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

There are as many misconceptions about SEO as there are ranking factors. And they can seem just as confusing to figure out. Some of the most common SEO myths are:

  1. SEO is a one-time event
  2. Repeating keywords helps rankings
  3. Direct ranking factors matter most
  4. Meta keywords are useful
  5. Other meta tags don’t matter
  6. The more links the better
  7. CTR is a direct ranking factor
  8. PPC benefits SEO
  9. Social media is a ranking factor
  10. Bing doesn’t matter
  11. The higher the word count the better
  12. The E-A-T Score
  13. Older domains rank higher
  14. PageRank is dead

Believing the wrong myths can get us in serious trouble. Lightning never strikes the same place twice. Pee neutralizes jellyfish stings. Pregnant women like complete strangers touching their stomach.

SEO is no different.

Want to avoid getting struck by lightning or having someone pee on your leg for no reason, digitally speaking? Then don’t make the mistake of believing every SEO myth that comes your way.

 

Why So Many SEO Myths Exist

Because search engines are super shady about how they rank websites.

Google: We rank sites based on 200 factors.

Bing: That’s cute. We use 1,000 factors.

Google: On second thought, we use 10,000 factors. Come at us bro!

Us: Wow, that’s a lot you guys. What are they?

Bing:

Google:

SEO is anything but straightforward. And transparent. But beyond that enlightening conversation, there’s two main reasons why SEO is so often misunderstood.

  1. It can seem complicated
  2. It’s constantly changing

As a result, the scientific field of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is rife with myths and misconceptions.

 

Why Misconceptions About SEO Are So Dangerous

At best, a misleading SEO myth will keep your pages from ranking as well as they could. At worst, it will destroy your business like a baby pig eating cake.

To ensure a baby pig doesn’t eat your business, we’d like to take some time to debunk the most common SEO myths.

To many, SEO is a mystery. Just like modern art, cats, keeping cactuses alive, and correctly using the word “literally.” They might act like they get it, but they don’t. Not really.

But it doesn’t have to be that way, no matter how new you are to this whole SEO thing.

So consider this the SEO version of 5th grade sex ed. We’re going to share with you the facts of search. Only instead of the awkwardness, shame, and funny feelings, you can leave confident your strategy is on the right track and you’re practicing safe SEO.

 

SEO Myths You Should Definitely Ignore

1. SEO Is a One-Time Event

We wish it were that simple. Fact is, SEO is ongoing. It’s a neverending story of tag tweaks, broken link checks, redirects, speed updates, and keyword research. You shower everyday, don’t you? At the very least twice a week. SEO deserves the same attention. Because fresh content ranks best.

Your website should always be considered a “work-in-progress.” 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.

There’s a reason why 74% of SEO pros charge a monthly retainer. Hourly or one-time flat rates go against success. SEO requires a long term investment to see results.

 

2. Repeating Keywords Helps Rankings

We just can’t seem to shake this SEO myth. Keyword density (the % of times a keyword appears on a web page) can be a strong indicator of your site’s relevance to a given search query. But overloading your web pages with the same keyword phrases in an overly-redundant fashion doesn’t add much benefit.

Most notably:

  • It can detract from user experience
  • It looks spammy to search engine crawlers
  • It can result in penalizations

Still do keyword research, but focus more on the overall intent of your content rather than inputting specific words in a specific order.

 

3. Direct Ranking Factors Matter Most

Most of the SEO myths on this list are due to semantics. Specifically, direct vs indirect ranking factors.

Direct factors are things — like backlinks or core web vitals — that directly impact rankings. They’re tangible items we can clearly check off our things-to-improve SEO list. But there are tons of other intangible factors that influence ranking beyond these. These are known as indirect factors.

Over at Moz, Rand Fishkin breaks down whether SEOs should care ONLY about direct ranking factors:

Answer: No.

Indirect factors can be just as important as direct factors. It’s important to remember that SEO is a means to an end. Through SEO you are trying to get your audience to visit your site to take a particular action. Anything that supports that goal, whether it’s tangibly calculable or not, is worth pursuing.

 

4. Meta Keywords Are Useful

Search engines got wise to spammers trying to manipulate meta tags so stopped using many of them in their ranking algorithms. The most famous of these are meta keywords.

Google doesn’t use meta keywords in their search ranking. How do we know this? Because Google said:

“…we don’t use the keywords meta tag in our search ranking.”

Bing put it even more plainly.

