranking factors
  • the search query
  • navigational search queries
  • informational search queries
  • transactional search queries
  • snippets

How is it going so far? Did we miss anything interesting for you? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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