How Google Works – What You Must Know About Search Marketing

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How Google Works – A Business Model

Google has an extraordinary business model. It spends billions of dollars on their products – Google Search, Gmail, Google Maps, Google Earth, Google Apps for Business, to name just a few – and gives them away for free. They make money only when people use them, and to use them, people must trust them. For Google Search, this means that Google wants its customers, people searching for something, to be happy with the results. Over the years, they have done an outstanding job! The company name is now a verb.

Because people trust Google’s results, typically and possibly exclusively, people click on the top result of their search, or at least one of the top three. Like the Olympics, after the first three places, no one cares. And the best place in the universe to hide a dead body is the second page of Google search results. This makes the top 10 positions of a Google search very valuable. Some studies have shown that in over a third of all searches the user clicks the number one result and nearly three-quarters click one of the top three results. A company that has achieved the top ranking can look forward to a lot of relevant visitors to its web site.

How Google Works – The Choice of First Place

But how does Google decide on who is first? It is done in two stages. In the first stage, Google “indexes” each page it can find of each web site it can find. It has programs that can “crawl” through the worldwide web and find new pages and sites. Or web masters can send a file (a “site map”) to Google to request a page or site be indexed. This indexing reads the content of the site and essentially “guesses” what the site is about. In the second stage, Google send users to the site to test the guess. For example, reading the site content, Google suspects that the site has something to do with coffee. So for some period of time, some say three to six months, Google, from time to time, will “artificially” rank a new site at the top so users select it. Google then watches how the user interacts with the site. Do they buy something, download something, browse around different pages for a while, fill in an enquiry form, or do they leave immediately? In the first case, Google know that that site was useful to that user for that search term and will elevate that site a bit for that search term. In the second case, Google knows that at least for this user, the site wasn’t what they were looking for. So by watching users interact with the site, Google can tell if the site is relevant and useful for “coffee”, or not, and ranks it accordingly.

If the site is useful for “coffee”, for example, Google will then expand the set of search terms it tests on the site. Useful for “coffee” searchers, is it also useful for “coffee beans”, “coffee machine”, “cappuccino”, or “coffee cake”? Remember, Google wants its customers to be thrilled with its choice of the top three to ten choices. And if the site is the best one available for “coffee beans”, it might also be the best for “coffee machines”. In this way, an optimised site may rank highly for many, and in some cases, many, many different search terms.

What this means is there is no short cut to your site’s Google rankings. Your rankings are not a function of your site content, except where it is useful to users who get to your site. This is why most SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) campaigns fail. In some sense, Google considers the “SEO guy” the enemy. When you look at an SEO checklist, you see items such as the length of titles, the “meta-data”, the number of words on a page, the presence of keywords or keyword phrases, etc. In essence, the SEO guy is trying to “trick” Google into ranking a site well based on the content alone, not content as useful to a visitor searching for something. It doesn’t matter what the index process thinks the site is about based on content, if it’s not useful to real users, the site won’t rank well, or won’t rank well for long.

What This Means to You

How do you use Google’s process to the advantage of your business? How do you get your site to rank well? The short answer is: your site has to be the best for the search phrase Google uses to send visitors to your site. And in web sites, as in all of life, there is no shortcut to quality. Your site cannot just pretend to be the best, or try to be the best, or use SEO techniques alone.

To rank well, your site actually has to be relevant, useful, authoritative, safe and available. Let’s look at these separately:

  • Relevant: If a user is looking for “coffee” and your site is about “bicycle tyres”, Google is not going to send any “coffee” searchers to you. So the question you want to ask yourself is, who do you want to come to your site, and how do you make your site relevant to those visitors? This almost always means qualifying what you optimise your site for. Many think that optimising for “paint” is better because there are thousands of searches a day for “paint”, so if you could get even a small fraction of those searchers coming to your site, you’d be happy. But the issue with this is that there are many, many kinds of paint: automotive, house, portrait, finger, etc. And unless you cover the gamut, you will get a lot of “bounces”, people searching for the “wrong” kind of paint. Google will see these people coming to your site and not finding it useful, and will down-rank your site. Who do you want to come to your site, who is your “perfect” visitor? What would they search for? And then optimise for that.
  • Useful: Of all the relevant sites, Google is going to send searchers to the ones that are the most useful for their search phrase. Having decided who you want to come to your site, how are you going to serve that visitor? Your focus must not just be what you want them to do (for example, buy something), but must include what the visitor wants (for example, price or feature comparison, product specifications or other details, etc.). You site must be vibrant, easy to use, easy to navigate, easy for the visitor to find what they Else, the visitor will leave and Google may take that departure as justification for changing your ranking.
  • Authoritative: Of all the relevant and useful sites, which is the most authoritative, or the most credible? One of the SEO techniques is “link building”. Having other sites refer to your site can elevate your authority, your credibility. Done incorrectly, link building can be detrimental to your site’s rankings.
  • Safe: Remembering that Google wants its customers to be thrilled with the top ranked sites, a site that has virus infestations, other malware, email harvesters, or excessive advertisements, or has been hacked, will not rank well.
  • Available: This one is often forgotten. How your site is hosted makes a difference. Even if your site is perfect in every other regard, if it is on a server that is down 20% of the time, or is hosted with 3,500 other sites and takes 26 seconds to load, it won’t rank well as users are not thrilled to be directed to that site.

What You Can Do

First, if you don’t have a great web site, get one. Improve the one you have or start over with a brand new, vibrant, compelling, gorgeous web site. You don’t have to spend a fortune, but the days of getting by with a site that your neighbour’s daughter’s boyfriend’s cousin built for $200 are long gone. Find a reputable company that you can trust, because you are, literally, putting your online future into their hands.

Next, identify who are your best visitors. Like most things, if you try to have your site appeal to everyone, it will appeal to no one. Who are your best customers? Your second best? Then design your site to appeal to those visitors. Have those visitors be gobsmacked by your web site. Look from what would serve those visitors, rather than what you want. In order to rank well, you site needs to be something people want to visit. Be of service and visitors will be thrilled.

Optimise your site for your key visitors, but resist the temptation to use anything but the best optimisation techniques. There are a lot of “black hat” tricks that some unscrupulous SEO practitioners will try to use to artificially raise your site’s rankings. These may work in the short term, but long term, the only way to rank well is to have a great site that visitors find useful.

If at all possible, select a web company that can both build and optimise your site. Optimising only the content and the meta-data without optimising the user’s experience of visiting the site is less than half the job. And best of all is selecting a company who takes on their job as one of causing the rankings, not just reporting on them.

Finally, select a great hosting company, one that provides full service support. This includes maintenance of the server as well as your web site, a robust backup and recovery process should you need it, and a phone number you can call. There will be a pull to find the cheapest possible hosting provider, after all, what difference does it make? Not surprisingly, it makes all the difference.


Google’s success depends on its customers’ trust. To keep that trust, Google defends its credibility ferociously. If it finds a site that ranks well but is not the best, it changes how it ranks sites so that site is no longer at or near the top. There is no short cut. In a very real sense, Google’s goal is to elevate the quality of the world wide web, one site at a time.

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