If you want to tell your competitors about the exact keywords you’re targeting so they can subvert your efforts then definitely use meta tags. Otherwise skip them. They hold no SEO value. That is unless your SEO targets Yandex (Russia’s search engine) or Baidu (China’s search engine), both of which indicate meta keywords hold some relevance.

 

5. Other Meta Tags Don’t Matter

Meta tags are lines of text in a page’s source code that describe a page’s content. They look something like this:

<meta name=”description” content=”This post is about debunking SEO myths and misocneptions. Read me because I’m awesome.” />

Some don’t matter (and are recommended against), like meta keywords and meta refresh redirects. But other meta tags hold varying degrees of indirect and direct SEO relevance.

The two most important meta tags include:

  • Meta title
  • Meta description

Definitely use those.

The <title> meta tag is one of the more important tags in SEO, used as a direct ranking factor and found in the title of your SERP snippets. Meta descriptions are not a direct ranking factor, but aid in getting better click-throughs. To further enhance their value, Google bolds any text in your meta description that matches a user’s search.

For instance, a search for top SEO benefits will result in a highlighted SERP snippet like this:

Proof positive that Google is paying serious attention to the relationship between your meta descriptions and user searches.

Other important meta tags include:

  • Meta robots – tells search engines if and how they should crawl your web pages
  • Meta viewport – sets how a site displays on different devices

Implementing the wrong meta robot tags can have a catastrophic impact on your site’s presence in search results. So you should get a firm grasp of its values — i.e. index, noindex, follow, nofollow.

Setting a meta viewport is recommended by Google. So while they’re not saying it’s a ranking factor, they’re also not not saying it’s a ranking factor. If you catch our drift.

 

When it comes to links, always go for quality over quantity.

Inbound links (aka backlinks) indicate to search engines that your site is relevant, and will help increase your rankings. However, these backlinks should be obtained discernibly and naturally.

Any other methods are considered black hat.

If you strike a deal with another company for reciprocal links you could get penalized for it. Worse, backlinks that are paid for have a high probability of being toxic. In both cases, you’ll have more backlinks but you’ll likely lose rank.

It’s also a misconception that loading up your pages with outbound links (aka external links pointing to other sites) improves SEO. Not only does an overabundance of hyperlinks dilute the quality of the links on your page, it can also ruin user experience. Furthermore, search engines only count the first appearance of a link on a page. If that same link appears again on the same page, they ignore it. So unless it makes sense from a UX standpoint, refrain from using the same link more than once on a single page.

 

7. CTR is a Direct Ranking Factor

The prevailing opinion is that click-through-rate (CTR) is not a direct ranking factor. Studies have been performed and analyses written to support this claim.

Truth is no one knows for sure. And, honestly, it doesn’t matter.

An FTC investigation into Google quotes one of their former chiefs of search quality as saying:

“The ranking itself is affected by the click data. If we discover that, for a particular query, hypothetically, 80 percent of people click on Result No. 2 and only 10 percent click on Result No. 1, after a while we figure out, well, probably Result 2 is the one people want. So we’ll switch it.”

That’s pretty solid evidence that CTR influences your rankings.

So while Google’s senior webmaster, John Mueller, says, “I don’t think we would use that for direct ranking like that,” he quickly follows with “we use signals like that to analyze the algorithms in general…

Translation: Screw you guys. I’m not telling.

All this leaves us to deduce that while CTR is most likely not a direct ranking factor, it is a very important indirect ranking factor, and you should treat it as a vital component of improving your SEO.

 

8. PPC Improves SEO

Some believe that Google (and Bing) will favor websites in organic search results if they spend money via pay-per-click advertising.

That is false.

Google’s organic search algorithms are completely separate from the methods they use to determine paid ad placements. Neither have a direct influence over the other. So don’t think dumping a whole bunch into your paid campaigns will help in any way with your organic results.

 

9. Social Media Is a Ranking Factor

That depends.

As far as Google is concerned, social media sites like Facebook and Twitter do NOT directly influence rankings. Any links you put in a post or on your social accounts will not count as backlinks.

Bing, however, is another story.

At one time Bing explicitly stated in their webmaster guidelines that “social media plays a role” in how they rank websites. They have since removed that wording. However, it’s still widely accepted that social signals — such as likes and shares — have a direct ranking on Bing.

 

10. Bing Doesn’t Matter

For most, “performing SEO” is synonymous with “improving rank on Google.” Much of this has to do with the misconception that Google is the only search engine that matters.

