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Last updated on 8/23/23

Discover how Google works

Google provides 92% of all search engine results worldwide. That’s over 3 billion searches per day!

Obviously, when you create a website you shouldn’t expect 3 billion visits the very next day. However, it is reasonable to expect several tens, or even hundreds of thousands of visitors per month if you’ve done your SEO correctly. And remember, every visitor is a potential customer.

That’s what you will learn about in this course!

Why Google?

Due to Google’s predominance among search engines, we will mainly discuss techniques that apply to this search engine.

Although each search engine may have its own specificities, they all operate along the same basic principles. You can, therefore, apply what you learn in this course (with some slight changes) to all search engines.

How does Google work?

Google’s search engine is a robot, also called a "crawler” or “spider,” that travels the web by following links from one website to the next.

Each time it reaches a new web page, it reads and records the content through a process called scraping. Google extracts all the text from an existing website which is referred to as indexing a web page.

Next, using various algorithms, it will rank these pages in order to return the most relevant information for your query. It bases its ranking on three types of criteria:

  1. Authority: Are people talking about you on the internet?

  2. Relevance of your content: Is your content relevant to a user’s search, and is the information of good quality?

  3. Technical optimization: Is your website sufficiently user-friendly and fast?

Differentiate between free and paid search results

A page displaying Google search results
Example of a search results page with free and paid search results

Once the search initiated, you are directed to a page containing ranked results (see above). There are two main types of results:

  • Paid search results

    • Entries for Google Shopping showing product descriptions, which are generally at the top of the page.

    • Text-based Google Ads entries, which look very similar to free search results, but are prefaced by the word “Ad” or “Sponsored Result.” These entries may appear above or below the free search results.

  • Free search results

    • Text-based results. As you can see in the image above, an entry may be considered particularly relevant to your search and therefore emphasized or even displayed before ads. That is why you should always try to create the best content possible!

    • On the right is the knowledge panel, which is used to provide more detailed information drawing on Wikipedia, Google Maps, or Google My Business for companies (we will come back to this later!).

    • YouTube videos and news articles may also appear among the free search results.

Indeed, it is possible for Google Shopping results to be displayed where the knowledge panel appears above. Alternatively, if you search for a place, a Google Maps entry will be displayed at the top of the results page.

With a little practice, you will be able to recognize the various types of results quickly.

Since there are paid results, and my competitors have a bigger budget than I do, why should I waste time trying to improve my SEO?

When you purchase an ad on a search engine, you pay “per click,” which can cost as much as 3€ and 8€ per click. To attract 100 visitors per month, you would need to spend 300-800€ every month.

However, with a moderate amount of work, you can optimize your website, improve its SEO, and attract a greater number of visitors for free!

Although it may be hard to obtain exact figures, SEO professionals note that paid results only attract 15-20% of clicks. This implies that over 80% of clicks are of free search results (source: Study of click rates by Synodiance).

Can buying Google Ads improve my SEO?

Thankfully, no. Otherwise, even very low quality websites could be first in SEO and among paid ads! That would directly undermine Google’s principle of free search results.

You can improve your SEO by creating a Google-optimized website with quality content. We will look at how to do this in subsequent chapters.

How does Google rank free search results?

As mentioned above, various algorithms are used to rank search results.

The most important are:

  • Panda: Launched in February 2011, this algorithm penalizes websites with low quality content (insufficient content, excessive spam, etc.). Regularly updated, it has been integrated into the Google search engine since 2015.

  • Penguin: This algorithm prevents abusive link practices. It was created in April 2012, and integrated into Google in 2016. Prior to this, it was easy to create thousands of links in order to appear on the first page of Google results. 

  • Hummingbird and its update, Rankbrain: Launched in September 2013 and early 2015, respectively, these algorithms enable Google to understand the context for a given word or phrase and even understand your question and provide you with the answer directly.

  • Pigeon: Introduced in June 2015, it encourages local search results and displays them in Google Maps.

These are continuously updated as new algorithms and improvements are released.

It is important to follow, at least peripherally, the latest changes made by Google and their implications for your optimization plans!

On-page and off-page SEO

In the world of SEO, on-page SEO refers to content optimization, namely:

  • Technical optimization of the website: its accessibility, speed, and mobile-friendly design (responsive).

  • Creation of an SEO optimized technical design (titles, images, contents), which we will learn about later.

  • Content which includes your keywords, and matches the structure of your website.

Off-page SEO refers to finding and establishing partnerships with the goal of creating links towards your website.

On-page SEO refers to the actions you can take to improve your website, and off-page SEO is what is beyond your control since it happens on other websites.

White hat vs. black hat

There are two kinds of SEO:

  • White hat SEO, which you are currently studying, follows Google guidelines and remain as effective as possible over the long-term, regardless of future algorithmic changes.

  • Black hat SEO, which we will not get into here, uses methods to “fool” search engines in order to reach first place faster. You have probably heard of some of these techniques: posting hundreds of links on forums, writing white text on a white background, etc.
    Google is smart enough to notice these practices and actively fight them through updates to its algorithms.


  • Google is the leading search engine in the world with over 92% market share in search queries.

  • Paid results garner at most 20% of all clicks and have no impact on ranking of free search results.

  • Do not attempt to use any black hat techniques!

Now that you are able to describe the basic principles of SEO, we will examine how you can evaluate the relevancy of SEO as a marketing tool for your organization.

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