How It Works: What Happens When You Search Google?

What actually happens when you type a search into Google? Just 5 minutes of your time and this post will have you up to snuff on how Google works -- as well as a few SEO takeaways!
Written by Stephen Chapman, Contributor

Here's a video I think some of you out there would really enjoy seeing. It provides a very brief and easy-to-understand explanation of what happens when you perform a search in Google! And for those of you who may be wondering, the person presenting is Matt Cutts from Google. As I've noted previously, he is in many ways our lifeline to how Google views SEO (Search Engine Optimization). After the video, I'll touch on a number of key points that may not be so readily apparent to some of you upon watching!

Now, where SEO is concerned, there is actually a *lot* more to glean from this video than meets the eye! For those of us who do SEO, there's confirmation of certain aspects that Google pays attention to when it comes to ranking your Web site. For those of you who don't do SEO, the following aspects are factors you can easily control that will make a big difference for how you rank:

1 - Title Tag: One of the most important factors of on-page SEO (the factors you can control on your Web site itself; be it everything from code to content) is your title tag. My personal recommendation is to use up to two (*maybe* three, but stacking keywords in the title tag has a way of getting spammy pretty quickly) keyword terms that are relevant to the content of the particular page you're adding them to. There's nothing wrong with that since the purpose of a title is to accurately describe exactly what the content of a page is about. After that, feel free to add your brand/site name/etc. Example: <title>Keyword Term and Keyword Term | MyWebsite</title>

2 - Meta Description: In addition to the title tag, your meta description is a very important factor to consider. For all of you folks who use Wordpress or a similar CMS (Content Management System) that allows for post summaries/excerpts, you should really consider using those to create informative and keyword-rich descriptions of your posts! As for individual pages, your meta description falls within the <meta name="description" content="Your description goes here."> tag. Unless Google sees fit to use alternate on-page content in place of your meta description (which I've personally found to be rare), this is your chance to really speak to both people *and* search engines in regards to what you post is about. Be smart about the content you choose to populate it with and use it to your advantage!

3 - Keywords and Synonyms: What is your post or page about? When you create content, the general rule is to write for people first, then go back and craft for spiders (the things that crawl the Web for search engines like Google). For instance, if your post is about cheetahs, it's okay to go back to find places where you may have said "they" and replace that word with the word "cheetahs." On the other hand, if your post is about "giant robots with purple feet," you may want to think twice about always using that whole term throughout the article -- especially if "they" sounds exponentially more natural in its placement. There's a fine line to walk between crafting for people and crafting for spiders, but so long as you put people first (meaning, you write completely naturally as if you're speaking to someone directly), you should have a good bearing of where to go from there. As a tip, just imagine that what you're writing is a conversation you're having directly with someone in-person. If you think it sounds stupid or unrealistic in that context, chances are, it's going to read that way as well. :)

4 - URL: Though Matt only mentioned URLs insofar as they show in the SERPs, it's always a good idea to format your URLs in a manner that contains relevant text to your post or page content. Also, use keyword terms in your URLs when possible. Doing as such will help you rank higher for keywords related to your content and it will give visitors another visual to let them know what kind of content they can expect from your page. For most CMSs like WordPress, your URL (or "permalink," as it's referred to as in the WordPress back-end) is derived from the title of your post. You're certainly not limited to using it for your URL, though.

If you have any questions about any of the noted points above (or anything else, for that matter), please feel free to leave a comment!

*Hat tip to Steve Plunkett for first posting this video on his blog and making me aware of it (which, in turn, made me want to make you aware of it)!

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