Lesson 1 of 4

How Google Search works

Understanding SEO

Time to complete:

7 minutes


You may have heard the term “SEO” or “Search Engine Optimization.” SEO describes the work you can do to try to improve how often your website shows up when someone types a search query into Google or another search engine.

You’re probably eager to understand how you can improve how often your website shows up in the search results. But before we dive into SEO, we first need to understand how a search engine works.

Google Search explained

In this video, we explain how Google Search finds your online business, organizes it, and, finally, presents it to your potential customers.

Let’s recap the journey Google goes through to gather information from across hundreds of billions of webpages to find, understand and present your website to Search users.

Step 1: Crawling

Crawling is the term used for how Google discovers new information to add to its catalog. Usually, the way Google finds a new website is by following links from one website to another.

Let’s say you have a website where you sell cupcakes. Once your website has been crawled, Google knows this website exists.

Step 2: Indexing

Once Google has found your website, it analyzes the content on your page and organizes it in Google’s library of information. This is called indexing.

When it comes to SEO, one thing you can do is make it easier for Google to understand the content of your page. We’ll explore how to do this in future lessons, or if you’re feeling ready, you can explore the SEO Starter guide.

Let’s go back to the example of your cupcake website. Once your website has been indexed, Google not only knows the website exists, but it has looked through the product pages on your site and understands that you sell 10 different kinds of cupcakes, including gluten-free cupcakes.

Step 3: Ranking

When a user types something into a search box, Google looks through its massive library of content to figure out which web pages would be most relevant to the user. In order to present the most useful results first, Google may consider factors like user’s location and language, for example, in addition to the words they searched. This process is called ranking.

This means that when someone types “gluten-free cupcakes” into a search box and they are based in your hometown, they’re more likely to see your website in the results, whereas someone typing the same search from a different country probably wouldn’t see your business.

Organic results vs Ads

Another important term you’ll hear as you continue to learn about Search and SEO is “organic.” Organic means that the search results are appearing in order of relevance to what the person typed into the search box. Organic search results aren’t paid for or influenced by businesses. These are entirely different and separated from other slots on the search results page that can be paid for by businesses. Those are called Ads and you’ll see them marked as Ads when they appear. Advertising with Google does not have any effect on your site's presence in our search results.

Ads may appear in your search results but they are clearly labeled and distinguished from the rest of the page.

Now you know the basics of how Google Search works:

  1. Google crawls the web looking for new content
  2. Google indexes and understands the content
  3. Google presents the most relevant content to search users

Google never accepts money to include or rank sites in its organic search results. Making it easier for search engines to crawl, index and understand your content is a good first step to reach more people through Google Search.

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