How Search Engines Work

 approx 52 minute video

Nettl Academy SEO Live Event! Session 3

This session is the third in a new series of live events from Nettl. Each week they’ll explore a different subject relating to SEO.

What’s it all about?

Demand for SEO has increased 4-fold. Find out why with our online educational sessions. Our SEO expert sessions are usually reserved for our existing SEO subscribers, but given the significant increase in demand for SEO, we thought it would be useful to open these up to every Nettl customer to help businesses boost their online presence.

In session #3 we explored how search engines work, crawling, indexing and ranking and what do you need to know and understand.

We covered hot topics such as:

  • What is crawling?
  • What is a search engine index?
  • How crawling and indexing impacts ranking
  • Common issues causing your site not to rank
  • Introduction to status codes

Plus the team were on hand to answer questions.

Check out the next video in our SEO webinar series

So today’s session is all about how search engines work. The schedule for today we’ll break down into a few separate different areas: search engines and our current market share across the United Kingdom; the search engine index and how that works; how the algorithms are formulated and created and how they work; crawling, indexing, and ranking, what’s the difference?; what are the different terminologies and how can they affect you as a business?; why is my site not showing on Google?; easy steps to improve your indexing and to take some ownership of this yourselves.

Search engine market in the UK

We’ll start off with the market share of the search engine market across the United Kingdom. Google is by far the winner right now, and it continues to gain market share as we push forward with more Android phones which are pre-installed with a Google search engine. However, Bing, being owned by Microsoft, is trying its hardest. Whenever you update your Microsoft computer Bing tries to default back to that search engine but it also leads to the most popular search on Bing, the word Google, because people still will go to Bing, search Google, go to Google and then go from there. DuckDuckGo is a very privacy conscious search engine, which I would certainly say is one to look out for. There’s obviously Yahoo and MSN, still hanging on just in that right now. There are also ones out there which allow you to plant trees as you search. There’s some really cool new search engines coming up which are very privacy conscious and very good for the world and good for individuals as well. A lot of those, however, follow the same principles as Google’s own search algorithm and they’re very much trying to mimic it. As you can tell looking at Bing and Google, they’re all very similar, this is all part of the tactic to try to chip away at Google’s market share right now.

Search engine index

The search engine index is basically a collection of web pages which are all put together into a massive Filofax and each of those Filofax pages has one of these little widgets sticking out on the side which says ‘this is what is in this area’. That is how Google can quickly access that information when you’re searching for it and then display it to you. So there’s very much a difference between what is the internet and what is Google’s index of the internet.

Google’s index will be stripping out certain, low level, low quality websites, spammy websites. There is a large proportion of the web which is in the ‘dark web’ which is below a hidden wave of Google’s index where you can buy all types of illegal paraphernalia. That is a very active sub-world of the internet.

Google is trying to bring forward the best parts of the internet and make that accessible to people if people find it relevant.

So the ranking algorithms themselves are designed to sort through hundreds of billions of webpages in a search engine index and then to find the most relevant and useful results, typically in sub-seconds. It’s getting fast with it all of the time. The algorithm is not made up of one person’s rules anymore. It’s not defined by just one person sitting in the back of Google’s office saying, ‘hey, we’re going to change this’. This has made up of thousands of validators who are constantly checking, whose jobs are to check Google’s relevancy on their results, and then make manual adjustments on search engine results. Thousands of AB testing, hundreds of thousands of AB testing scenarios where Google is trying different results for different people constantly. What we are seeing is up to three or four changes to the algorithm every single day. It’s constantly moving as we go forward which makes SEO a very difficult task to try to keep on top of but ultimately a job which never ends up leaving you. This is really important; people need to stop seeing SEO as, ‘hey, I’m just going to do this SEO campaign and then I’m going to stop’. No, that’s not the case anymore; it shouldn’t have been the case in the first place but, sadly, a lot of SEO companies push that methodology of ‘hey, let’s just do the short campaign’ then all your SEO woes are gone. This needs to be ingrained into your everyday work life, running your business. This is exactly why, this one screen explains exactly why. It is moving at such a rate of knots that even Google is hiring SEOs to help optimise Google for Google.

