Imagine, if you can, that the Internet was one giant book—like an encyclopedia set so big that your high school librarian Ms. Darby, would need a team of a million oxen just to cart it in. By Google’s last count (which was all the way back in 2008), that book would have over 1 trillion pages. Now, where would you go to find something in that big ol’ book? That’s right—the index.

When you use a search engine like Google, you’re not actually searching the web. Instead, you’re querying the index that Google has created to represent the Web. Google does this by painstakingly analyzing every bit of content on the web that it can get its spider-y claws on. Google takes the information it finds on these webpages and uses it to try to understand what it’s all about. It makes up a little report for each page it finds on the web and puts that information into the index.

As an Internet marketing firm, we spend a lot of time thinking about that index. Our job is to make sure that:

  1. Search engines find your website in order to index it
  2. Your website is indexed correctly according to your services and location
  3. Search engine users find your website first when entering keywords that describe your business

This entire process is called search engine optimization (SEO). In order to understand what SEO does for your website, it’s best to also understand how Google builds its index and serves results to users. It happens in three phases:

Crawling

Google discovers new web pages by methodically “crawling” the Internet. That is, they have a set of computers (collectively called the “Googlebot”) that do nothing but visit webpages all day. They begin by loading webpages they already know about and then follow links to other pages. After the Googlebot reads those pages, it follows all the links on that page as well and so on. What that means is that, unless your site is linked to by a site that Google has already indexed, the Googlebot won’t be able to find your website—or at least not for a long, long time. The way Google discovers new websites is a bit like the way you might make new friends. You need someone to introduce you.

So, what does SEO do for you during the crawling phase? Simple—we introduce you to the most popular websites already in Google’s index so you get crawled as soon as possible. These are websites like business directories, social media outlets and professional networks.

Think of it this way: If you went through your entire life being very, very social, you may eventually find yourself at a cocktail party with Kevin Bacon. But you’d probably meet him a lot sooner if someone could first introduce you to Edward Asner (who acted in JFK with Bacon). In this same way, SEO introduces your website to other websites that will get you on Google faster so you don’t have to go through six, sixteen or six hundred degrees just to get indexed.

Indexing

Once Googlebot finds your website, it begins reading through the content. However, the Google spider doesn’t read webpages the same way a human would. Instead, it looks for a series of clues that help it determine which keywords to associate with the website and how strong that association is. It does so by analyzing which words are used as well as how they are used. To this end, the Google algorithm is fairly smart.

For example, let’s say it comes across a page with the word “Pies” in the title. Furthermore, there are some images with filenames like “pepperoni.jpg” and ALT tags (i.e. image descriptions displayed in case the image can’t be loaded) like “hot sausage.” Furthermore, there are various references to prices and portion sizes. There’s also a phone number and address. Aha! From this information, Google might be able to determine that it’s looking at a menu for a pizza delivery joint in Rancho Cucamonga.

Now, let’s say Googlebot comes across another webpage that also has the word “Pies” in the title. Except this page has an image titled “blueberry.jpg” and keeps mentioning rolling pins, teaspoons and tablespoons and says the word “pre-heat” near the top. It’s a pretty good bet that this page has little to do with pizza—instead, it’s more likely that this is a recipe for homemade blueberry pie. What can SEO do to help get your website indexed correctly? It boils down to a couple key measures:

  1. Use the right keywords that succinctly describe your business
  2. Follow formatting and tagging conventions that search engines understand (such as headers and ALT descriptions)
  3. Ensure that the most important text is readable to Googlebot (for example, spiders can’t read text in images or flash elements)

Contrary to popular belief, making text more readable by search engine robots doesn’t mean making it unreadable to humans. The way we craft SEO copy, it actually improves the content for both search engine spiders and human readers. That’s because we follow Google’s webmaster guidelines for creating search engine friendly websites. These include design and content guidelines, technical guidelines and, most importantly, quality guidelines. That is, Google actually measures how user-friendly your website is. Here’s what they say:

“Webmasters who spend their energies upholding the spirit of the basic principles will provide a much better user experience and subsequently enjoy better ranking than those who spend their time looking for loopholes they can exploit.”

We take that statement to heart and do our best to strike a balance between search engine friendliness and user friendliness.

For more information on our SEO copywriting strategies, read our earlier post: Copywriting for a Bilingual Internet.

Serving Results

The last phase happens when users type queries into search engines. At this point, Google takes the query and goes through its index, looking for websites that best match that query. This is called relevancy, and Google determines how relevant a webpage is to a query using over 200 factors. Like KFC’s eleven secret herbs and spices, no one knows exactly what all of these factors are—plus they’re changing every day as Google improves its technology. But one important one is PageRank. PageRank is a “measure of the importance of a page based on the incoming links from other pages.” In other words, if your website were a movie, your PageRank would be an aggregation of how many “thumbs up” reviews you got. And just like an endorsement from Roger Ebert carries more clout than the opinion of the clerk at Blockbuster, not all links are counted equally towards your PageRank.

As such, getting high quality links back to your website is an important part of SEO, and we work hard on that by creating content (such as blog posts, videos and articles) that encourages other bloggers and web denizens to link back to it (in the biz, that’s called “linkbait”).

But what about the other 199 factors that go into your website’s relevancy? This is partially addressed back in the indexing phase, where we make sure that your website gets associated with the keywords that your audience will most likely use to search for your business on the web. But overall, it’s best not to get hung up on the exact measurements that Google uses to judge your relevancy. Instead, it’s more prudent to focus on the spirit of what the Googlebot is trying to do: locate the best, most user-friendly websites on the Internet.

Creating a Google-friendly website is a bit like eating right. You don’t have to know each and every single vitamin, mineral and nutrient that exists in broccoli or Brussels sprouts to know it’s good for you. Likewise, you don’t need to have an intimate understanding of every funky chemical that goes into making a Twinkie to know that they are bad for you. You just have to know that a balanced diet that includes lots of fresh foods with fats, oils, alcohol and refined sugars in moderation will lead to good health.

And that’s what SEO is in a nutshell. It’s a healthy diet for your website that strives to get your website indexed quickly with strong relevancy for the search terms that your audiences use to find businesses like yours. There’s a lot that goes into the process, and we’re learning new strategies and best practices every day. But all of it circles around to getting your website indexed favourably so you get the most traffic and the most leads possible.

For more details on embracing SEO for your business, check out our FREE WEBINAR on November 9 at 10 AM PDT. Reserve your slot now »