How Do The Search Engines Actually Work? 

As a society, we have grown dependent on search engines. Today, it’s easier than ever to run to the internet and find the answer to nearly any question that plagues us. From our most personal questions to the most basic, the search engines have become our main source for finding information. But have you ever stopped to wonder how they do it? How do search engines work?

Crawling

It all starts with the search engine spider. In order to deliver information to users, the search engines first have to know what information is out there. Each search engine has its own ‘spider’ which is a program that enables the search engines to ‘crawl’ or read the backend code of websites. (You can see the code of any website by right-clicking on the website and viewing the source.) The search engine spider travels from page to page and website to website by way of links, much like you would click links to navigate a website. The search engine spider then follows those links to travel to other pages and other websites.

TitanBOT, Titan Growth’s spider was built to copy the way that search engine spiders crawl and pull data.  Watch this video to learn more about how TitanBOT and search engine spiders in general crawl through websites. 

 

Indexing

When the spider crawls pages, it copies the code and then ‘indexes’ that information. Indexing essentially means they save the information to the search engine’s databases. Imagine that a search engine’s database is a library and each website is a book. If the search engine spider crawls a website for the first time, it will add a new book to the library. In addition, if a current website adds new pages, the spiders will find and add those pages to the existing book in the library. Since search engines always want to deliver the newest and most relevant data, the search engine spiders are constantly crawling the web searching for new information and updates to add to the library.

From Their Database To Your Desktop

So how is a search engine able to sort through its arsenal of data to bring you the answers you’re looking for? The answer is algorithms. Search engines have an advanced set of algorithms in place, which are conditions that must be met in order for a specific piece of data to be taken from the library and shown to you. When you type a query into the search bar, the search engine looks through its massive database and uses algorithms to filter out what is relevant to your query. Based on their algorithms, the search engine will show you what they feel is most relevant to your question.

Where Does SEO Fit In?

SEO is a strategy which helps search engines to better identify websites and helps websites get in front of relevant searchers. By making sure the website’s code is readable, easy to navigate and functional for the spiders, SEO’s can maximize the number of indexed pages. But just because your website is indexed doesn’t mean that it will necessarily be shown in the search results; that’s where SEO’s come in again. SEO agencies do a number of things to show a site’s relevancy and convince the search engines that site should rank on the first page. This makes it much easier for search engines to realize what the website’s pages are about so they can place the results in front of relative queries.

And that’s how search engines work! A very condensed version of a very complex process; but thanks to search technology and algorithms we’re able to get immediate answers to our searches anywhere in the world, with a simple click of the mouse. Search on, searchers!

Submitted by Erica Machin, Titan Growth

Mobile-Geddon: Google’s Upcoming Shift To The Mobile-First Index

It has been over a decade since Steve Jobs introduced the world to the iPhone. Since then, the ubiquity and availability of smartphones have exploded, giving way to the mobile age. There has been a flurry of changes and societal shifts that consumers have experienced in that time span, yet one of the biggest bombshells is something that the average consumer won’t necessarily see: the mobile-first index.

While consumers won’t see the mobile-first index, businesses will feel its effects. Announced in late 2016, the mobile index is a foundational shift in how Google ranks websites. The basics are simple: Google is going to start crawling websites with their mobile user agent, replicating how a mobile user views a site. The search engine giant has been ranking websites based on their desktop site since its inception, so this alteration is monumental.

How This Affects You

You may be thinking to yourself, “I already have a mobile site” or “I don’t think this will affect my desktop rankings” Think again.

The mobile-first index is specially designed to weigh mobile pages significantly more than their desktop counterpart. This means that if the content on your mobile site is not at the very least equivalent to your desktop version, your rankings could suffer immensely. Google is not simply making separate indexes for mobile and desktop. This is a single index that is mobile-focused.

What Can I Do?

Preparation is your best friend. Even though the launch date for the mobile-first index is still up in the air, making sure your mobile site is up to snuff is best practice.

Responsive and Dynamic-Serving Sites
First and foremost, if you already have a responsive or dynamic-serving site, you shouldn’t have to change anything. Having these types of sites affords you the convenience of having equivalent content across mobile and desktop versions. Though, it is highly recommended you take a dive into Google’s Webmaster Tools to ensure your site is running smoothly and effectively on both desktop and mobile versions.

