Internet Search – how it works, why every business should care and what you can do about it
(plain English version)
If you’re reading this, you probably found this page a) because someone sent you a link, b) you found a link somewhere on the Internet, or c) you found it using a search engine. You and other 4.2 billion or so Internet users find what you’re looking for by using a search engine. There are roughly 8.4 billion searches performed every day among the major search engines – Google, Microsoft and the others. That’s at least two searches for every Internet user on the planet.
And when it comes to finding information about a business, when was the last time you picked up a paper copy of the yellow pages looking for a phone number? Search engines and smartphones have completely changed how we find information about businesses.
How. Why. What.
How does ‘search’ work? Why should you care? What can you realistically do?
Before we tackle these questions, here are some truths about Internet search:
Search Engine Optimization. SEO as it is commonly called is the industry best practice of optimizing the likelihood that your business will be found when someone uses a search engine and is looking for the products and or services you offer. SEO is not a single thing, but rather a range of tasks, many ongoing, that help search engines match your business to users that are looking for what you provide.
It’s not Google on the phone. Whether it’s your mobile phone, your business phone or your home phone, you’ve probably received a robo-call from someone purporting to be from Google or some company warning you that your business listing has expired or some such non-sense. Please hang up. There are better ways to waste your money.
The recipes for Coca Cola, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Google’s Search engine internal workings. All of these represent some of the most closely guarded secrets on the planet. People and companies spend their lives trying to reverse engineer how they work or how they are made, but the real recipes are under more security than you or I can comprehend. If someone tells you they have the exact recipe, please walk away.
How: Search Engines read the Internet
Before anyone can find anything using a search engine, search engines must first collect data from websites, store it and index it. The process of doing this has evolved beyond someone submitting a form to notify Google or Microsoft about a new website. Search engines have large programs running 24 hours a day, seven days a week that continually ‘crawl’ the Internet to build a catalog of all the information on every website they can find.
Imagine you’re looking at a web page. You read the page and copy everything on that page and save it. Then, you click one of the links on the page, maybe it’s a menu option. Then you read everything on that page and save it. If there are more new links on this page, you click on one, read and store the page, and click on the next link. When you are finished going down that path, you go back to the first page and start the process all over again until you have clicked on every link on every page of a website and read and stored all the information on each page. That is basically how search engines ‘crawl’ a website.
It can take a long time to complete just one website. Right now, there are more than 1.6 billion websites. Clearly search engines have far exceeded human capacity for ingesting information. Even if the human brain could store all this data, there simply are not enough hours for us to get it done.
Why: It’s about context
The Internet is big. Really big. If you’ve purchased a smartphone or computer recently, you might know how much storage it has in terms of gigabytes. To give you a point of reference, there are about 300 songs in one gigabyte of data. If your phone has 16 gigabytes, you could store about 4,800 songs.
But a gigabyte is much too small a number when we think about the quantity of data on the Internet. By 2020, it is estimated that the amount of data on the Internet will top 40 zettabytes. What’s a zettabyte? It is the equivalent of 1 million, billion gigabytes (or 1021 ). It is very hard to wrap your head around a number that big. This might help.
Imagine that 1 gigabyte equals one mile. If you had a piece of rope that was one zettabyte in length, you could wrap it around the earth more than 40 billion times. Or if you had a ship that could travel the equivalent of one zettabyte in miles, you could go to Mars and back more than 13 million times.
40 zettabytes of data is truly beyond our comprehension. How then, is it possible for someone to find your business by typing in a few words into a box on a web page? Because the job of search engines is to sort and catalog this infinitely large quantity of data and put it into context for the person typing in the search box. This happens more than 70,000 times per second and the chances are goods that you searched for something at least once in the past few days.
For search engines to continue to attract users, they need to return relevant results that match what the user is looking for and in the right context. For example: If you live in Atlanta, Georgia and are searching for tree planning services, you most likely would not be interested in a company selling bonsai trees in Dublin, Ireland.
Search engines exist to take the few words you enter in a dialog box and return a list of results from this ever-expanding pool of data, that are relevant and in the proper context to what you are looking for.
What: You can help
Now that you know a bit more about how search engines go about their job and why it is important, let’s take a look at what you, as a business owner can do to. Ultimately, you want to make it as easy as possible for customers and potential customers to find your products and services when using one of the search engines.
The goal of this article is to share a high-level view of what’s important. It’s not a step by step guide for all things SEO. Many of the processes for optimizing your website are in a constant state of flux.
There are loads of sites that can help with the latest techniques and plenty of companies that will also help you. To learn more about the specifics, you can always visit your favorite search engine. Try entering ‘how to optimize my website for seo’ and you’ll find plenty of results. This guide is intended to help you better understand SEO in general and be confident in asking better questions.
Your website is the cornerstone
Before you dive into the details of SEO like structured data, title tags, alt tags, meta data and more, the best place to start is to get really clear about what it is that you sell or do. As we learned, search engines read your words, all of them. If you want customers and potential customers to find you, your website must contain words that describe your company, products and services in the language of your customers – not what you think they should be. After all, it is the customer who is doing the search.
Search engines are going to do their best to return results based on the words that someone types into the search box. If those don’t line up with how you’ve described your products or services, then the likelihood of your website being listed in the results goes down. Why? Because it is the job of search engines to do their best to return relevant results to the person using them. These include your customers and potential customers.
Other locations around the web
You may have heard the word ‘content’ or ‘content marketing’ when talking with people about the Internet, especially when it comes to search engine optimization. Content equals words. These can be the words on your website, but they can also be words on other sites around the Internet. Places like blogs, social media sites, directories and more. Search engines are reading all these sites, just like yours.
Not only are they ingesting and analyzing the content, they also keep track of where that content comes from. When search engines find content is associated with your business or website, they add it to the catalog associated with your website or business and use that to add more context to search terms users enter in the search dialog box. The more content search engines find around the Internet that either belongs to you or relates to your website, the bigger your catalog becomes.
Search engines build a profile of your website, trying to understand what it is about so they can put it in the right context to return in search results.
Your basic contact information
Of the more than 1.6 billion websites (and growing) on the Internet, not all of them are businesses. But if it is a business, chances are it will have some type of contact information such as website URL, contact email, phone, mailing address, etc. When search engines are deciding whether to return a business in the search results, they rely to some degree on how often your information is found in the sea of data they crawl and analyze every day.
There are websites around the Internet that are focused on listing basic contact information for businesses. When search engines crawl these sites and find your business contact information, and it matches what you have on your website, you get the equivalent of a ‘gold star’ or checkmark beside your business. As long as the site listing your data is a legitimate website and not simply pages of names and links, this is one of many components of SEO that search engines use to determine the validity of businesses.
iTrackLinks.com: Our job
iTrackLinks is focused on one piece of the SEO puzzle — your business contact listing on legitimate directory sites around the Internet. Whether you complete the listings yourself, select our ‘done for you’ service, or let your current technology provide handle the task, we’ve created software tools that make it easy, fast and accurate.
If you’d like to learn more about the specifics of how our software works, click here and we’ll share everything you need to know to decide if this is right for your business.Learn More