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How Do Search Engines Work?

Search engines organize information, and they do this in a very robust manner. They’ve got warehouses of servers, big campuses of mathematicians formulating the most advanced algorithmic formulas; to organize every piece of data they can find on the internet, and they’re very good at organizing this information to present to you. They serve one major purpose, and that’s to answer questions. These questions are essentially search queries. When you go to Google and type in anything at all, that’s basically a question:

"Where do I buy a pumpkin?"
"Where do I shop for laundry detergent?"
"What’s the best SEO company?

Whatever your question, Google attempts to answer it with the relevant data they find.

Search engines index a lot of types of content; not just articles, not just blog posts or news. They index PDF files, they index MP3s, and they index video. They’re even indexing mobile applications now – Android applications, so you can see mobile applications in search results IF the mobile application developer optimizes their code correctly. Google has actually released the code so you can do that. The point is that there are a lot of different types of media that they’re able to index.

What is “Universal Search”, and What Does It Mean For My Company?

Universal search – this means that Google is using their algorithms to search for dozens of different types of media for any given search query. If you were to search the term “tsunami”, for example, you’re going to see a listing for:

  • - Government resources
  • - Wikipedia entries
  • - YouTube videos
  • - Images
  • - News items
  • - Social media listings

You’re going to see a restaurant, a weather station, and in-depth articles. So, everything on that search results page is a different type of media. It’s important to understand this, because the keywords and search terms that relate to your business may be better served by multiple types of media. The first tip is to understand what those different types of media are.

You have to understand your industry or business and what types of media users favor in that industry. Understanding your search environment is really important. The reason you need to understand this type of environment may be because results in search queries have different types of media entries, much like the tsunami example above. You can actually go and create pages on your website or blog and create content that is a combination of the various types of media. You may discover that your site visitors respond to video content, so you know that if you post videos to your blog, users will respond favorably. You could also include MP3 downloads. Throw in a PDF or an in-depth news article and you’ve got a pretty good chance of ranking a resource in that space. You’ve covered your bases, and created “rich media”, which the search engines love, and you’ve set things up to rank well in search queries for content of that nature.

How Does “Rich Media” Help With Search Engine Rankings?

There are lots of different types of rich media, and search engines love these because they answer search queries more accurately. Ultimately, they favor useful resources. What that means is that the search engines favor content that is comprised of:

  • - Video
  • - Images that are unique and original
  • - Fresh or recently updated information
  • - Trusted and authoritative content
  • - Combination pages with varied media formats

It’s important to ask yourself when looking at search results, “does my content deserve to rank?” Let’s say you want to rank for “pumpkin patch Orange County”, for example. You would look at the first page of results on Google, and you’ll probably see some local listings, some news articles, and other items. What makes YOUR page worthy of being in that space? A sample page might have an article, some download links to other resources, a news item, some images, perhaps a white paper or similar object. Google and the other search engines love resources like this, because they are chock-full of useful data and information that they know will serve the end user.

What Are Ranking Factors, And How Can I Leverage Them for Improved Search Engine Rankings?

Different queries, or questions, or industries, call different parts of these search engine algorithms. What this means is that something in the medical field might fall under different criteria than something in the fitness realm or a cooking resource. You have to keep in mind your own business or industry and be aware of the different criteria that may be important to that industry. Here’s an example: let’s say you have an e-commerce store, and you’re selling sports products. Ranking factors for your industry may be things like product reviews, unique descriptions of those products. It could even be something like the security of your website, because people may be completing sales transactions on that site and they want their financial information secured. You have to consider how many products are on the site – just one, or a whole range of items? So, you can see how many factors may apply for an e-commerce site.

A medical site may have different criteria, such as the validity or trusted nature of the information being presented. Does it look like the information was written by a medical professional, or someone in a cube farm in the Philippines, or a college student? With these examples, you can see that different criteria apply to different industries, and the search engines take these criteria into account when rendering search results. Here is an example of why that is so crucial: say you’re researching something in the medical field like a diagnosis for some condition, or a prescription recommendation. That information MUST be accurate – lives may be at stake, so there are very strict criteria the search engines apply given the industry or the type of information. Other queries, such as how to make a birthday cake, may not require such strict adherence to those criteria – a cake recipe doesn’t necessarily have to be authoritative -- but other criteria may apply based on the nature of the search in question.

Topic relevance is a big factor. Imagine that the words on the page, or the nature of the content set off a trigger within the search engine’s algorithm that this is medically-related content. The search engine will then run algorithms, churning through specific criteria based on the nature of that page’s content.

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