Rule 1: SEO is more about information than computers
If you’ve worked for more than an hour in the field of search engine optimization, you know that little will time pass before a barrage of questions come from colleagues:
Why isn’t our website number one in the rankings?
Why can’t I can’t find the site on Google for this search term?
Shouldn’t we be on page one of Google by now?
These are all good questions, especially when the inquiring party is paying somebody to promote a website and attract visitors (and ultimately new patients). The problem? Answers to simple SEO questions are often more than a little complicated.
Search engines are remarkably sophisticated systems. Note the use of the word “system.” Many people tend to imagine search engines as some sort of computer device that looks at the internet in a nanosecond and returns an instant response to an internet searcher’s query.
That’s hardly the case. Instead, search engines require notably intricate computer software, data centers and networking which costs billions of dollars.
Today, doctors depend increasingly on search engines to help them find new patients. Given the growing influence of the internet on the business of health care, we’re dedicating a series to untangling the complexity of online search.
We’ll avoid the really geeky stuff but hopefully provide enough of the basics for the health care professional simply wanting to be a better manager. Let’s start with this installment on the first rule of SEO.
The only exception to this statement is if you work for Google or another search engine. For the rest of us, SEO is about information quality.
Search engines use software to investigate all 250 million-plus websites on the internet, using something called robots or spiders to “crawl” the sites. In a process called indexing, these robots gather, analyze and store what they find into a database.
The Google database – stored on more than a million computer servers around the world – is what you, the internet searcher, look into every time you perform a Google search.
Google, king of internet search
We’ll focus here on Google because approximately three of four internet searchers use that particular search engine. This is about the only computer stuff any medical marketer or doctor might want to know about Google:
- Google crawls in excess of 20 billion web pages each day, according to Wired magazine.
- Google handles approximately 3 billion searches daily.
- Google uses an extraordinarily complex, ever-changing algorithm to rank pages for any particular internet search term, whether it’s “skin cancer,” “dislocated finger” or “common cold.” The algorithm is perhaps the most closely guarded trade secret on the planet.
- Google keeps all its data in an unknown number of data centers around the world, each typically costing as much as $600 million to build and contain as many as 50,000 servers. This is because search engines have millions of small databases, each centered on a keyword topic. This makes it easier for them to retrieve information in fractions of a second.
The Google algorithm assesses more than 200 “signals” in order to rank a page, says spokesman Matt Cutts. “The secret sauce is in the blending of these signals.”
Okay. End of the techy stuff. We only cite these statistics in hopes of endowing a sense of humble respect for what we consider the greatest human invention ever: the internet search engine.
Otherwise, the work of improving search-engine rankings is focused on the quality of information on each web page.
Google’s 200-plus signals include factors such as the page’s content, title, any keywords in headlines on the page, proximity of keywords to each other on that page, the page URL (web address) and PageRank, a Google measure of how many other web pages link inward to that particular page.
In the next installment, we’ll look at the futility of trying to game the system.