How does Google work?

How Search Engines Work

In order to effectively search engine optimize (SEO) your website, it is important to know how Google works.

The Search Engine Process

  1. Google finds your site, usually by following a link to your site from another external site
  2. Google parses all of the content and information on your site
  3. Google creates a keyword density report to understand what your site is about
  4. Studying the anchor text of inbound links, Google understands how other people describe your site
  5. Google indexes all of this information into its databases creating a snapshot of your website
  6. Along comes a web visitor who uses Google for a specific search term to find relevant web pages
  7. Google (almost) instantly delivers a list of sites for that search term sorted and ranked by relevance

So, before a web visitor even comes along to use Google, your site must have already been found, crawled, parsed and indexed by Google if you expect it to be delivered in its search engine results page (SERP).  Google does not perform this entire process, on-the-fly, the moment or instant that a web visitor first comes along to perform this query.

“Signals” that influence Google

Google looks for various “signals” that helps it label, rank, sort and websites for relevance vis-à-vis various keyword phrases or search terms.  Every web page of a site is usually indexed.  All of this individual web page data is aggregated or rolled up to form a single snapshot of a particular site.

In order for a site to be relevant and rank high on the search engine results page (SERP) for a given search term, the key words within that search phrase should be prominent within the signals that Google considers important.

Some of the most important signals include:

  1. URL (domain name + directory path + filename) of each web page on a site
  2. Title tag
  3. Headings
  4. Content (words and text within the pages of the site)
  5. Links, buttons and navigation within the site
  6. Anchor text (link text) of the links coming in from other external websites and blogs

Google will place positive and negative polarity and weight to each of these signals and then calculate a score that determines a website’s ranking factor for a particular keyword phrase.

1.3         Key Word Phrase Relevance

The thing that most people tend to lose sight of is that search engines work to serve people searching for web pages that are relevant to their search phrase.  There are two important points to make and understand here.

The first point is that a website will not rank by itself without any contextual search phrase.  That is to say that we rank a site based, not on popularity or visitor traffic*, but more on its relevance or merits given a particular keyword phrase.

In other words, a website will only rank on Google if somebody enters a keyword phrase that is relevant to that website.  If your website is about birds then it will not rank if somebody is searching for websites about light bulbs.

So, perhaps THE most important question to ask a website stakeholder that is trying to get a website to rank high on Google is, “For what keyword phrase or search term do you want your site to rank well on?”

If the site owner does not know the answer to this question, then there is little point in doing search engine optimization or analysis.

The second point is that search engines index every single page of a website and when a web visitor Google’s a search term; Google strives to deliver a specific web page, not necessarily a web site.  So, while Google does tend to aggregate all of the contextual relevance of all pages within a website, it does recognize that every web page on the Internet should be recognized on its own.

In other words, if you ask Google what a particular website is about, it will give you a roll up of all the web pages as well as a listing of all web pages.  But, if you ask Google what a particular page is about, then its scope will be limited to that specific page and all of the inbound links pointing into that page.

So, the message for site owners is that they need to treat every single page of their website as an opportunity to get indexed and found for a single concept or keyword phrase.

*NOTE: There are websites out there that do rank other websites based on web traffic and popularity. and are two websites that do exactly that.


SEO Quotient is seeking the talent of brilliant programmers and technical SEO professionals to help build crawlers, spiders, parsers and analysis tools. If you are a brilliant programmer who knows how search engines work and want to work with us, please contact Blake (at) inQbation (dot) com. We pay for skills and talent!

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