Understanding Google Search and SEO

Last updated on July 15th, 2023 at 01:49 am

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of making your site attractive to search engines, and it’s a business buzzword for a reason. Every single site on the web is vying for the same users’ attention, and those lacking good SEO can be left in the dust. Your website isn’t going to burst into flames without it, but without a significant number of visitors, your content will sit there, unobserved and serving very little purpose.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is a good SEO score. It takes time to build trust with search engines the same way it does with users. Google Search Central has this to say: “Crawling can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Be patient and monitor progress using either the Index Status report or the URL Inspection tool.” With patience and diligence, you can curate a reputation that naturally attracts organic traffic.

It’s a big, slow job, but it’s doable. And more importantly, it’s necessary if you want your business to gain traction online.

It’s All About Organic Search Traffic

What’s “organic” about website traffic, you ask? Organic search traffic is the term used for real human queries that lead to your website. It’s the golden calf for SEOs (people who optimize for search engines), the thing everyone’s trying to get. That’s because you can get a spike in your traffic through SEM (Search Engine Marketing) tactics like paid ads and promoted content, but real lasting success comes from good, old-fashioned organic search.

Think about it this way: Search engines make their money by being the best way to surf the web. Google has built its empire on matching people’s search intent with the best relevant content on the web. If they stopped doing that, people would move to other companies for their search needs. So it’s important to Google to serve the user in every possible way. To do this, they created a dynamic algorithm called PageRank with 200+ criteria to determine which web pages to show on the first page of the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) for each and every search.

Let’s talk more about how that works. 

Photo by Israel Andrade on Unsplash

How Does Google Search Work?

This is a big question. Google keeps some secrets about the inner workings of the PageRank algorithm, but they’re open enough that SEOs have a pretty good idea of the criteria it’s looking for in a webpage. 

Behind the scenes, there are three steps to the search process, and it begins long before you ever submit your query.


The search engine uses bots called “crawlers” or “spiders” to find webpages and download their content, starting from pages already in the index and following links from there to explore new content. They also run any JavaScript found on the page in order to catch content that only shows up when the page is rendered. Google’s crawlers run on a program called Googlebot

“There isn’t a central registry of all web pages, so Google must constantly look for new and updated pages and add them to its list of known pages. This process is called ‘URL discovery’.” – Google Search Central


To add a page to the index, Google compares the content with content found on other pages on the same site to decide which page is canonical and which pages may be duplicate content. Google only indexes the main (canonical) page in order to save time and resources during the crawling and serving stages. The duplicate pages may be served in different contexts, like mobile browsers and 

Google analyzes the content, looking for highly readable design, logical structure, keywords and keyphrases, and images and videos to determine what the page is about. It also takes note of the country the server is located in, the language the page is written in, and other factors that will come in handy during the next step.


This is the step where search finally starts, where Google gives you the results you’re looking for! Google is proud of how fast this is, so proud that just under your query, you’ll see a notice of how fast it delivered the results. In fact, Google doesn’t even wait for you to finish typing to get going. There’s a feature called Google Instant where the browser suggests auto-complete phrases to you as you type to speed up your search experience. 

In order to serve up the most relevant results, Google’s PageRank algorithm uses the information collected in the Crawling stage and evaluated in the Indexing stage to match keywords and keyphrases in your query with the hundreds or thousands of pages in its index. All the data it’s collected about the page’s quality, relevance, structure, age, speed, popularity, etc., goes into a single rank number that decides how far down your page will appear for a particular search query.

Search is a more complex and involved process than most people realize. If you’re a website owner, it’s important to understand what’s under the hood of search engines in order to optimize your content and rank higher on the SERPs.

Photo by Arlington Research on Unsplash

Attracting Organic Website Traffic With SEO

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, Search Engine Optimization is the process of priming your website for higher search rankings. Since search engines don’t tell the public all of their criteria, there is no official checklist of SEO to-dos. Wouldn’t that be nice? But that doesn’t mean that a whole lot of very smart people haven’t worked out methods that work.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be releasing a comprehensive SEO guide to help you build up your ranking ability, so be sure to check back here so you don’t miss it! In the meantime and in no particular order, here’s a brief list of the most important factors in SEO.

  1. Content Quality (How helpful is your content to the user?)
  2. Keyword Use (Are you using enough targeted, relevant keywords in your content?)
  3. Site Niche (Is it easy to tell what you site is about? Is all of your content relevant?)
  4. Search Intent (Does your content match the reason for your user’s search?)
  5. Page Speed (Does your page load in a reasonable timeframe?)
  6. Site Structure (Is your site easy to navigate?)
  7. Sitemaps (XML and HTML sitemaps help crawlers and users find the right content.)
  8. Readability (Page contrast, hierarchy, white space, and other design factors.)
  9. Link Building (Links to and from other websites.)
  10. Visual Content (Images, videos, and infographics that engage the user.)
  11. Accessibility (Alt tags, clear descriptions, logical structure, etc.)
  12. Meta Data (Meta titles, meta descriptions, alt tags, etc.)

Before, I called organic search traffic the “golden calf for SEOs,” but that’s a little misleading because it implies that it’s not as important as people think—a false god, if you will. In reality, organic search traffic is more like manna from Heaven. If you please the search-engine gods, they send it down in showers of prosperity.

Photo by Studio Republic on Unsplash

Domain Authority

You’ll hear a lot about Domain Authority (DA) in the SEO world. I want to let you know now that Google has explicitly stated that it uses no such metric in the page ranking process. If organic traffic was the golden calf, then many SEOs treat domain authority as the kiln that forged the idol. But I want you to know (because I didn’t for a long time) that it’s actually a concept drawn up by Moz, an SEO company, to visualize the likelihood that a domain will rank against its competitors. Read: It has nothing to do with your ranking. In fact, sites with low domain authority regularly outrank sites with higher scores.

That doesn’t mean that DA is useless. It is a sign of ranking ability, but take it with a grain of salt. Browsers have to sort through millions and millions of pages regularly, and the job of presenting users with helpful content is not a simple one. The algorithms work on logic as much as possible, but sometimes, guesswork is necessary. So browsers look for queues that a particular web page is a good resource. 

Wrapping Up

You’ve just taken the first step in your SEO journey! There are many steps ahead, but if you take it slow, immerse yourself in the vocabulary, and expect some hard work, you’ll soon be a contender for the first page of Google!

I’m excited to announce that I’m finally able to make a grander commitment to this blog, so as a part of my own SEO journey, I’ll be publishing daily content on web development and SEO marketing from now on! If you got something valuable out of this article, please share it with someone you know who could benefit from it as well.

Overwhelmed by everything that’s required for a good SEO score? Get in touch! Studio O’Riley is here to help small businesses succeed online, offering web development, SEO marketing, and content creation. Not sure where to start? Let’s talk. I’m always happy to answer questions. 

Speaking of questions, leave one in the comments. I take requests, so who knows? I might turn your question into a whole article in the coming weeks!

One Comment

  1. Good stuff! Congratulations on educating so many of us.

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