SEO (Search Engine Optimization) has a lot going on, and is very overwhelming. Each search engine is slightly different, the rules can change (albeit slightly) over time, and it can be daunting when you’re first starting out. So where do you start? How does it work? Possibly more important, is it even worth your time to create good SEO? In a previous article, we discussed some of these ideas in a very broad sense, but going forward, these articles will get deeper into what SEO is, why it’s important, and how it works.
How Do Search Engines Work?
Search engines are not magic. There’s no wizard that can cast a spell for you to make your SEO perfect, as nice as that would be. In reality, organic SEO has rules and a system to find what is being searched for. Search engines have three primary functions in order to get the best, most relevant results to a query:
- Crawling: Scours the internet, looking at both the code and content of every URL it finds.
- Indexing; Stores and organizes results found during the crawl. Once in the index, content is ready to be displayed.
- Ranking: Sorts indexed content from most to least relevant and displays the results.
All of this happens in a fraction of a second, producing thousands of results. Good SEO makes your website easier to find via crawling, index, and will increase your rankings.
Which Search Results are Organic?
If you’ve ever done a Google search, you might have noticed some of the results look more like advertisements. They might have even had a label on them that said as much, though it’s harder to spot nowadays. These results are paying Google to display their sites ahead of other results, and are not organic.
Search Engine Results Pages (SERP) today are filled with more advertising and more dynamic organic results called SERP features. These results look different than normal results, sometimes having a picture or a map. If you’ve ever done a google search for a pizza restaurant and a map of local pizza places popped up, that’s a SERP feature. SERP features include:
- Featured snippets (answer boxes)
- “People also ask” boxes
- Image carousels
It’s important to know that most of these are inorganic, but SEO can still influence them. Many free features, however, (Wikipedia, WebMD, IMDb) cannot be influenced by SEO.
By now, you’re probably thinking “There’s so much going on with SEO, and this is only the basics! Is this even worth it?” The answer to that is, without hesitation, yes. SEO is an investment, like any other part of your business. It takes time to get it right, but over time it can become more and more effective. SEO generates more traffic than paid advertising because you can cover more digital real estate and you appear more credible. Unfortunately, though search engines keep getting smarter and smarter over time, they still need help finding the best results to users’ queries.
SEO and the Goals of Search Engines
Search engines are not the enemy. They want both your website and the user to succeed. However, they can’t do all the heavy lifting! Google has their own guide online to help people figure out how to optimize their SEO for the search engine, complete with help forums to talk with other people who might be struggling, and even live office hour hangouts. While each search engine is different, they all want you to succeed.