We use the internet every day. But do we really understand how organic search works? (The short answer: not all of us, and not always well enough.)
Tech companies were under the microscope this year. Facebook and Twitter have been called before Congress to answer tough questions regarding censorship, fake news and election interference. Just last week, Google CEO Sundar Pichai took his turn in the hot seat to discuss data collection, usage and filtering practices.
What did we learn from these meetings? For me, one key takeaway was that our lawmakers do not understand the technology that guides our everyday lives. And, well, it’s not just them! Many people don’t really understand the mechanisms that drive how the internet works today. For marketers, that is a problem.We use the internet every day. But do we really understand how organic search works? (The short answer: not all of us, and not always well enough.)Click To Tweet
Let’s look at the basics of search, for example.
By definition, organic search is a method for entering one or several search terms as a single string of text into a search engine. Search results then appear as a list based on the relevancy of the search term. Easy, right? Not so much. Who decides what appears in the search engine results page (SERP) and in what order the information appears?
First, we must distinguish between paid and organic search. Paid ads appear at the top or bottom of Google’s SERP, and, helpfully, they are marked with this symbol:Once you scroll past the paid ad, it’s not who decides the organic search results. It’s what decides. You’ll be happy to know that one individual or a group of individuals is not sitting behind the scenes filtering what you see. Google has constructed an algorithm that follows three basic steps:
Crawling – Google works to find out what pages are out on the web (this is a constant process, as new websites appear every second). It gathers this information by the submission of sitemaps and linking to well-known pages, as well as other methods of discovery.
Indexing – After Google discovers a page through crawling, it tries to figure out what the page is about. This is done by looking at information like website content, keywords, headline and title tags, and alternative text in images, which are then stored in Google’s database.
Ranking – Based on a user’s search query, Google takes the information that they have indexed and tries to decide the best results for that user. This process has its own algorithm based on things such as quality and relevancy of content, user experience and trustworthiness – all the while considering factors like location, language and device type.
Some of our lawmakers could have used a primer like this before talking to Sundar Pichai. Most of us won’t have the opportunity to educate the people working within the halls of Congress, but we can educate ourselves and our clients. It’s vitally important to understand how the internet works so we can use the tools we have to help shape the quality of content on the internet. We won’t get the search results we want without carefully planning, creating and curating our content.
As Representative Ted Lieu stated in the Google hearing, “If you want positive search results, do positive things. If you don’t want negative search results, don’t do negative things. … [Don’t] blame Google or Facebook or Twitter. Consider blaming yourself.”
Though I would take a more nuanced view of the issue, I agree with the spirit of his quote. We need to take responsibility for what we put out in the world. And, it’s up to us to apply our knowledge and education to share the right information in the right way so that it’s amplified to our key stakeholders.
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