The prevalence of search engines is often taken for granted, but they significantly shape how we receive information. Search engines provide us with a ranked list of results based on the words or phrases we have searched, but we rarely think about how those results were determined. Search engines have become the primary way people find information, so understanding how search engines work is essential for success in 2023.

Influence of search results

Search results may seem like an objective source of information, but research has found this is not the case. It has been found that people will usually only view the first few links on a results page and very rarely scroll past the first page of results. This gives that first page a tremendous amount of influence. The influence is strong enough that Epstein and Robinson (2015) argued that the order of search results could even affect a user’s choice of political candidate. The substantial advantage of appearing in the top of search results has made ranking high a top priority for businesses.

How are search results determined?

On the surface, it would seem that search results prioritize the information most relevant to what the searcher has asked for. However, there are many external factors that determine search results. Because there is so much to gain from high ranking search results, those results are influenced by commercial interests. These interests can even include subsidiaries of search engines, which led to Google being fined for prioritizing results related to its own financial gain. Even after the lawsuit, search results did not become an equal game.

Organic results and ads

Organic results are search results that rank on Google based on use of search engine optimization. These results are not paid for and rely on keyword research to be successful. Keyword-based advertising relies on ads that are contextually relevant to what the user is searching to appear at the top of search results. These sponsored results are paid ads that appear as search results, often appearing above organic results.

Many users are unable to distinguish paid ads from organic search results, and less knowledgeable users will often choose the first result they see. Search engine companies make a large amount of profit from selling ads (up to 83% of their revenue). For that reason, search engines benefit from the uncertain distinction between organic results and paid ads.

Search Engine Optimization

Search Engine Optimization (or SEO) is the process of optimizing web pages to improve rankings in Google search results. Companies rely on SEO to compete with paid ads for high rankings. SEO has become so crucial for businesses that the market for it has generated 80 billion dollars in the United States alone.

Search results are no longer based completely on relevance, they are greatly determined by optimization to appeal to Google’s algorithm and rank high on the results page. If you want to run a business in 2023, it is imperative to understand the importance of SEO and how valuable it is to your success.

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