Desktop-Only Sites
If your primary website content is on a desktop-only version, fret not. Google’s mobile user agent can crawl a desktop-only website, but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make any changes. Right now, you have the luxury of time on your side to make this mobile-first transition seamless for your website and business.

A few things to keep in mind when building your mobile website:

Content that is hidden behind “read more” links will be able to rank on mobile sites, unlike desktop sites

  • Google acknowledges that “read more” links make more sense on mobile due to space constraints
    You do not have to make changes to your canonical links, mobile or desktop
  • Google will continue to use the links as guides to serve appropriate results to a user searching on mobile or desktop
    Verify the mobile version of your site is crawlable using the robots.txt tool within Google Search Console

What NOT To Do

Avoiding all the pitfalls of Mobile-geddon can tricky, but not an impossible feat.

Being Unprepared/Not Doing Anything
Typically, Google is very tight-lipped on any algorithm changes or updates to their search index… much to the chagrin of SEO Analysts. What is striking about the mobile-first index is that Google is peeling back the curtain and being transparent about the upcoming changes. This goes to show how big of a deal and how jarring the mobile-first transition is. The best thing you can do is to prepare for this switch, and Google is allowing for ample transition time.

Rush to Push Out a Mobile-Friendly Site
Instead of rushing to push out a mobile site that is poorly patched together, take the time to make a quality mobile site and launch it when it is ready. A mobile version of your site that is incomplete and quickly thrown together will not put you in a better position. User experience is a key metric for websites, ensure that yours is excellent.

Neglect One Site in Favor of the Other
If you decide to make a mobile site separate from your desktop site (i.e. not a responsive/dynamic-serving site), you need to remember that you now have two websites to update. It is best that both sites have content that is at least equivalent, so what goes on one, must go on the other. Responsive and dynamic-serving sites are usually best for the technologically-adverse individuals, but if you enjoy being extremely hands-on, two sites should be no issue.

I Have a Mobile Site, Now What?
Once you have a quality mobile site built up, remember to add and verify it in Search Console. Google offers a variety of tools to ensure that your mobile site is ready for the mobile-first index:

Mobile Friendly Test
https://search.google.com/test/mobile-friendly

Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test is one of the easiest and most helpful tools on the internet. This tool tests how easily a visitor can use your page on a mobile device. All you have to do is enter a page URL to see how your page scores. It will provide a complete run-down of pages within your site that have trouble loading and what steps you can take to remedy them.

PageSpeed Insights
https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/

PageSpeed Insights is a quick way to identify how to optimize both your desktop and mobile sites to make your webpage load faster for a better user experience. This tool crawls your entire website, rates it on a scale of 1-100, and makes recommendations on image optimizations, areas to leverage browser caching, places to eliminate render-blocking JavaScript, and more.

Google Guides
https://developers.google.com/search/mobile-sites/

https://developers.google.com/search/mobile-sites/mobile-seo/

Written by the Google themselves, these guides are terrific reads and a great way to ensure your site is mobile-friendly. I understand that the phrase “Google Guides” may not get your engine revving, but these guides are informative, easy to read and take you step-by-step through making a mobile-friendly website. These resources are invaluable and will ensure that your website is ready for the mobile shift.

How We Reached This Point

The Prevalence of Smartphones

Since the early 2000s, smartphones like the Palm Treo 600 and the Blackberry ushered in a new mobile era. These phones were among the first to introduce mobile web features, including calendar access, contacts, and email. One of the landmark features of these phones was the inclusion of a keyboard directly on the device, allowing an easy interface for typing.

In 2007, Apple introduced the world to the iPhone and the shift to a mobile-first world was kicked into high gear. Demand for the iPhone, and smartphones alike, has only increased year over year, with consumers clamoring for the latest and greatest in smartphone technology. With a heavily saturated market, the availability of smartphones and access to the mobile web has increased at an extremely high rate, making mobile-friendly websites imperative to businesses.

The Mobile Moment
In the second half of 2015, Google had their “Mobile Moment”. For the first time ever, more Google searches occurred on mobile devices than on computers in 10 countries including the United States and Japan. This was a groundbreaking shift in how consumers accessed the internet.

Mobile may just be the tip of the iceberg. Consumers are accessing information through alternative means as well. Smartphone apps are continuing to carve out a foothold in how consumers receive their information and voice assistants like Siri, Cortana, and Alexa are ushering in the era of voice search.

Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMPs)
https://www.ampproject.org/

In the same year Google had their “Mobile Moment”, Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMPs) were introduced. This open source initiative, an effort between Google and Twitter, was designed to make mobile pages extremely fast. AMP pages are built with three core components:

AMP HTML

HTML with some restrictions for reliable performance

AMP JavaScript

The AMP JS library ensures the fast rendering of AMP HTML pages

AMP Cache

The Google AMP Cache can be used to serve cached AMP HTML pages

Together, these three components deliver mobile pages that are fast, simple, and hyper-mobile-focused.

Mobile Search Stats

While advancements in technology have aided the push for a mobile-first index, consumers are ultimately the ones who decide whether a trend lives or dies. Here are a few stats to show that mobile is here to stay:

Google Stats:

  • More than 50% of search queries globally are from mobile devices
  • 2015: 68% of smartphone users check their phones within 15 minutes of waking up
  • Since the 2015 launch of AMP Pages, there are now 2 Billion AMP Pages covering more than 900,000 domains
  • As a page load time goes from 1 second to 7 seconds, the probability of a mobile site visitors bouncing increases 113%… speed matters!
  • Nearly one-third of all mobile searches are related to location… and that number is growing
  • In 2016, a Hitwise study reported that 58% of US search queries are from mobile devices
  • The Pew Research Center reported for 2017:
  • 77% of Americans own a smartphone (up from 35% in 2011)
  • 1/10 Americans are “smartphone-only internet users, meaning they own a smartphone, but do not have traditional home broadband service
  • eMarketer reported that more than 8 in 10 internet users will use a mobile phone to access the web regularly in 2017

The Bottom Line

Mobile is the future. We have only scratched the surface on what the mobile web is capable of. Be ready for the mobile-first index and ensure that your website is mobile-friendly.

Debunking SEO Myths

The field of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is rife with myths and misunderstandings for two main reasons: it seems fairly complicated to the layperson, and the field is constantly changing. SEO doesn’t have to seem so complex and challenging, however, and we’d like to take some time to debunk some of the most common SEO myths.

1. SEO is a one-time event; then you’re done. We wish it were that simple, but the fact is, SEO work is an ongoing project. Your website should always be considered a “work-in-progress”, and with the constant search engine updates, technology changes, and online competition, businesses can’t afford to sit on their marketing laurels. A good SEO agency or in-house team will have plenty of work getting (and keeping) your site ranked to keep them busy month after month.

2. Keyword density or keyword loading will help get you ranked. Keyword density is an important factor in your web site’s usability and relevance (of which search engines do take account), but loading your web pages with your top keyword phrases in an overly-redundant fashion will not only be obvious to searchers but will also make your site look spammy to search engine spiders. Best practices suggest using your keywords as often as you can while still making the content flow naturally. Long story short: make your pages user-friendly and helpful with readable and original content, and update your site as needed.

3. Meta tags boost rankings. This has not been the case for years. Search engines got wise to spammers trying to manipulate meta tags several years back and have not used them in ranking algorithms since. While maintaining good, relevant meta tags and descriptions will create a cleaner, more professional-looking site, it will not affect your rankings. It will, however, probably aid in getting better click-throughs for existing rankings, as search engines use them for the description text on search results.

4. The more links, the better rankings. This all depends on the kinds and quality of links you have on your website. It is the number of inbound links to your website that is key in promoting rankings. Your goal should be to create such a user-friendly and interesting website that other people naturally create links to your pages. This will indicate to search engines that you are relevant, and will help increase your rankings. Striking a deal with another company for reciprocal links is easy for search engines to catch on to, and you will probably get dinged for it. Also, paying for links will get you more links, but you should do this with caution, since you will have a high probability of getting poor quality links or worse: being connected to a “bad neighborhood” of sites such as those that install viruses, do cloaking, sell pills, porn, and the like.

There are many more SEO myths than the ones listed above, but these are some of the ones we hear about most frequently. If you have any questions about SEO, contact your SEO company, since most agencies enjoy educating their clients on the type of work they are doing on their site. SEO doesn’t have to be a complicated, scary topic, and knowing the basics will always be beneficial for your marketing strategies.

Contributed by Amanda Finch, VP Operations