It is a constantly moving target and unless you are keeping your ear close to the ground, or you have a business or an agency working alongside you, a good agency who are keeping you informed of these changes, then you’re going to always fall behind. So even after a six month campaign, you could end up losing your ground after the six to eight months period, as everybody else continues.

Search engine algorithms

Search engine algorithms have many, many factors. The most important right now in 2020 and moving forward is the meaning of your query and the relevance of the webpages. We have covered this in a previous session but I’m going to retouch on it again, which is the amount of individuals and businesses who pursue superficial, vanity led keywords instead of understanding the intent and the relevancy. What people are doing is they’re doing their keyword research and saying, ‘hey, this search has a quarter of a million views’ but what they don’t realise is that by searching ‘recruitment jobs’ or let’s say they’re searching ‘IT jobs’, they might be a business looking for IT candidates, They might be a recruitment company trying to find people; They might be trying to find the average salary. It’s only after the third or fourth search that people get to this really granular stage where the intent is on point and that person is going to transact.

The last thing you want to do is spend six to 12 months pursuing an SEO campaign against the wrong keywords exactly because of this reason of not understanding relevancy and the meaning of the query at heart.

There’s a couple of quick ways you can try to find this relevancy, and you can find the meaning of your query. You could use a tool called and you can go onto that website, put in a primary keyword like ‘HDTV’, and then it will spit out lots of long tail keywords and key phrases relating to that subject. That is following Google’s own AI system which is built in to try to predict what somebody is going to search for so that you can answer those questions before the person even is thinking about asking that question themselves.

The other factors that Google is looking at, as well as the other search engines, is how useful are pages? Once you are ranking visibly for a key phrase or a selection of key phrases, are people engaging with your website? Are they clicking through? Are they bouncing? Your aim here is to provide the most optimal user experience to get speed of access to the answers that your prospective customers might be asking, before they even ask it. Once they’re on your page, it’s your job to keep them there for as long as you physically can, to keep their attention and to stop them bouncing back to the search engine and either clicking on a competitor or even worse, interacting and transacting with a competitor.

So that means adding video content to your webpages. That means making a really fast user experience, specifically on mobile. The amount of businesses who are building websites desktop first rather than mobile first continues to be a trend in this world. That’s because it’s so easy when I’m sitting at my computer to design a website. In reality, 70% of those people are coming at it from a mobile phone so we should be building websites mobile first which is one of the many factors a search engine is looking at. Finally, context is another massive one here. For example, if I’m looking for windows and doors and I search for ‘replacement windows’, Google’s going to deliver me the most local relevant results for me, even if I don’t type in my location. This is Google’s knowledge of understanding that people are more likely to transact at a local level with certain phrases and businesses, compared to a national level where maybe conversion and click through isn’t quite as high over the years.

How do search engines work?

How does a search engine find websites? This is all done, historically, by following links which is why backlinks have been such a possibly over-focused area in the SEO community for so long, because everybody is so focused on gaining large volume of backlinks rather trying to create good quality, compelling content, which is relevant, useful, and timely for your customers and prospective customers. Now backlinks are important and why they’re important is because Google operates its search engines, as well as the other search engines, with little spiders which crawl through the web following as many links as they possibly can. They analyse the text in that link. So if, for example, it’s following the phrase ‘click here’ going through to a website, that website is actually accidentally optimising for the word ‘click here’. It’s not very useful for Google’s index which is why Adobe ended up ranking top for many years when somebody searched ‘click here’ on Google because of the amount of people putting ‘click here’ to download this PDF, in the history of the web. So when you’re creating those links it is really worth remembering the link needs to be descriptive of targets. If you’re having links pointing through to you, they need to be descriptive of ‘this is the best laundrette in Bristol’, or it needs to be, ‘this butchers does the best sausages in Birmingham’, and that should be the link. This is why you see Wikipedia and news websites, which have these really informative, textual, good quality links, for their website. So these spiders need to follow these links, these spiders will follow them eventually through to your website, once you have it built and it’s live, and then that is when Google and the other search engines will start showing it and its own index and therefore when somebody searches for a key phrase or your brand.

