Google 101

You use Google every day. But do you know how it works?

The phrase searched by a user is a keyword. The results are SERPs, short for search engine results pages. Each day, 15% of searches done on Google use keywords that have never been seen before [source]. It’s amazing Google works as well as it does!

So…how does this black box work?

Google is a black box

For a given keyword, Google’s results are based on a mix of:

  • the user
    • Google’s profile of the user
    • where they’re located
  • the query
    • does the site have content that matches the query?
    • does the site match the query’s location?
  • the site
    • external signals – is the site authoritative? does it have many links from other authoritative sites?
    • internal signals – is the site mobile friendly? secure? fast? does it look reputable?

You can’t control the user, but you can predict what they’re likely to search for. Best of all, your site is 100% within your control. SEO boils down to making your site look reputable, writing relevant content, and getting links from as many places as possible.


Crafting relevant content and building links gets you onto the SERPs, but that’s only half the battle. Once you’re in front of the user, you need them to choose you instead of a competitor. Look at these SERPs for “real estate lawyer”: which would you choose?

Example real estate lawyer SERPs

For me, it’s a toss up. The first result makes great use of its snippet to talk about benefits the client cares about: fixed fees and remote signings. On the other hand, its title talks about multiple practice areas, which is less reassuring than the 100% real-estate-focused text of the second result.

The title and the snippet are the two biggest levers you have to grab hold of the user’s attention. Put yourself in their shoes. What are you looking for? What would scare you off?

The title is directly controlled by you: whatever you put in your <title> tag shows up here. Long titles are truncated, as you can see in the first example.

The snippet is indirectly controlled by you. It often comes from the meta description on the page. However, if Google thinks the meta description isn’t a great match for the user’s query, Google will take an arbitrary snippet of text from your page, and show that instead. If this happens a lot, it’s a sign that you should rework the text of your page, possibly splitting one page into multiple to target distinct user queries.

I’ll explain how to maximize meta descriptions a little later, along with some other on-page SEO strategies.

Google My Business ⟶