Getting Good at Google

Ryan Miranda - Project Manager and Lead Developer

This blog post is a follow-up to the Armor Techs Podcast S2E4 and outlines all of the features of the Search Engines we discussed. For readability's sake, I'll be splitting this post into the same two sections as the Podcast: the Consumer and Internet Marketing side of Getting Good at Google.

Being a Good Google Consumer

The consumer side of Google and search engines, in general, comes down to being able to use these services to find what you're looking for efficiently, and being able to weed through the bloat that is a search engine results page (SERP). There are a ton of features that Google offers specifically to make this process easier—the first being the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button.

The "I'm Feeling Lucky" button is something that Google has offered since it was just an upstart search engine, probably as a reference to the famous scene in the 1971 Clint Eastwood movie Dirty Harry that ended with, ". . . you've got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do ya, punk?" This button was originally a kind of boast of confidence of Google's ability to produce relevant results, even in the first hit. For more clarification, the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button takes you to the first result that Google found for your query, rather than taking you to the SERP. Now, this doesn't necessarily mean you'll get the information you want from using this feature, but you'll get the information Google believes you want.

Google also has tons of tabbed features that allow you to refine your search, whether it's for images, news, videos, shopping, or several other categories. This allows you to automatically weed out information that isn't pertinent to your search query and also helps Google understand how to tailor results to you. These tabs also hook into some of Google's lesser-known services, allowing for rich snippets to bring up product cards directly from the Google Marketplace or news articles curated from several different news sources.

Continuing with the idea of the tabbed features, Google also offers different settings and tools (both of which are additional tabs under your search form) to even further tailor your search results. Whether it's adjusting the timeframe you're interested in (e.g., articles from only this month), the language the article is in, or if the article falls under "Safe Search"—Google lets you have a ton of control over how you are using their service.

This brings us to one of the most interesting features Google offers—image searching. Formerly known as a "reverse image search," you can take an image directly from your computer or phone and drag it into your search page. Google then scans the indexed internet for that image, similar images, and websites hosting that image and returns the results to you.

In the podcast, we discussed fair use and how to use these tools to find images that you can use for your marketing. One of the best ways to do this is to use the "Tools" tab on your image searches to set searches to find images that are "labeled for reuse" or "labeled for reuse with modification."

Unfortunately, with the internet being the place it is, we can't always trust these results—even when filtering them properly. The best course of action after you find the resource you're looking for is to ask yourself a simple question, "Is there a company/person that will be against me using this?" If you cannot surely answer "yes," then you're probably better off finding another resource.

Another thing to understand about Google is that it has all sorts of information about you. From your buying habits to your frequently visited locations, Google knows you. What this means as a consumer of this search engine is that Google can even further tailor your results to you. One of the ways they do this is utilizing your GPS location and understanding that you're searching for resources in your vicinity. You've probably used this before, maybe even recently. Going to Google and looking for "Restaurants Near Me" is exactly what I'm talking about. Google understands your current location and can show you resources based on the last GPS check-in they have—meaning the results can be tailored to your physical location as well.

The final consumer-facing features for Google Search that we discussed are the actual query modifiers, i.e., the ways you can ask Google to look at the information you're searching for. There are a ton of them here, so I'll keep them brief:

  • Exact Text Search using Quotes

    By putting a part (or the whole) query inside of quotes, you can force Google to only serve results that explicitly include the words you're searching for.

  • Unknown Text Search using Asterisks

    By putting an asterisk between words, where any number of words might appear, you can ask Google to do a dynamic search on the content. For example, if you know about a boxer named Mike, but not the last name, you might search like so: Mike * Boxer to search for articles that always include Mike and Boxer, with any number of words between them.

  • Word Omission Search using Hyphens

    By attaching a hyphen (-) directly to the beginning of a word, you omit it from all search results. Say you are looking to see how fast a Jaguar runs, but don't want results that include the Jaguar car, you might search like so: Jaguar speed -car, which looks for resources that mention Jaguar(s) and Speed, without mentioning the word Car.

  • Number Ranges with Double Dot Notation

    Using double dot notation (..) you can ask Google to search for things in a range of numbers. An example might be searching for Presidents between 1970 and 2000, where you would search: President 1970..2000.

The next list is another set of query modifiers that are much more specific, and use keywords:

  • Define words with the define keyword

    Using the "define:" keyword, you can ask Google to return a dictionary definition of a word, phrase, idiom, etc.

  • Search on a specific website with the site keyword

    Have you ever wanted to search a website, but they don't have a way to do that built in? Well, Google does—if that site has pages indexed (meaning, if they come up in search results) you can search their website directly through Google by prefacing your search with the site:https://www.thewebsite.com keyword string. Be sure to type the correct domain after the "site:" keyword, and then another space to search for whatever you're trying to find.

  • Find Related websites with the related keyword

    This is another useful tool, and one I was unaware of before writing this post. If you find a website that has good information but you want a second opinion, Google can help with this. Simply search starting with related:https://www.thewebsite.com, where thewebsite is the one you want to find related information to, and Google will give you results of similar websites in the same industry, with similar information.

  • Find websites that link to a specific page with the link keyword

    This is the last one I'm going to touch on here—the "link:" keyword allows you to search for indexed pages that link to the page specified, like link:https://www.armortechs.com would show indexed pages that link directly to the Armor Techs homepage.

Being a Good Google . . . Producer?

That's the end of the consumer side of Google, and how to get good at it. Now we're going to jump right into the internet marketing side—and what it means to be good at Google as a business in an age where everyone has a website.

The buzzword everyone in the internet marketing space is throwing around lately is "user experience." But what exactly is user experience? This concept boils down to a few things: your website needs to be easy to navigate, easy to understand, and have qualified, relevant content. All of that seems pretty easy, right? Well, you might think so, but you also need to remember that each of the (generalized) metrics above are all subjective, or open to individual interpretation.

User experience comes back to understanding that we build websites for users, not for search engines. Pages need to be fast, interactivity needs to be apparent and easy to understand, and finding information needs to be easy. One of the best ways to determine if the user experience of your website is good is to ask yourself the question, "What is the longest route on our website to information? How many clicks does it take to get there? Is this reasonable?" If a user needs to click through 3+ pages in order to find what they're looking for, they're probably going to leave your site in favor of one that is organized better or is easier to use.

The content on your website also influences the user experience. Understanding how to effectively use colors, transitions, font sizes, and other styling techniques is huge in user experience. Ensuring that your website is mobile responsive is also another huge factor when it comes to user experience, and is one of the biggest ones that Google leverages when serving pages. Security is the other large metric that Google is currently integrating into their algorithm—they care if you are protecting the data of your users. Making sure your site has a modern and valid SSL certificate is the easiest way to ensure you get points for security.

This ends up sounding like a farfetched idea, but you have influence over Google results too, almost like the democratic process of voting. If you visit a website, and leave it quickly (especially if you're using Google Chrome), you give Google information about the user experience of that website. If enough people agree with you, that the user experience is poor, and they all leave quickly, too, then Google will rank that website lower. This is huge, as it means that together we can work toward a much more unified visual language and process for developing, deploying, and maintaining good, relevant, and useful websites.

As you can see, there is actually a TON of stuff happening in the background of Google and the search engine they've built. From tweaking your queries to better serve you information, to understanding just HOW Google serves that information, it's a lot to take in. I recommend clicking on the links above in the list to test out some of the different methods of searching Google. If you've got questions, comments, or just need some help with search engines, SEO, or SERPs, reach out to the Armor Techs below and let us know what we can do to help you!

Thursday January 17th, 2019#google #search tips #web design #ranking