How does a search engine store and retrieve content?

How does a search engine store and retrieve all of that content over time? The process of indexing is basically storing that content into this big, massive Filofax of trillions of different results. Search engines store that content and then they serve them in huge databases from which they fetch whenever one of those relevancy signals are ticked. When a user searches a phrase, Google then goes to check that full index and tries to analyse the previous relevancy as well as the frequency of keywords and synonyms used against that target webpage and the links pointing at it and what these links are saying about it. Then it will display the search results. It’s obviously a lot more complex than that; there are over 300 rules in Google’s search engine algorithm and they are being updated every single day. So, Google’s algorithm looks at the pages and then ranks, then orders them in what it believes is the most relevant results to get a transaction.

How does a search engine rank websites?

How does a search engine rank websites? Ranking is the process of prioritising content. So that rule base, and there’s some really clever little things that you can look back on if you search ‘the periodic table of search engine factors’, there’s a really nerdy, beautifully presented display of what the SEO community have found to be impactful areas to pursue in SEO. Now there are hundreds of rules but some of those rules may only have a 0.2% weight on influence whereas others can have up to 15 to 20% influence per rule.So there’s obviously better ways that you can focus your time and energy to deliver a much more promising ROI than chasing red herrings.

So the algorithm looks at all of these hundreds of different factors, each of different assigned weight or value over time and, once again, this is a constantly moving target. The search engine orders these results by the pages that will be the best answer to the user’s query. That is typically based on loads of history – years, and years and years of historic data – analysing where somebody clicks after they click on the HDTV, what are they searching for next? And then what are they searching for? So what they’re trying to do is bring that third search through to the first search if a higher enough quantity of people are all going on to search the same phrase. So it’s then going to bring that forward.

We had this recently with a juice cleanse business. If you search ‘juice cleanse’ on Google, this business in question wasn’t ranking but the top ranking results were ‘five reasons to do a juice cleanse’ or ‘top five ways to do a juice cleanse’ and they were very conversational articles. That’s because Google has analysed over years that actually nobody is looking to transact and buy at that search phrase. Where they’re looking to buy and transact is at ‘juice cleanse delivery’. So they’re going to be delivering more e-commerce driven solutions and websites at that search bar than presenting those results at that search phrase. So it’s pointless trying to optimise for a phrase where Google is battling against you from day one saying, ‘no, we’re not delivering, that’s not right for our customers’. This is what you’re trying to achieve: you’re trying to make Google’s customers happy, not your own. Yours come secondary. What you need to focus on first is making sure Google is happy with the user experience and the quality of the results that you’re delivering to its own customers.

So the most important ranking factor is quality and relevancy. It is not just building up loads of low level backlinks pointing to your website or how many times I can shove my keyword in my home page. It’s down to delivering high quality search results in a relevant and timely manner.

Why is my site not showing up in the results?

Why is my site not showing up in the search results? Very common. There’s a few different reasons for this and this is why SEO comes into play here. Often, it could be that you’ve got a brand new website and it hasn’t actually been crawled by Google yet. So what we were talking about earlier in terms of the crawling and index thing, when you create a website, it won’t just go straight live onto Google’s search engine. Google needs to crawl the site and then it needs to index the site first and index it and store the site and its database. So if you’ve got a brand new site, it won’t necessarily show up in Google straightaway. Also it could be that it’s a new page. So if you have a new site and your new page isn’t showing up in Google that could also be the same reason.

