By now, every SEO marketer knows there’s something floating in cyberspace called a search engine algorithm. Everyone also knows that somehow these digital messengers influence search results. But what exactly is an algorithm?
Without becoming ensnared in programming complexity, an algorithm basically is a set of digital instructions intended to return a specific result. All algorithms are set in motion by digital input provided by your friendly, neighborhood programmer.
So much for your short course in computer science. What’s more relevant to SEO marketers is what an algorithm does when returning search results. Essentially, what it does is understand search queries. What exactly is a user looking for? This often-difficult question is what it attempts to answer. Once an answer emerges, the most relevant search results are displayed.
To understand search queries, an algorithm carries out three distinct interpretations. For the first, it defines all words in a query. Phrases such as baseball stadium, local surf spot, and yummy-good all must be analyzed for their actual meaning in everyday language. This is where algorithms get literal.
With the second type of interpretation, literacy is tossed aside. Now the algorithm does some psychological probing as it works to determine user intent. What exactly does the searcher want, anyway? To buy a product? See a review? Zoom to a website? It’s up to the algorithm to find out.
The third type of interpretation focuses on the time factor. How new must the sought-after content be? Does the user desire the latest and greatest? Is older content OK? Does it matter? It’s up to the algorithm to figure it out.
In many cases, search box wording is comparatively easy to understand. There’s no mistaking the meaning of -- buy tickets for tonight’s performance of Twelfth Night. Definitions, intent, and timeliness are obvious. In other instances, major deciphering is in order.
Clearly, SEO marketers should design keyword phrases to address the three levels of search engine interpretation. Then, of course, make sure the content aligns with the phrases when they’re used in a query. But don’t worry about being misinterpreted (assuming the job is done right). As is known throughout the world, search engines can be very understanding.