The way Google works

Google. A company so successful it’s become a verb.

But I’ve never given too much thought to what ‘Googling’ something really means. Typing a few words into Google search bar and hitting Enter has always felt a bit like casting a super-optimized fishing line into a sea of online information: it’ll search the entire ocean in less than a second before bringing back the best catch it can find.

So I was surprised to learn that when you do use Google to fish for information, it barely scratches the surface. This is because the internet is divided into two components: the ‘surface Web’ and the ‘deep Web’.

Unlike the surface Web, The deep Web is a portion of the net which cannot be accessed by standard search engines. In addition, the deep Web is estimated at a colossal 500 times the size of the Surface Web, meaning Google is merely one visible island amongst an ocean of hidden material.

Consequently, when you ‘Google’ something, you aren’t searching the entire World Wide Web at all. Instead, what you are actually searching is Google’s index of the web, created by software programmes called spiders. Spiders are responsible for crawling along the net and weaving together a mass of webpages, all of which are then catalogued by Google.

Each time somebody enters something into a Google search bar, Google checks every single webpage within its catalogue, looking for words which match the search terms. From the hundreds of thousands of returns it will get, Google then discerns the most relevant  results by querying a variety of statistics e.g. the number of times each webpage includes the key search terms, or how high each webpage’s PageRank is.

Google also checks whether the key search terms appear in the webpage address, title or intro. The format of each Google search result also comprises those three focal elements i.e. web address, title, and a short blurb – otherwise known as a meta-description. This is why Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a crucial part of ensuring a webpage’s visibility. defines SEO as ‘the process of choosing targeted keyword phrases related to a site’. Thus, in order to increase a webpage’s visibility, both for Google users and the search engine itself, intros need to be relevant, simple and concise (no more than 25 words) and titles even more so (10 words max).

Drop intros tend not to work in online news stories, and punned titles for online publications are an SEO faux pas. However, while adhering to SEO may suggest a decline in creativity, I believe SEO merely presents a new challenge to the modern journalist: the challenge of ensuring that your online publication is both informative and searchable, but entertaining too.

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