That’s not the case.

In fact, Bing accounts for around 30% of all searches on desktop. (That number rises closer to 40% in the US.) So if a good portion of your customers use desktop, then Bing definitely matters to your business.

Worth noting, when it comes to mobile, Google dominates with a 93.87% market share.

The takeaway?

Don’t blindly commit yourself to just one search engine. It’s important to understand what devices and search engines your audience uses to access your site, and optimize accordingly.

 

11. The Higher the Word Count the Better

A lot of studies have tried to find the optimal word count to rank #1 in SERP. Anywhere from 600 to 3,000 words being the sweet spot. Backlinko determined the top ranking pages on Google contain on average 1,447 words.

Truth is there is no ideal word count.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that by writing excessively long blog posts they will have a better chance of ranking.

John Mueller recently dispelled this SEO myth.

Simply having more content is not enough to ensure a higher rank.

Your page is too shallow if it has less than 300 words. Anything over that is fair game. What matters most is that your content completely and accurately answers your target search queries. Sure, a higher word count can help search engines better understand what your page is about. And, generally speaking, Google tends to rank longer articles higher, but there are many instances where a 500 word article ranks above much longer ones. There are too many other, far more important, ranking factors that come into play in determining where your page lands to waste your time counting words.

 

12. The E-A-T Score

E-A-T stands for “expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness.” Google has adopted this acronym in its webmaster guidelines to show what they look for in a web page. As a result, there has been some debate whether Google uses a specific E-A-T score as a ranking factor.

Not surprisingly, Google has done little to make the matter less confusing.

However, there have been some at Google who’ve put it more succinctly. Specifically, Gary Illyes in saying, “there is no EAT score.

The concept of E-A-T is a human concept. It’s subjective. Meaning that you can’t tell an algorithm how to rank for a user’s “perception” objectively. To counter this Google creates a wide array of signals constantly being monitored by technicians that they hope can ascertain a certain level of E-A-T on a given webpage. But since it’s not an exact science — like counting backlinks — there’s no definitive score, or ranking factor, associated with it.

 

13. Older Domains Rank Higher

Age has nothing to do with SEO. There has been a long held belief that older domains rank better than younger ones. Those in the know, know better

Google’s John Mueller confirmed this by tweeting, “…domain age helps nothing.”

The reason for this popular SEO misconception is due entirely to correlation. For instance, a newer site likely has less backlinks than an older one because the older site has had more time to acquire them. As a result, the older domain ranks better. The domain’s age is not the factor, the number of backlinks is.

 

14. PageRank Is Dead

When Larry Page and Sergey Brin first developed Google back in 1997 they created a system called PageRank — a mathematical formula that judged the “value of a page” by looking at the quantity and quality of other pages that link to it. This formula generated a publicly accessible score from 0 to 10. For a very long time, PageRank was the most important ranking factor and this score the de facto metric by which SEO thrived.

But in 2016, Google announced they were removing the public PageRank score.

As a result, many believed that PageRank was dead. Where once they built their entire SEO strategies around it, now there was no need to give it a second thought.

But that’s just a myth.

In fact, PageRank is still very much alive. It is just no longer shared publicly.

Digital marketers love scores. It’s the reason so many are addicted to getting a 100 on Google PageSpeed Insights even though doing so doesn’t benefit their site. They care more about scoring higher than the principles that drive these results. Where PageRank was concerned, there was a lot of link spamming going just to drive up scores. To discourage this type of black hat SEO, Google discontinued sharing the data.

But that doesn’t mean it still isn’t kicking around in the background.

Google has confirmed that PageRank is still a ranking factor. Getting high-quality links to your webpages still matters. There just isn’t a nice, tidy little score for us to chase after anymore.

 

Consider Us Your SEO Mythbusters

Hopefully we’ve been able to clear up some of the most commonly believed SEO myths for you. These are the ones that you’re likely to run into most often and contain the greatest risk of holding your SEO efforts back.

But of course, there are many more out there.

If you ever come across something that leaves you unsure whether it’s SEO myth or SEO fact, drop us a line. We’ll help shed some light on the matter.

Like we said earlier, SEO can be a mystery. It’s constantly evolving and search engine companies seem to revel in fueling all the theories and conspiracies floating around their algorithms. But we love debunking SEO myths. So don’t hesitate to hit us up with your SEO questions, no matter how far fetched they might seem.

Like with pretty much every myth, it’s safe to assume the answer is pretty simple.