External links and internal links as well. So in order for Google to crawl and index sites, they need to follow links and if there aren’t any links from other sites going into your site that could be a reason that you’re not ranking. And then also, if you don’t have any internal links. Internal links are links from your website to the pages on your website. External links are links from other websites, different websites, not your website to your website, backlinks as they call it.

Then the other thing is, this can get quite technical and it’s not something that business owners like yourself would necessarily need to understand, often there could be code on your site that can be blocking search engines from calling and showing your website. You would need SEO experts to come into play and help make sure that you’re not blocking your site from being crawled and shown in Google by search engines.

The other thing is like being penalised by Google. Black hat SEO tactics, these are tactics that used to work many years ago in SEO, things like buying backlinks and putting copy on your site, keyword stuffing, getting your keyword and listing it as many times as possible on your site to try and rank. There’s quite a few different things that can get you penalised by Google which basically just means that Google says, ‘no, not showing your site on search results, we don’t like your website, you’re not trustworthy’. That can take quite a while to recover from so that’s another thing that could be shown. There’s a platform called Google Search Console and you can, if you have that set up, have a look in there to see if you’ve been penalised by Google, under the manual actions section.

Finally you have broken pages. Often you’ll see that when you go onto a website, you’ll reach a page that says, ‘sorry, this page doesn’t exist’ or ‘404’ or ‘broken page’ and you won’t get to the page you expect them to get to. If your site has a lot of broken pages then it’s not going to be indexed by Google. It’s important to make sure that if you want to delete a page from your website, you don’t just go and necessarily delete it, because that page could have authority. So it’s important to put a redirect in. A redirect is just where you say, ‘I don’t want this page on my site anymore so any links going into this URL should go to this new URL’. That’s something that Nettl would do for you as well.

Improve your indexing

Easy steps to improve indexing. There’s quite a few things that you can do, quite technical things. This is as well as having content on your site and making sure you’re optimised for the right keywords. The first thing that you can do is submit a site map and a site map is simply a map that tells Google, or a search engine, or the pages on your website, how important they are and how often the search engine should be crawling your website.

So most site maps will be accessible from the URL of the website, and then it will be dot XML sitemap. WordPress and most content management systems have an easy plugin or set up to enable site maps to not be something complex that you need to set up. Then you submit your sitemap to Google Search Console and it’s automatically submitted.

Then using internal links. So if you have a imagine you’ve got a home page and 10 or 20 other pages on your site, what you need to do is make sure you’re linking from your homepage to other important pages from the main navigation at the top of the site to other important pages, from the footer to your important pages. Then when you write blog articles, for example, and paste them on the site, you are also linking between different pages that are relevant.

And also making sure that if you have any broken pages or broken links that they are fixed. It’s quite an easy thing to do. You could either use the Nettl tools or the SEO people will fix this for you. Then also there’s tools online that you can use to find broken links. This is something that was formed as part of your SEO package. A

Then you can also ask people to crawl your URL. So if you change a page on your website and you want that to be indexed in Google quite quickly, we often find that customers say, ‘well, I’ve changed your site but when I go to the page from Google, it’s still exactly the same’. That’s normally because Google has basically kept a version of your page in its index and hasn’t crawled the site again to find that new changed version of your page.

In that tool, Google search console, there’s a thing called ‘inspection tool’ where you can put the URL of your page in and you can ask Google to re-crawl that and reindex it in Google.

Couple of other things: there’s something called a robots TXT file which is essentially just a file on your website that instructs. It gives instructions and directives to search engines on what to do. This is very technical but it’s essentially just that you want to make sure that your robots TXT file is not telling Google not to index your site or any other search engines. Don’t expect everyone to understand what that is, or be able to create one, but it is something that will help improve indexing. So if your site isn’t showing up in Google, it would be worth saying, ‘can you please check my robots TXT file to see if that’s the issue’ and then updating old content and publishing fresh content.

