Search Engine Optimization and How It Works

A broad overview of Google updates and how these updates impact search engine optimization (SEO).

SEO and Search Engine Overview

Guess what?  A search engine is the only reason SEO even matters.  Epiphany, right!

So defining a search engine is a good place to start:

A search engine is a web based tool that collects and organizes content from all over the web. Search engines crawl the web, read websites, and then index that content. The index then allows users to search for and find content relevant.

Google is the largest and most used search engine and handles more than three billion searches each day. Its primary goal is to provide the most relevant results to your search query. These results are based in part on a priority rank system called “page rank” and Google’s infamous algorithms.

Google’s Search Engine, A Broad Historical Overview

Google has a long history of famous algorithm updates, search index changes and refreshes, and each one directly impacted SEO.  A quick review  of the bigger updates and how they impacted SEO will help you understand what works today and what doesn’t.

Panda, Goodbye Black Hat SEO

There was a time when you could “trick” Google with shady SEO tricks; Google’s Panda and Penguin updates killed that.

Panda, released February 23, 2011, targeted black hat SEO and content farms and aimed to boost higher quality sites in search results

Spammy “content farms” — websites that aggregated or simply stole content with the goal of trying to trick Google by creating many pages of content for the sole purpose of gaining rank for a wide variety of keywords — were hit the hardest.  And that was a great thing, because these content farms had only one goal — to earn big money in advertising or affiliate marketing revenue, not to add value to users.

Panda also addressed poor content and on-page SEO practices.  No more duplicate content, copied content, too many and/or irrelevant keywords (known as keyword stuffing), or poorly written content.

Panda was sort of like a sheriff in the wild west, sent in to get rid of the bad guys and protect the good.

So no more spammy black hat SEO; if you want to rank, write valuable, well written content.

Penguin, Hello Genuine Linking

Penguin, released April 24, 2012, intended to reduce Google’s trust in sites using unnatural backlinking practices to improve their position in search results.  More specifically the practice of collecting irrelevant inbound links.  Penguin penalizes sites that do this and therefore encourages credible, genuine inbound links.

Penguin requires you to be build genuine relationships with other websites.

In short, these two updates initiated a shift from spammy, black hat SEO to creating valuable and well written content.

Hummingbird — Understanding what the user intends

Hummingbird, in conjunction with Google’s Rank Brain, works to produce more meaningful search results by “thinking about what the user intends to find instead of matching individual keywords to web page copy. In other words, this update focuses on contextual relevance” (Jantsch, John. SEO for Growth: The Ultimate Guide for Marketers, Web Designers & Entrepreneurs ,p. 30. Kindle Edition).

Understand what the user intends by incorporating artificial intelligence into search so search engines understand differences in context and intention.

How the heck does it do this though?  Say hello to Rank Brain:

RankBrain is a machine-learning artificial intelligence system that helps Google process some of its search results, in particular rare or one-of-a-kind queries. It launched in early 2015 and is used globally by Google (Search Engine Land).

This article will tell you all you want to know about Rank Brain — FAQ: All About the Google Rank Brain Algorithm — but here I focus on the results.

Type in weather and Google’s search engine assumes you are searching for the temperature in your area and provides you with the answer.

Ask a question and Google now attempts to answer it directly in the search results through “rich answers” in the form of Knowledge Graphs, Knowledge Panels and answer boxes. This information is typically delivered via an information box at the top or on the right of the search results page.

Example of a Google Rich Answer in search engine results

Google will continue improving its Knowledge Graph and other direct content features and guess what  —  your site content will have to be extra good to qualify for visibility on Google.

How to Rank after these Search Engine Updates

The short answer:

Write great content, establish your online authority with genuine backlinks, and provide a great user experience for visitors to your site.

No more garbage content and spammy SEO techniques!

Write Great Content

Instead, write great content that provides value.  Content that has substance (no filler stuff). Content that answers questions or solves a problem. Content that is written well.

Establish Online Authority

This valuable content will easily lead to establishing online authority as others will naturally want to link to your content.

Provide a Great User Experience

Great web design and UX (user experience) are critical for SEO and search engine results. Great content inside a bad website won’t work.

Invest in your website and give users a great experience:

  • Design easy-to-use clear navigation.
  • Organize and structure your website for usability and findability.
  • Make it easy for folks to find what they are looking for.
  • Make sure your site is visually appealing.

Great content and great user experience means your SEO work can produce great results for you.

SEO leads the horses to water, user experience, design, and content get them to drink. Jantsch, John. SEO for Growth: The Ultimate Guide for Marketers, Web Designers & Entrepreneurs (p. 93). N/A. Kindle Edition.

In other words, SEO without great content and user experience is a waste of time.

Now, go write some epic content and put it inside a beautiful and well structured website!

And, of course, if you need some help with design or SEO, we can help.

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About the Author

Yael Reinhardt-Matsliah

For the last 20 years, I have helped businesses like yours dramatically improve their business with my support, guidance, and comprehensive web design and marketing strategies.  I can help you too. 

You can thrive online and in your business when you have the right strategy

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