One of the questions we hear often at our SEO Company is “How does SEO work to rank my website?”
The specifics or what our agency’s SEO Experts would refer to as our specific process or formula change and evolve over time. These changes are due partly to constant testing which leads to an improved understanding of how Google (and other search engines work), and also changes that Google makes to its AI ranking algorithm.
Some core algorithm changes can really shake things up in the short term, however, if you are working above board (no black hat SEO stuff), and you are working to give the Google AI a good understanding of your website and what it is about, much of the shaking up in rankings after a major release work their way out and rankings return close to where they were and many times improve.
On the other hand, if you are running a spammy website, taking shortcuts, and exploiting some loophole you heard about from some so-called marketing guru, your site rankings can really tank after a core update. Google wants to know, like, and trust your website. So how does Google get to know and trust your site? Read on for a non-jargon-filled explanation from my decade-plus of hard-earned Online Marketing and SEO Expertise.
My goal with this article is to write an easily understood explanation of how a Search Engine thinks when approaching a website, without using technical words that no one really understands, except people who are engaged in search engine marketing as part or all of their job. If I don’t succeed and you have questions, please call me out and accept my apology in advance. You can reach me through our contact form here.
To Understand SEO at its core, let’s think of Google or any other Search Engine like Bing, Yahoo!, Duck-Duck-Go, etc. as a person. In reality, Google is an AI that can think, make decisions, notice certain things or be oblivious to certain things online, just like a person in real life. Its personality changes and evolves over time with updates to its AI programming.
Off Page SEO is like meeting someone new
Think of Google AI discovering a website like you and I meeting a new person in real life.
If you and I were walking down the street or passed each other in a shopping center, and we did not know each other, that “event” would not be something we remember. It would not register with us as something that happened or to be remembered.
Let’s say we were both at a party and a mutual friend introduced us to each other. Our friends told us about each other, our businesses, maybe that we live close to each other, etc. Let’s say we had a good although brief initial conversation at the party and then went on our way. That event is something we will remember for a while. If we never ran into each other again, we would soon forget about each other in all likelihood.
As fate would have it, we lived close by and we saw each other while out on a walk. We recognized each other, smiled, and said hi. Now let’s say we kept running into each other and eventually started to strike up conversations when we ran into each other. After a few months, we knew each other, liked each other, and generally had good feelings toward each other. It turns out our kids also attended the same school and were of similar ages. We even started to plan to meet at school-themed events and sporting events.
Let’s say that my new friend was a roofer. After a bad storm, my roof started to leak. I think to myself, do I know a roofer? Aha! I do know a roofer and I already know, like, and trust him! I call my roofer friend and set up a repair job.
Backlinks to a Website are how Google Meets a new Website
The way you and I meet someone new and over time get to know, like, and trust someone is what backlinks do for Google. How does a Search Engine like Google get to know like and trust a website? Through Backlinks. Backlinks are like introductions from a person. They introduce Google to our website and help it understand the type of company it keeps (reputation), what it is about based on where the backlink comes from, and more.
A few low quality random backlinks over time will not cause Google to know your website or trust your website. No matter how great it looks, most websites are not very memorable. To put it another way, without multiple quality backlinks, Google AI is “just not that into you”.
Let’s change the scenario. If we start to have multiple quality backlinks from reputable sites point to our website over time and they are all about specific things related to what our website is about, that becomes more memorable and Google starts to recognize our site. If this pattern keeps up in a natural way over time we become a website that Google knows, understands what our site is about, and trusts that our site is really about what we say it is about due to our quality backlinks.
So the non jargonny takeaway is: a core principle of SEO is that Google AI needs to be introduced to your website multiple times or your website is just not that memorable to it.
If you want to get serious about ranking your website, being known is nice, however, is your website a Ford Focus or a Formula One Race Car? Hint, you need a Race Car just to enter a race…
If you want to enter a professional race, what do you need? If you said a race car driver, that is close, however, you need a Race Car in order to qualify. Based on the type of race (Formula One, Nascar, Drag Racing, etc.) there are specific mandatory requirements that your car must meet to be able to qualify to race.
If you have a new nicely maintained BMW 7 series car, it looks nice, but it is not enough to qualify you to enter a Formula One race. You need a race car specifically designed for a Formula One race.
Most websites are designed by web designers and creative types. I am not knocking what they do in any way. There are some beautiful websites out there and that is a web designer’s job – to create beautiful websites. However, few website designers understand SEO at a level that is needed to win the SEO race.
I like Honda’s. Honda as a company knows how to design race cars, however, a stock Honda Civic Sport (or even R), is not going to win a Nascar race, or even let you qualify to try out! If I wanted to enter a Nascar race (it is not in my future according to my wife), I would need a car and a team that understood how to prepare and maintain that car for a Nascar level race.
Coming back to SEO, we talked about introducing Google to a website through backlinks. However, unless our website is set up correctly and at the top of its game, backlinks alone are not enough to win the SEO ranking race in most cases. At the bare minimum, we need to implement On-Page SEO tactics to prepare our website to compete and have a chance at ranking.
On-Page SEO helps Google AI understand our website in a way that makes sense to it. It involves some simple things like having our content arranged and marked up in ways to help Google follow along, and some more technical complicated things which are beyond this article.
Just like our race car example, doing basic on-page SEO is just the starting point to qualify our website for the SEO race. If we really want to take it seriously and win, we need a team to monitor, maintain and tune up our high-performance website and add new proving cutting-edge technologies as they become available.
Summing Up How SEO Works
Search Engines don’t just show a website in their rankings. Most websites are nearly or completely invisible to Google. In order to get noticed, you have to get a website noticed. You need to introduce Google to your website over time with backlinks from a variety of websites, directory listings, citations, and other online places. Just like in real life, Google evaluates what is being said about your website and who is saying it and makes assessments and judgments based on these factors. Good backlinks are helpful, but backlinks from sketchy sites are not helpful and can be harmful.
Once Google has been properly introduced to your website through backlinks, you also need to make sure your website is set up in a way that Google can understand it. The one with the best backlinks and most easily understood website (on-page SEO) wins the race!