This is one of the biggest things that we see is that people, businesses, small businesses create a website and then just leave it or write a blog post and then leave it and don’t publish anything new on their site. One of the ways that Google finds your website is through links and seeing what you’re doing. If you’re publishing new content on the site, they’ll realise that your site is active, your businesses live, and it’s not just an old website that no one uses or no one visits.

Also sharing your content on social media and to anyone else or everyone else relevant. The more that you can do to be sharing your content or sharing anything on your website with different people or different relationships that you have, suppliers get listed on their websites, have your social channels that are relevant to you and make sure you’re posting things on there often.


Do social links count as external links?

Would a link from LinkedIn or similar contents count as an external link? Yes, absolutely. Social links are a really quick and easy way. Providing that your social media profile is set to be indexed by search engine then having any link will be followed by Google, who are regularly screening each one of these social networks for new links to index in its own web. So yeah, absolutely social media links are a really useful way to get a website index faster.

Do social media posts count as site updates?

If I upload a post to my Instagram which then pulls through into the bottom on my website, does this count as an update to my website? In one essence, yes, because the links are going to be followed through. It does depend on the widget box that you use because you’re putting in almost like an I-frame embed. So whether or not it’s actually pulling through, or if there’s an RSS feed pulling the content through, that would have to be discovered. I would strongly recommend just updating the website as frequently as you can. If you have an Instagram page that you’re updating regularly, maybe see if maybe once a week you could do a summary of that Instagram page in one blog article. It doesn’t have to be like paragraphs of text, just gotta be something useful and meaningful. If you’re sharing them with your followers on Instagram, it’s probably going to be useful and meaningful.

How important as tags and sitemaps?

How important is using tags on both pages and in blogs and do you benefit from using an index page map? Using tags is more important from my perspective for me, from a user perspective. So someone goes on your website, onto your blog, and they can see what articles are tagged up as what topics. For small websites, it’s not as much of an issue, but you don’t need tagged pages to be indexed in Google. It’s better to just have all the blog articles indexed in Google and all your pages, rather than your tagged pages.

Do you benefit from having sitemaps? Yeah. It doesn’t mean your site wouldn’t necessarily rank without a site map but every site should have a sitemap cause it helps Google understand the structure of your website as well and how often to crawl it. Also if you don’t have direct links to all of your pages, as some of your websites might have quite complex hierarchies, then this is a way of telling Google where all of your URLs are hiding and how they’re bundled together. So, for example, creating content silos. Your silos should be mimicked against your site map s o if your primary keyword is ‘categorise’ and then there’s a sub sector of pages underneath, then that’s ideal. I think it’s a really good exercise to show you all what a site map looks like. You should be able to see my screen. So this is telling Google when to crawl each one of these individual areas and you can actually drill into these. This website in particular has multiple sitemaps but it’s different locations where Nettl operates as a business. This is something that you can create if you have a WordPress website, which many of you will, you can create these in Yoast. So it’s not just one site map; it’s a sitemap of a sitemap. There is always a level of an area to explore but we’ll go into this page. So if we drill into this individual site map we can see every single location of Nettl, you can see how this then drills down again to see if there are any sub pages and we can also tell Google within here how frequently we want them to come and re-crawl each one of those pages. So obviously having a home page will be a lot more useful than having this page crawled more frequently than it would an individual location which might not have any updates. So this is really a great way to list out every page within a website and analyze how they’re all linking together. There’s some very good site map visualization tools as well. If you search ‘sitemap visualisation’, let’s see if we can just find a free one just to show you quickly. Once you map it out, and this may take a couple of minutes, then what we should be presented with is like a spider diagram, branching out to how each one of these pages corresponds to the main category or main page.

What is readability?

