In the 2nd chapter of our SEO guide, you will learn how search engines work, how people use them and what type of search queries they submit. Take a look at the technical background behind Google.
Let’s take a closer look at the search engines and what are the most typical ranking factors you should focus on.
How search engines work
Search engines consist of three main ingredients:
- Picking the results
Crawling or spidering means scanning the website, its sections, content, keywords, headings, links, images by thousands of small bots. Any data that can be found on the website is crawled.
Crawlers detect any hypertext links on a website pointing to other websites. Then they parse those pages for new links over and over again. Bots crawl the whole internet regularly to update the data.
Once the website is crawled, the indexing takes place. Imagine the index as a gigantic catalog or a library full of websites from all over the world. It usually takes some time for a website to be indexed. From our experience, it’s from 1 to 10 days.
You can check what pages have already been indexed by using this search operator: site:domain.com
Furthermore, every time it’s changed, our good friend crawler scans it again. Keep in mind that until updates on the website are 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 the exact calculations of their algorithms in secret. Nonetheless, many ranking factors are well-known.
Most of these factors are proven, but some are just 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.
You don’t have to know all of them by heart to learn SEO, but it is good to have at least a basic overview.
One of the most important factors, the backlink profile is based on the number and quality of backlinks leading to a website. It’s a very simplified view on Google approximation of the website’s authority. Each backlink is an analogy of an academic citation.
These are some of the most important ranking factors (in no particular order):
- Strength and relevancy of backlinks (incoming links to your website)
- Content relevancy and quality
- Engagement metrics such as CTR (click-through rate)
- Website size and loading speed
- Keyword density, keyword usage in headings, meta tags, URL – these aren’t as important today as they used to be from the technical point of view
- Grammar and spelling
- Website structure
- Mobile optimization
- Overall domain authority
- Social signals
- Internal linking
- Website usability
Ranking factors can be divided into on-page SEO factors (including technical SEO) and link building or off-page SEO factors.
Check domain authority of any website to find its strengths and weaknesses.
They are extremely important and deserve more attention. We focus on them in Chapter 3 and Chapter 6.
How people use search engines
The main point of SEO is to be friendly both to 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 can suffer. And that’s how you start wasting money. The user’s point of view is a number one priority.
The picture below represents one of the common user journeys in Google search:
The interactions with search engines have evolved over the years. However, the principle remains the same:
- A need for a solution, information, or an answer
- Typing the need in form of a query (keyword) into the search engine
- Going through the first results
- Clicking on one or more results (websites)
- Scanning websites for the answer
- Going through more results on the 1st SERP and/or changing the search query, if the answer isn’t found.
Search engines market share
In the charts below, you can see which search engines people use the most. The data is from Netmarketshare’s reports.
Find out more about the most popular search engines and their history.
How do we classify search queries?
There are three generally accepted types of search queries:
- Navigational search queries
- Informational search queries
- Transactional search queries
Navigational search queries
They represent an intent to search for a particular brand or website. People tend to type “youtube” or “google” into search engines rather than using browser’s history or bookmarks.
Based on our case study where we analyzed 300+ millions of keywords, YouTube, Facebook and Google reach the highest search volumes along with other navigational search queries.
Informational search queries
These are submitted when users are searching for information. They aren’t looking for a particular website, yet for an answer or guidance on how to do something. For example, “How to bake pizza”.
Transactional search queries
This type 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 because of the increasing popularity of voice assistants such as Siri, Google Now or Alexa.
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 the organic search results is good, scoring the top three is great but there’s only one winner, right? Or, is it? It’s a matter of perspective.
Websites all over the world are updated on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. The internet grows every single day. When new websites and changes are indexed by a search engine, the organic results may change.
Another very important factor is Google algorithm which changes all the time. Minor tweaks may not cause anything at all, but a major algorithm update can be an earthquake.
Subscribe to our SERP volatility tracker to stay updated if there are any algorithm changes.
What we’re trying to say is that even if you’re the winner, your positions can (and probably will) be replaced by competitors the other day, and vice versa.
In the chart below, you can see the importance of the highest rankings in Google depending on their organic click-through rate (CTR) distribution for April 2018 (based on Advanced Web Ranking).
Of course, ranking first is very important, but these days, you have to take into consideration also the so-called “zero position”.
Let’s take a look at the results for “How to bake potatoes” search query. The first result is a Google featured snippet with all the information, so you don’t need to check other results anymore.
The vocabulary of the 2nd chapter:
- picking results
- ranking factors
- navigational search queries
- informational search queries
- transactional search queries
- featured snippets