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How Google works: untangling the web for business owners

Anna Codrea-Rado
by Anna Codrea-Rado
Published on 2 February, 2018
annacod

The world tangled by a digital web

When you type something into the search box on Google, the search engine instantly spews out pages upon pages of results.

For business owners, landing your company’s webpage on the first page of Google’s search results can be gold dust.

But how do search engines like Google actually work? And, more importantly, how can you get your website to rank on that all-important first Google page?

Read on to find out how Google works, and, more specifically, how it can work for your business.

How Google search works

When you use Google to search the web, you’re not actually searching the entire web, but rather Google’s own index of it. In its simplest form, this is a catalogue of webpages Google has collected and organised into a giant database.

It’s helpful to think of the web as massive library, but with no filing system. Google’s index is its version of a library catalogue. Other search engines, like Bing and Yahoo, have their own way of indexing web pages very similar to Google’s.

The way Google makes its index is by using what are called “spiders”, robot web crawlers that discover publicly available web pages. These spiders follow the links on those pages to more pages, sending the data back to Google’s servers and building its index.

When you type a query into the search box on Google, for example “plumber East Bournemouth”, Google’s software searches the index to find all the pages within it that mentions those search terms. This can return hundreds of thousands of results, if not more.

The next step is for Google to filter those results and rank them, which it does by applying certain parameters. Think of this as Google asking questions of the results, such as: how many times does a page contain the keywords requested; whether the words appear in the title or URL;  does the page contain synonyms for the words; is it a quality website?

The other factor in determining where a result appears on Google is its “page rank”, which is a formula invented by Google that ranks a webpage’s importance based on how many outside links point it and, in turn, how important those links are.

All this comes together to produce a list of results, ranked in order of relevance, delivered about half a second after you’ve typed in your search.

Ranking highly in Google searches

There are many things a business can do to help rank highly in Google, something also known as Search Engine Optimisation, or SEO.

The most important thing a business can do to improve its SEO is to ensure the quality of its website’s content is high. While Google does not disclosure the inner workings of its algorithms or all the details of what goes into determining a high ranking, it’s well known within in the SEO world that quality content is key.

Make sure your web pages are created specifically for your intended customers and that they are relevant.

It is also important to pay attention to keywords, so think of the terms a potential customer would type into Google to find your business and try to use those in your webpage’s copy. For example, the pizza restaurant based in Bath would want to include phrases like “authentic Italian restaurant serving homemade pizza in the heart of historic Bath”.

It’s also a good idea to keep your content fresh and up-to-date because another important factor in determining a webpage’s relevance is if it’s updated regularly.

Another way results appear on Google for people who search for your business is at the local level. If someone searches for a business or service on the mobile device, for example, Google will use their location to filter the results by those closest to them; if someone searches for a pizza restaurant on their smartphone while they’re in Bath, Google will show the nearest pizza restaurants in that area.

To make sure your business appears in local searches, you can update your business profile for free with Google. You just have to sign up for the Google My Business feature and fill out your profile there.

For tips and resources on setting up your Google My Business page, check out the UENI HelpDesk. 

Anna Codrea-Rado
Anna Codrea-Rado
annacod
Anna Codrea-Rado is a culture and technology journalist based in London. Her work features in the New York Times, Wired, The Guardian, The Paris Review, and Vice, among others.
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