What is readability? Readability is essentially that you need to ensure your content is readable by who your audience is and anyone on a web page. So for example, if someone’s on a mobile, it needs to be readable on mobile. One piece of advice I’d always give is to look at your site on mobile and if you’ve just got big blocks of text, paragraphs and paragraphs of text, not breaking it up at all, that’s not very readable. It’s not a good user experience. So to improve readability, you can use the headings. So H1, H2, H3, which breaks up written texts. Also use bullet points, images, anything to improve readability. There’s a tool that you can use called Grammarly or Hemingway and you can put your content or your written content on your page in there and it tells you how easy it is to read that content. If it’s not easy to read, if you have long complex sentences or things that have grammar issues, that is bad readability.

Here is a basic impression of what a site map structure looks like. In this scenario, you’ve got the products and then product two, and then sub categories relating to that product. There are much nicer ways to visualise it. You can have these really complex ones and you can see how everything stands out. This is you creating content silos which give your prospective customers the results of what they’re looking for as soon as possible. And if you bring this back to, which is why I was talking about earlier, and we go ‘HDTV’, this can very much create your content calendar for you.

You can see that ‘HDTV’, it’s a lot better and a lot cheaper for you to advertise and create content around ‘what is better UHD or LED’. Creating this content will actually end up making you eventually rank for the phase HDTV but you’re more likely to get conversions from these phases than you are for trying to optimize or paying PPC on a phrase like this.

How to check your site for broken links and errors

Is there a tool to check your website for any broken links, errors or 404s? Yes. You can use search console so you can also use a series of different Google Chrome extensions which also serves the same job. You can run a lighthouse audit against your website. You can also just type into Google, ‘find broken links on a website’ and the top three results will probably have tools. You can just put your website in there and it will just find it, it will just say, ‘error 404’ and tell you how many pages have that. Most SEO features have free tools available online, you just have to search for that exact tool. You’ll be surprised about how many SEOs out there are willing to give away some free information in return for trying to give you a sales pitch at some stage.

Are blog posts as important as pages?

Do blog posts have equal importance as pages? Does length have any effect? I would say in terms of length, yes and no. Depth has an effect, how much depth your content goes into: does it cover all of the questions that people ask related to that topic? There’s no point having 3000 words on a page that don’t talk about what you’re trying to rank for. If you have 3000 that answer the person’s first question then when you’ve answered that question, they have another question and you answer that and so on. For example, if you’re trying to talk about sweets or are sweets bad for you and then if you answer that question and then you go into more detail about sweets, then yes, length kind of does have an impact but you could be, for example, a website that is really authoritative, answers the question really well in 600 words and ranks better than a page with 3000 words, if it doesn’t answer the question. So it’s all about matching the intent of what the person searching is looking for.

Then in terms of pages and blog posts. So your pages are your service pages or your product pages so they should have the most importance in terms of what you want them to rank for, the keywords that you’re trying to rank for. So the main ones that your blog posts are there to be able to support and also rank for some of the low competition, low search volume keywords. So you should also be linking from your blog posts to your product or service pages, to your most important pages.

Sitemaps on small sites

Are sitemaps necessary on small sites? Yeah, on all levels. It’s actually part of the algorithm. You need to be trying to follow compliance as much as possible so having a site map and submitting that sitemap is important. Don’t expect a search engine to go and try to find it themselves, you really need to try to point them in the right direction as much as possible.

Website building for beginners

I want to create a website as I’m looking for a challenge, would you be able to recommend a site for beginners? WordPress. There’s loads of themes out there that you can do one click install on, and then you can modify those themes which really does speed up development significantly. Then by having a WordPress website, it gives you a lot more flexibility than having a website on Wix or Weebly or anything like that. That’s not to discredit those sites, Wix sites are certainly heading in the right direction but when it comes to the ability to influence things like website speed, security, and trying to be agile which is really important in SEO. Sadly, Wix and the other site builders don’t provide as much of an opportunity to be agile as something like WordPress which is open source to the whole world to go and learn. There’s tons of free content on YouTube for you to go and learn and to practice and you can’t really break anything.

