Search Marketing Basics

how search worksSearch algorithms are mysterious beings.

Whether you’ve been working with SEO for years or are completely new to the field, it can sometimes feel overwhelming trying to figure out how search algorithms work and where you should focus your efforts in order to get the best rankings possible.

In this post I’ll lay some of that mystery aside.

A Brief Overview of How Search Algorithms Work

Search engines work by scanning website content and trying to categorize that content into different areas and levels of authority, then displaying the most relevant results to users according the to search term they enter.

Google keeps a long (very long) list of websites, and is constantly working to read all of the content on those sites. The algorithms, also known as spiders, crawlers, or search bots, work their way through a page, and then keep a list of all of the links they find. This list of links leads them to check new pages, and index and ever growing supply of content.

Important Characteristics of a Page

How pages are ranked are a completely separate matter. Google openly states that there are 220 factors that go into their ranking algorithm.

What, exactly, all of those factors are no one really knows (outside of Google, of course), but there are some pretty good guesses and standard theories.

The algorithms rank content based on both on page and off page factors. On page factors refer to thinks like the url name, post title, headers, image text, etc. These factors (in general) work to determine what your page is about.

Off page factors, on the other hand, work to determine the authority of your page. They look at what sites link to you, how often content is shared, etc.

What You Can Do About It

Legions of books and blogs have been written about how to optimize your site for SEO, and, unfortunately, many of them focus on chasing small loopholes in the algorithms, which are inevitably closed with time.

That means that most of the information you find about how to do SEO is outdated, and might even hurt your site (backlinking, article directories, and link wheels are just a few examples of techniques that once worked but will now hurt you…).

So what can you do?

Firstly, follow Matt Cutts. He’s the Google team lead for search and public face of current best practices.

In my view, the answer is clear: provide consistent, high quality content. There are a few little steps you can take, like creating a site map and pinging a few blog directories with new posts, that will help make sure Google finds your content as fast as possible, but other than that, just focus on your user.

Keep writing good long tail content, and you’ll crawl your way to the top sooner or later. Not only that, but once you’re up there (using legit content), you’re less likely to get knocked down by the next algorithm update.

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