SEO Marketing: How do search engines work?

Search engines have become an indispensable aspect of modern life, but most of us don’t have a clue about how they actually work.


I’m just guessing you don’t want to dive into complex mathematical algorithms.

That’s okay. You just need a high-level understanding of the basics. Let’s take a look at the three major components that power search engines, and the general approach to “spoon feeding” them so they understand our content and rank us the way we want.

1. Crawling

You’ve likely heard of search engine “spiders” that crawl around the web looking for content. These are actually bits of computer code that find information on a web page, “read” it, and then tirelessly continue along their journey by following links from your page to other pages.

The spider periodically returns looking for changes to the original page, which means there are always opportunities to modify the way a search engine sees and evaluates your content down the road.

If for any reason the spider can’t see your content, or doesn’t understand what it’s about, your page can’t be indexed and ranked.

2. Indexing

The spider is not just casually browsing content, it’s storing it in a giant database. This is called indexing.

The spider’s goal is to save every bit of content it crawls for the future benefit of searchers. It’s also gauging how relevant that content is to the words that searchers use when they want to find an answer to something.

3. Ranking

The final critical aspect of search technology is the way the engine decides to deliver the most relevant results to searchers. This is accomplished by jealously-guarded algorithmic functions. That’s a fancy way of saying that search software follows a complex set of rules. These are the ground rules for a duel between your content and other content that might satisfy a searcher’s keyword query.

Why you have to spoon feed search engines

Search engines have come a long way since the early days of the web, but they’re not as sophisticated as you might think. It’s not that search engines are dumb; it’s more like they’re bright little toddlers who need information delivered to them in a way that works for them.

Think of it this way. You wouldn’t set a bone-in ribeye and steak knife in front of a 4-year-old and expect him to have at it. You’d present the food in easily chewable bite-sized chunks with appropriate utensils.

Likewise, you might write an article about “green widgets” using metaphors, entertaining analogies, and smart synonyms. You know you’re writing about green widgets, and most reasonably intelligent people know it too.

But if you don’t use the words “green widgets” in certain locations and frequencies along with other SEO copywriting best practices, both you and the search engines are out of luck. The toddler goes hungry and you’re frustrated and likely dealing with a mess.

That’s not to say you want to serve up keyword-stuffed crap with less appeal than mashed beets. That would be a really bad idea.

On the contrary, you must create that “ribeye steak” content which engages people first and foremost, while also spoon feeding search engines what they need. The end goal is always to let other people find you with the language they use when searching.


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