Tools to show sitemaps

What’s the name of the tool for showing a site map? If you just go ahead and search on Google ‘site map visualisation tool’ and put in your own site map then it will come up with one of those, or you can use one of the premium tools that we use here at Nettl which is something called ‘screaming frog’ which if you really want to get nerdy when it comes to data then screaming frog is one of the best ones. A good exercise is to crawl your competitor’s websites and you can visualise their site map so you can see what content they’re creating. So you can put in Disney and you can see every single page on Disney’s websites and how they hierarchy that content. You can do that against any website at all, even the biggest ones in the world. There’s no stopping you. Then once you know what they’re doing, you can reverse engineer it and try to make it better and more relevant which will give you a head start when it comes to SEO. That’s a big part of SEO: copying, analysing, making better.

One thing I’d recommend as well is once you get your sitemap, you could always copy all of those URLs in your sitemap, put that into an Excel document or a document, and then map your keywords against those URLs. So if you’ve got keywords that you’re trying to target be like, ‘so what page am I trying to target this keyword on?’ Now that’s a job for SEO/Nettle people as well but it’s something you could do.

What are slugs?

What is a slug? A slug is typically called a slug because of the trail that it leaves behind it. You have cookies and then you have slugs relating to a particular subject. I wouldn’t worry too much about it because the majority of site builders just do that by default so I would just focus on creating things like page titles in the correct way and that means that your slugs will naturally be in the best position, but it’s not really something that you have to worry too much about these days.

Obviously if you’ve got a product or a service page, say you’re a hairdresser in Brighton, you might want to have the slug, but just the URL as hairdressers in Brighton. Then also have that as the main heading on the page, just to improve the relevancy and ability to rank locally. So like we saw on Nettl earlier, they have loads of different pages for different areas where they service people and print studios. So the slug could be the name of your service or business or location.

Those of you who are interested in analysing how to create a year-round structure effectively, then I would always say the best rule of thumb is to take what your primary service is and your primary target locality and then use that as your URL descriptor or your slug and also put that into your page title. It doesn’t mean that you have to be like a ‘taxis hyphen Birmingham’, and then your page title is ‘taxis Birmingham’. Your page title could be something like, ‘serving the Birmingham community since 1920, we are the premium option for private hire taxes’. Something like that. It’s absolutely fine. You don’t have to mirror image everything and make it really clunky and not readable. The focus here is to really try to engage with the prospective users whilst giving clues and hints to Google about what regions you’re serving and what areas you’re serving.

Just to focus on that again for small businesses, in that scenario you’d have your primary landing page but then if you’re targeting taxis in Birmingham then you might want to talk about the top 10 places to go in Birmingham because that’s relevant. You’re mentioning places in Birmingham which Google can relate to Birmingham which is unique to it. So you might be talking about Cadbury’s and that then relates back to it, for example. Whereas obviously if you’re talking about Birmingham and then you’re talking about Bristol zoo, then it’s going to throw off the index. So you want to be trying to make it a really useful engaging experience for a prospective customer whilst giving Google the material that it wants.

Think about how Wikipedia works, think about how if you search Silverback in Wikipedia. So we’re going to click into gorilla on Wikipedia and Wikipedia has no bias when it comes to Google search engines. What it does exceptionally well is it’s really fast, the user experience which doesn’t have loads of vanity pictures and everything else, it’s just trying to deliver content in the fastest possible way. Then it has all of these internal linkings and do recognise that it doesn’t say anywhere ‘click here’ or ‘find out more’ or anything like that. This is all descriptive, contextual words linking and all of the sub-subjects make it authoritative for gorillas because it knows that gorillas are apes and they live in the forest and they are from Africa and that they came from humans. So Google already knows all of that information so what is actually trying to find out is who has all of that core information relating to that subject. That’s the same as if you’re a butcher, if you’re a hairdresser, you want to be talking about bob cuts and skin fades and all the rest of that information all makes you authoritative for hairdressers.

