Understanding How Google & Search Impact Your Site Traffic
What Do You Really Need to Know about “Search?”
Your web site traffic — the number of visitors to your site — is directly related to how search works. This sounds fairly straightforward, however there are many factors affecting this process…
- Your topic
- Your site goals (you DO have site goals, don’t you?)
- Search engine processes (I discuss this below)
- The Design & Structure of your web site
As you can see, some of these things you have complete control over, others not so much! But even those that seem out of your control — like search engine processes — are actually more in your control than you might think! And this is good news!
It’s not “search”…It’s “Ranking”
First…let’s clear up a common misconception: it isn’t really search that you need to understand… It’s ranking in the search results (SERPs — I discuss these below), and the general processes that affect ranking, specifically getting on the first page, or getting to “number 1” on the first page!
Remember, it’s been clearly proven through numerous studies that people rarely look beyond the first page of search results; those that DO rarely look beyond page 2 or 3… (I’m one of those people who does look beyond the first page IF I’m not getting the results I want on page 1…You may be too.)
Search Engine Processes
Since this ranking is directly related to your web site traffic, let’s look at search engine processes first. This isn’t as complicated as you might think. Remember, you are intimately involved with these processes every time you search for anything on the web. Now, as searchers, we obviously don’t get involved in the complex processes (algorithms) that translate our human words into search results.
As far as search engines — Google has pretty much set the standards — are concerned, algorithms (or formulas) are used for search. These formulas interpret the human-language search terms in the search box, doing some extremely high-level (read: “complicated“) processing, and return search results to the searcher in the form of the familiar SERP — Search Engine Results Page (sometimes returning an astonishing millions of pages of results within mere seconds).
Someone recently asked me how Google (specifically) does this? Logical question…but, as I told her, these algorithms are SECRET!
Always have been… and very closely guarded secrets at that! It’s not hard to understand why, with some historical background:
If the other search engines “knew” the algorithms, they could duplicate them and give everyone the results that Google does…Not good for Google’s entrenched position in the field of search! It would be like sharing corporate secrets about key inventions… Not a smart business decision either!
Google is by far the best, largely because they have been compiling search inquiries (the words that every searcher uses to ask questions) for their 15 years of existence! That’s reason #1.
Reason #2 is that the SEO-ers (supposed ‘experts’) could then use that info to “fool” Google and “stuff” invalid and false META data (under-the-hood info that is not visible on a web site), thus ruining Google’s reputation for high-quality search results. Have you heard the term “keyword stuffing?” This is exactly what that refers to…
The Inherent Logic Behind Google’s Approach to Search
You have to understand several things for this to really make sense:
- Google has several “customers” – the searchers…you and I and everyone else who uses Google to find information on the internet
- Their advertisers, who are also their customers (where Google delivers relevant ads to the searchers, based on the words in their search queries)
- Their reputation as the “only” decent search engine has been hard-won and they have spent tons of money (millions) on hiring top engineers (top Ph. D’s) to develop algorithms to refine search with the single goal of returning the best results to the “searcher.”
- It has been said (seemingly forever) that “rules are only for those who try to break them,” not for the honest. The reason that Google changed their algorithms is that “black-hat” (or dishonest) SEO-ers were “keyword stuffing” high-demand keywords into garbage or junk web sites. This was ruining the search results by having no-content, scams, or ad-only sites showing up in honest searches.
- Instead of having high-quality content web sites, these Black-Hat SEO types were trying to make a quick buck (through selling their services, promising “1st page of Google” and through ads) instead of playing by the rules.
So…Google changed the rules.
The Impact on SEO
With changes in search algorithms, people are naturally concerned with how they can “optimize” their web sites. For more on the recent Hummingbird algorithm, see my article “How Will ‘Hummingbird’ Impact SEO?“
Many web site owners have basic questions about SEO (Search Engine Optimization — properly including that META data I mentioned above). Rest assured that there are still several types of information that you can — and should — be including on every article you include on your web site…
You can take control of your own SEO by hand-crafting the META data I mentioned above…and there are excellent WordPress plugins that make this very simple. These plugins add separate fields (as in a form) for this information — right in the editing window — as you are creating each piece of content. These plugins make it very easy to “remember” to include this information, as well as making sure it is put in the correct place (structure-wise) for the search robots to read it. Examples of this data include custom descriptions that are displayed in search results for your site, custom titles, keywords, other custom information, etc.
Google’s whole focus now is on creating quality content that is original…If you have that there is no reason to “cheat” and Google is doing its best to cut down on cheaters, largely to maintain their reputation and to serve their “customers” as described above in #1 & 2.
This is a VERY complex topic, and it has a lot of history, so this is only a brief historical snapshot of what’s happened and why…
It is well worth your time to clearly understand the context in which you are working as a web site publisher…which you are if you have any type of web site.
It is also essential to understand the historical context — in a general sense — to understand the “big picture.” It simply isn’t enough to know design, or programming or code, or marketing, or your topic…In order to succeed, you need to have a solid background (foundation) in all of these areas, as well as SEO, search, communications, content development…and how to run a business.
It’s a lot to learn, but many people before you have done just that…It certainly can’t be done in a day, or week, or month. It takes lots of time to learn, and you really never stop learning, because — just like Google’s algorithms — things keep changing.
That’s a good thing, since becoming “static” is the real dead-end.