In today’s highly competitive online landscape, search engines and their search results play a crucial role in determining what sources of information we receive. Therefore, understanding the workings of search engines and optimizing your website to rank higher in search results is essential for online success. This is where search engine optimization (SEO) comes into play, as it involves various techniques and strategies to improve a website’s ranking and visibility in search engine results pages. Here is what you need to know about search engines and search engine optimization:


1. Understanding Search Engines in 2023

Search engines are so commonly used now that many people don’t even think about them. Search engines produce search results that are ranked by a number of factors. The ranking is significant because most users will only end up viewing a small handful of the listed results. For this reason, it is vital to understand why a search engine will rank some results higher than others, and how your business can reach higher rankings.

It can be assumed that users pick search results based on the topic most relevant to what they were searching, but the reality is more complex. With Google as the dominant search engine, search engine providers can promote their products through ads from their subsidiaries. These ads can then be prioritized in search results, which gives the subsidiaries more exposure than other businesses. Using search engine optimization or (SEO) and keyword research, advertisements can target common answers to users’ questions and rank high on Google as a result. SEO can also be used organically from businesses not using paid ads but simply relying on keyword research and placement. However, research has shown that many users are unable to distinguish between a paid ad and organic SEO.

This data suggests that any kind of SEO you use for your business will be competing with paid advertisements. Search engines make a majority of their revenue from ads, and if most users are not able to tell the difference between ads and organic SEO, then ads can be prioritized by Google over your business.

2. The Role of Search Engines

Search engines determine what people will see when they look for information online. While it may make sense for search engines to prioritize quality and the best information possible, this has not been found to be the case. Research indicates that search engines such as Google show bias in their results, and can promote dangerous content such as hate speech or conspiracy theories. Research has also shown that many users have limited knowledge of how search engines work.

Despite the immense popularity of search engines as a source of information, many users are not aware of the process of how this information is given to them, and which external forces determine which sources end up in the top search results. Search results are therefore not determined by quality, but by accessibility. If many users will accept the first search results they find, your business must provide the answers they are looking for while also utilizing SEO to make your site easy to find.

3. Trust in Search Engines

Despite the lack of real knowledge on search engines, it remains a function of the internet that users often trust. 91% of United States internet users say they find what they are looking for while using search engines, while as high as 66% view search engines as an unbiased source of information. These results clearly show that any bias or flaw in search engines is not known by many users, and search engine results remain a trusted source. For that reason, search engines can be a significant influence on the information and content people consume. This leaves search engines open to manipulation, which can be taken advantage of by the companies and advertisers that can reach the top rankings.

The use of paid ads to rank high on Google combined with the lack of interest from most users to scroll past the first page leads to a large portion of web attention going to a small amount of sources. If you are running a business in 2023, you must be aware that your content is competing in a very small pool of exposure. For that reason, proper SEO use has become essential for companies, to the point that even content production must heavily account for SEO use. From the ground up, your business must be trying to aim for Google’s high rankings.

4. What is Search Engine Optimization?

Search engine optimization is a method of gaining the largest number of visitors to a specific website by ensuring that site lists high in results from a search engine. SEO includes use of properly placed keywords that increase the chances of high rankings. SEO is a form of search engine marketing (or SEM). SEO and SEM are not necessarily paid but can extend to paid search marketing (PSM), which includes paid keyword-related advertisements. These types of ads are known as sponsored links, and they represent a significant source of revenue for search engines. For this reason, search engine result pages often have two result links: a list of advertisements and a list of organic results that were not paid for but still utilize SEO.

SEO has become so crucial to success that even website design and content production needs to capitalize on it. SEO is taught in journalism programmes and affects policies in newsrooms. SEO is no longer just placing keywords within writing, it has reshaped the entire industry of writing and content creation.

There are benefits and drawbacks to the dominance of SEO. On one hand, SEO has been found to increase website usability and accessibility for users. SEO has also given website owners a way for their content to be found more easily. However, SEO also allows for much more low quality content to be given a spotlight. Because all someone has to do is appeal to Google’s search engine algorithm, SEO can give more exposure to misinformation and fake news. With both information and misinformation more accessible than ever, it is essential as a business to establish yourself as a trustworthy and reliable source of real information. SEO can be used to showcase your expertise on a topic.

Recent Study Results

Despite the potentially substantial impact of SEO and the amount of money invested in it, there has been surprisingly little research on the topic. A recent study was conducted by SEO experts to better understand how clients view search engine optimization. Researchers interviewed participants to answer the following questions:

RQ1: What knowledge do internet users have of paid search marketing (PSM)?
RQ2: What knowledge do internet users have of search engine optimization (SEO)?
RQ3: Are internet users able to distinguish between organic results and ads on Google’s search engine results pages?
RQ4: How strong do internet users believe SEO can impact the search results?
RQ5: What opinions do internet users have about the influence that SEO can have on search results?

The results found that 32% of users are unaware of Google’s main revenue source, with some thinking that Google makes most of its revenue through selling user data (2%). 79% of users were aware that website operators could use paid placements, and 42% claimed they could distinguish between organic results and paid results. However, only 29% of users knew that an ad label is what separates organic from paid. Only 43% thought that a better Google ranking was possible without paying the search engine. In contrast, 79% were aware of the influence of paid advertisements. Overall, participants were much more familiar with PSM than SEO.

The study ultimately demonstrated that users have a limited knowledge about SEO, despite the substantial impact it has on how they receive information and which products and services are visible to them. Many were unable to distinguish organic SEO from paid ads. However, views on SEO were mostly positive, even if users acknowledged potential negatives. The biggest challenge with running a successful business in 2023 is competing with paid ads from large businesses for clients that may not be knowledgeable about SEO. Additionally, sites with credible information must compete for rankings with sites that utilize SEO algorithms for spreading misinformation. To succeed in this modern day of SEO, you need to be aware of these trends and use them to your advantage.