An Easy Metaphor for How Search Engines Work and What They’re Looking For

I’ve explained SEO to a layman approximately three gazillion times and this language has always worked pretty well for me, so I thought I’d share it.

The Party

Think of Google (or any search engine) as the host of a cocktail party, constantly moving around to listen to the conversations of all the guests at the party (ALL the websites).

You show up at the front door and tell Google you need to talk to someone about “Dogs”, this is the keyword. Based on this keyword, Google will make some recommendations regarding who you should talk to at the party.

It’s important to note that if you needed to talk about “Dogs in St. Louis” that would be a different keyword and Google would make a different recommendation for who to talk to.

The Recommendations

These recommendations by Google are the search results page (or SERPs) you see after you do a search. A better recommendation from Google means more traffic to a website and which translates into more money from sales or ads.

The process of trying to improve yourself so Google recommends you more is called Search Engine Optimization (or SEO).

It’s important for Google, to keep all their guests happy, that they provide the best recommendations. If their recommendations are bad, people stop coming to their party to ask questions and start going over to Bing’s party or Yahoo’s party.

With that in mind, Google is constantly judging the folks at their party, paying attention to what they’re talking about and reordering who is the most authoritative on every subject (keyword).

Google divides this judgment into two categories:

  1. Your vibe
  2. Recommendations from others

Your Vibe

Like at a job interview, there are a lot of factors that go into your vibe, but these are all things you can control on your website.

First off, the more information you know on a given subject, the better. If “dogs” is the keyword, the guy who knows the most about dogs is pretty likely to get that recommendation from Google. Prove that you’re an authority on your subject and get that rec.

That being said, how you talk matters. If you’re articulate and have good grammar you sound more authoritative. For your website, this is the format of your information. Do you have good title tags on all your pages? Do you use headlines well and in the proper order? Do your images have alt attributes? etc. Google might like that you’ve got 100 pages on dogs, but if it’s a mess to read, they’ll knock some points off for style.

Another big factor is how quickly you can respond to folks. If every time Google sends someone over to you it takes you a couple minutes to start talking, they will quickly stop sending people your way. Time is money. Fast websites are better for Google than slow ones.

What about how often you change up your information? Say Google is wandering around this party, listening to you talk about “dogs”, but every time they stop by you’re telling the same stale bit they heard last time they came by, which is the same as the time before that.

Since you’re only telling the same old story, maybe Google doesn’t need to come by as often to hear what you have to say. That means when you finally do have that new piece of info to talk about, they might not be around for a while to hear it. Regularly updated or fresh new content ensures that Google stops by on the regular.

All of this helps Google to determine how much authority you have on a given subject, but ultimately the biggest factor is who the other authorities at the party recommend.

Recommendations From Others

Recommendations on the web come in the form of links. Someone linking to your site is seen by Google as that site recommending you.

Generally speaking, links = good, but we need to qualify that a bit.

Say you’re at this cocktail party and you need to know about “dogs”. We’ve established that recommendations from other folks at the party are a big help for Google to determine who is the authority. So Google asks around, “Who knows about dogs?”

Ross recommends his buddy Joey. Joey definitely talks about dogs, but Ross only talks about cars. Additionally, Ross is making all kinds of recommendations. Dude is talking about Monica and Rachel and Chandler and Phoebe too. All those recommendations are making it difficult for Google to take his Joey recommendation seriously.

On the other hand, Jerry is recommending Elaine. Jerry seems to know a lot about dogs himself, so his recommendation of Elaine holds a lot more weight with Google. George is also pretty legit on dogs and is recommending Elaine, so Elaine is looking pretty good to Google right now, those recommendations are holding a lot of weight.

So links = good when they come from relevant authoritative websites. Links = bad when they come from unrelated sites or sites that are making all kinds of crazy recommendations.

A Conclusion

There’s obviously a lot of factors in play that weigh on Google as they judge everyone and make their recommendations. If nothing else, remember to be relevant, stay authentic and be the type of person you’d want to hang out with at a party – the Google party. Contact us to analyze your website’s SEO.

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