In response to questions from a few of my website design clients in recent weeks, I felt it was worthwhile to explain what Google is, and how you can get your website showing up when people search for you or relevant search terms and phrases.
Google is nothing more than a directory of websites. This directory can be searched and the search results will show the websites that Google 'thinks' are most relevant to what you are searching for.
Google uses a method called 'crawling', which uses a computer program known as Googlebot to scan websites so it can determine what each one is about. It uses a known list of websites to begin the crawl, and then records the links from each site it visits to broaden its search to include new sites which have been added or linked to since the last crawl.
Before Google can crawl your website it needs to know it exists! There are lots of ways to tell Google about your new website, including adding a link to it on an existing website, or advertising the website on social media.
You can also add your site to Google's own Webmaster Tools and create a sitemap.xml file so that Google can have a head-start on understanding your website structure when it starts to scan your content.
As soon as Google has done the first scan of your site, or you have told it the website exists through advertising or through Webmaster tools, it normally takes less than 24 hours for your site to be shown in search results. At this stage, however, it is unlikely you will be shown on page 1 unless you have little to no competition. Google has no fixed timescale for crawling websites, so it can take a number of days or weeks for your full website content to be crawled and 'indexed'.
As Googlebot scans each of the pages on your website it compiles a list of the words it finds and also their location on each page. It also processes information included in key content tags and attributes such as page titles, and image 'ALT' tags. It cannot always process dynamic page content such as Flash and other rich media files.
When you enter your search word or term into Google, their computers search their index for pages which match the search request and show you a list of the website pages which they feel are most relevant to you.
There are over 200 factors linked to the relevancy of the websites shown, including 'PageRank', for each page in the index.
PageRank is the measure of how important a page is based on how many other websites link to it, though Google does its best to only use those links that are from high quality and non-spam websites, so it no longer pays to simply build as many links to your website as possible to improve your own PageRank.
It is firstly important that Google can fully crawl and index your website correctly. Secondly, Google offer their own Webmaster Guidelines which cover the range of areas you can look at when trying to make your website more relevant to those visitors you wish to attract.
As a website owner you have no control over how Google ranks and displays your website, so doing your best to follow Google's own guidelines is a great first place to start.
Simply by following these guidelines we moved our own website from page 3 to the top of page 1 for our chosen search terms over a 4 month period - proof that in many cases, optimising your website for Google is not a quick process and takes lots of on-going work and not always something that needs to be done 'once'!