How Google is Like Your Local Library

Library_the Days before the Internet

What is SEO? Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in a nutshell is the practice of improving your website and online networking to increase the chances someone will find you when they go to Google to find the product or service you sell. Before you can decide what might need to be changed or improved, it’s important to understand how search engines work and which parts of your website are important and why.

Back in the olden days, if we needed information we had to go to the library. The shelves in the building were lined with books and the books were organized by high level categories to help make things easier to find. For the purpose of discussion, let’s think about the internet as though it’s a library full of books.

You Have to be in the Card Catalog

Search before Google_Card Catalog in a LibraryOne of the most common misconceptions is that Google will find your website just because you can type in www.mycompanyname.com and your website pops right up. The reality is that Google and Bing need some help to learn about your website.

Before the days of technology, the location of a book in the library was kept in a card catalog. There was one card for every book and it contained basic information about the book, including the author, title and subject. and the exact location of the book. Librarians and their assistants spent countless hours inventorying books and making sure that the card catalog entries were up to date and accurate.

Search engines use what they call spiders or robots to “crawl” the web. Once they find the pages of your website, the pages are put into what’s called the search index, it’s like the card catalog in the library. 

Contrary to popular belief, Google doesn’t crawl every page of every website every day and there are a variety of things that can impact how often they visit a website with their spiders.  It’s not automatic and there’s no guarantee that your site will be indexed. Take a look at “How to Get Google to Index Your New Website & Blog Quickly” from Kissmetrics for some great tips on how to make sure people can find your website.

What Happens Once a Page is Indexed?

 Let’s pretend that you sent an army of interns into the library to find the best books available about a topic you’re interested in.

The first thing they would do would be to search through the thousands of cards to find books that match their criteria and make a list of the resources that seem the most relevant and authoritative. The information on the card will lead them to the location of the book. If there’s no card in the system, the chances that the book will be found is slim to none.

Once the intern finds an individual book, chances are good that they’ll take a look at the table of contents and flip through a few pages to see whether or not they want to go to the effort of checking it out and taking it home.

It’s not much different on the internet. When someone does a search on a topic, the search engines look through the index to find and display what they determine to be the best results. This part of the process is similar to human beings searching through the cards and making a list of books in the library. The search engines go through the pages in the index and calculate which ones are the best match and return a list of links on a search results page.

Note: One major difference between a card catalog and a search engines index is that in the case of the card catalog only the information about the book is available, in the case of the internet, the goal is to have all of the important pages of your website located in the index. 

According to Netcraft and Internet Live Stats, we are fast approaching 1 billion websites. In reality only about 75% of them are active which, if I’ve done my math right, means there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 million active websites. That translates to over 3 billion web pages.

When you start thinking about the sheer volume of websites and pages on the internet it becomes a little easier to understand why we need to give the search engines some help from us. 

Making sure your pages are found:

Good Navigation:

You can think about each website and it’s domain (www.mycompany.com) as an individual book in the library.  The website, just like a book needs to be organized logically and in a way that makes it easy for the reader to what they’re looking for. In a book, it’s the table of contents and the index at the end. On a website it means having an easy to follow navigation system that includes sitemaps for both the human reader and the search engines.

Describe your pages properly:

Understand what topic people are interested in and the words they use when they are talking about the contents of your “book.” In others words, think about how those interns might go about finding the right books in a library. When someone is searching online they are in a similar mindset – they want to find the information that most closely matches their needs. There are many parts of a web page, including the title, headings, images, videos, and the body content. Each part of the page needs to be unique, well written, and relevant to the person who is reading the page.

Get people talking about your website:

One important way to increase the number of people visiting your site is to encourage others to spread the word. Back to our library example, the number of people who have checked out a book can be an indicator that it’s a good reference. If we see that book referenced in other books, the “authority” of the information and author grows stronger. When people start talking about it in book clubs and on their Facebook pages, the word starts to spread even faster.

Online those references come into play when other high quality sites link back to yours as a resource and it also includes people talking about it in social media.

Make your content worth reading so your website gets checked out more often.

 What is SEO? is not the easiest question to answer and today we’ve barely scratched the surface. My hope is that the analogy between the library and search engines helped make the subject a little less daunting.

You may also enjoy reading: Top 6 SEO Mistakes and how to Correct them.