So what people need to stop doing is stop just putting in the same keywords all the time and start putting your expertise as small business owners into your website and actually sharing that. It’s no longer sufficient just to have a brochure website and say ‘hey, I’ve only got a two page website but I want to rank top on Google’. It’s like, well, no, you’re not going to because you’re not adding any value to the internet. If you want to rank and you want to see this as a really profitable exercise, which is ultimately how companies like Gymshark reach million pound valuations by focusing on SEO first and focussing on influences and leveraging influences for their ability to rank and get ahead of really massive competitors in the world. It’s hugely possible for any business here to outrank Amazon or outrank any of these huge major organisations if they follow a formula and stick to it and they persevere. I know because I’ve done it quite a few times and it is very much possible and you could do that on a shoestring budget just by committing your time and energy towards it.

A really good way for all of you to understand what the potential ROI is on optimising for search is if you’ve ever run an ad campaign, a PPC campaign, those keywords that are delivering conversions, which hopefully you would have done some tracking, times that by four or five and that’s what you should be getting if you were ranking organically for that phrase. That should give you a rough indicator of what the output could be if you were ranking top organically for that phrase. Then you look at all of the volume of phrases within PPC, what are delivering leads and conversions for you? And they are your target keywords, you already know what’s going to work so pursue those ones. If it’s all very long tail phrases from PPC, you know these are the questions I need to be answering within my website to make my website visible. So, it’s really important to get a structure you’ve got down.

External blogs

Is having an external blog with a different URL linked to my shop website on the same relevant topic a no-no compared to an inside one on the same URL? So Google will see those as those different websites. So the blog if that’s on a different URL or different site of the main, that will be different to the shop websites. If you want to improve the authority of the shop website and show Google that you’re posting relevant content it’s better to have a blog on the shop website.

Site maps and if you need to update a new one every single time. No you don’t because the very nature of a sitemap is that it’s telling the search engine to come back in a week or in two weeks or in a day or in an hour to come and check what’s new. So it already has those core pages, it’ll naturally find and navigate to the next one. The only thing you can do, if you have changed something on your site and you want Google to re-crawl that page as quickly as possible, you can use the URL inspection tool in Google search console, once you’ve got that set up, and you can put the page in there and it will come up, Google will crawl it and it will come up with an in-depth sense submitted. Then you can create something that says, I think it’s like ‘re-crawl’ or ‘force the crawl’ and you can basically force Google to crawl it quicker than it might do with the site map if you wanted to. But you don’t need to do that every time. It’s just if you’ve changed something significant on your website and you want it to show up in the search results quicker.

You have to understand that you can’t just throw a couple of hundred pounds a month at this and it’s just done. You need to be owning and adopting some of this yourself and then the things that Nettl do should be the things that you can’t do. So it should be the technical challenges, speed optimisation, the server configuration and all of that technical stuff. Whereas we can never replace your expertise in your subjects, whether hypnosis or whether it be a graphic design or whether it be car hire or taxes, you know those industries, they’re your bread and butter. SEO is ours.

Voice search

How popular is voice search and how do search engines work differently for voice searches? So it’s pretty much that long tail analysis once again. So we are seeing a huge increase in long-tail questions being asked to search engines. and we’re probably heading to a realm and a world where keyboards will probably not be as relevant in the next 10 years, if at all. Keyboards will be seen as something of the past and we’ll probably be using our voice a hell of a lot more as the accuracy increases and it’s getting very close to tipping point right now. Obviously we’re now starting to see breakthroughs with things like neuralink which will allow, eventually, people to think of something and have that presented to them which really does change everything.

With voice search, it’s one of those things in SEO that it’s definitely becoming more prominent. Google said that by 2020, 50% of searches will be voice search. It’s not quite right at the moment but what’s important I think to understand is that to get your SEO right on your site first before being a company that can optimise for voice queries. There’s not a lot of data out there yet in specifically voice search queries. It’s a lot in terms of what people are asking their Amazon echos, their Google homes and things like that. It’s not necessarily all searches. So don’t think voice search is the biggest thing for your small business at the moment.