If you’ve ever seen The Matrix you will remember those Sentinels or “Squiddys” designed purely for two key purposes – Search and Destroy. Searching every nook and cranny until it finds what it’s looking for, then destroying with it’s precision laser beams. Remember now? Good. So what does any of this have to do with SEO? Glad you asked! More about that soon…

Sentinel

How SEO works

The aim of this page is to cut through the jargon and give an overview of how SEO works so that you (the website owner) are armed with the right knowledge, so you can ask the right questions when choosing an SEO provider. A great place to start is web crawling…

How web crawling works

Now, imagine the Matrix is the world-wide-web and in this new environment ole “Squiddy” has been reprogrammed to Search and Consume. Search the WWW and Consume all the crawl-able data available on the Internet. This is essentially the role of a web crawler – otherwise known as: Web spider; ant; automatic indexer; and my favourite – Googlebot.

As a web crawler consumes Internet data it makes an assessment of the code and links on each web page – sorting it all into a spectrum of virtual buckets ranging from Valid to Invalid. The more valid (or structured) the data, the higher order of priority the web page is given. Once sorted, this data is then fed into a search engine. Understanding the process of web crawling is crucial if you need to know how SEO works.

How search engines work

Once the crawled data has been fed into a search engine it gets added to the Index of pages search-able on the WWW. Users enter a query, and a full list of paginated results pertaining to that query is displayed on screen. These pages are often referred to as SERPs (Search Engine Results pages). SERPs are generally comprised of 10 results per page. Each result normally contains the web document title (linking to the actual web page), and a summary description of the content based on the relevance of the user query. If you know how SEO works I’m referring to the title tag and Meta description tag.

(As search engines evolve and grow, so do their popularity. The more popular the search engine the more opportunity there is to capitalise. That’s why you will most likely now see a number of sponsored ads wrapping the actual/organic results – see image below)

SERP Anatomy

Anatomy of a Search Engine Results page (SERP)

Now, let’s say we have a page of content absolutely relevant to a user query, but it’s stuck all the way down on page 50 of SERPS. How can we leapfrog the other 499 results to achieve top position? That’s a difficult question to answer, but it can be done if you know how SEO works. The most popular search engines consider around 500-600 factors when ranking web pages in order of priority and relevance. But for the purpose of this post we can break it down into three key areas:

  1. Content quality
  2. Link quality
  3. Technical quality

Content quality

If a piece of content is totally unique – nothing like it anywhere in the world – search engines will rank it well in its search results. For an exact match user query it may even make it to the top. Alternatively, if the content is already known and simply copied from another resource, it is more than likely to attract a penalty and sink into the Abyss of duplicate content – never to be found by anyone.

Unique content on a popular topic can rank but it needs to be structured and written well. Correct use of titles, headings, punctuation, spelling and grammar is just as important as the theme of the page. Web crawlers are programmed to detect errors like this when validating a page.

If you can write unique and compelling content you’re well on your way to understanding how SEO works.

Link quality

The WWW is a system of interlinked web pages at its foundation. Link based metrics are generally considered the most important element for ranking in SERPs, and key to how SEO works. Each link is a vote of confidence for one page from another, and judged on the relevance to the page the link is from, and the authority of the page linked.

Let’s say you have a website dedicated to fruit and someone else has a site about oranges. It makes sense for the orange site to link to a fruit site because of the content theme. Both sites will benefit from this interlinking because it is simply good practice and adds value to the Internet as a whole. Your fruit website will definitely benefit in a far greater sense though if you receive links from apple, banana and any other fruit specific website.

Technical quality

If a web page is deemed INVALID by web crawlers it ends up in a bucket with all of the other invalid data – only to be sorted through and indexed if absolutely necessary. If a website takes more than five seconds to load it will be judged too slow. If Meta tags are missing, or used incorrectly, its ranking will be poor. If the web server is not set up correctly don’t expect your site to rank. We could go on and on here – there are so many technical factors to take into account. You would be reading this all day I were to list everything I could think of technically. Best leave this to someone who really knows how SEO works from a technical perspective.

This is how SEO works

So there you have it. This post isn’t intended as instructional. It’s meant to give you a basic understanding of how SEO works, so you will be armed with the right information when some so-called SEO Expert comes knocking at your door trying to sell you their services.

Be sure to get in contact if you’d like to know more about how SEO works.