Search Engines - How are they used?

Search Engines have gotten a lot more sophisticated and a lot better at returning relevant search results for the end user. But how do users search? Seems like a silly question, until you realize that getting good traffic to your website from the search engines requires you to know what search words (called keyword phrases) that people use.

Determining which keyword phrases people use requires you to look at how people search. Let's take the example of the our fictitious landscaping company that I used in the search engine optimization article , except let's look at it from the users standpoint.

Solving a problem

Typically when a user goes to a search engine, it is to solve a problem. That problem might be “I need more information about . . .”, or “I want to buy a product that does . . .”. So a user decides they need to get someone to mow their lawn. They go to a search engine and type in “lawn mowing services”, but they quickly find that they are getting search results from companies in Florida, websites that give you information about how to mow your law, etc. So they decide that what they really need is a company in Fort Collins, Colorado. So they type in “Fort Collins lawn mowing services”. Aha, now they are getting somewhere! But there a still quite a few sites with articles about lawn moving and websites that are nothing more than regional directories. But the user also notices that in several descriptions that the words “lawn care” are being used, so they change their search strategy. Now they type in “Fort Collins lawn care”, and now they get the results that they wanted. At the same time they also notice that there are quite a few references to “lawn maintenance” and “landscaping”, so if they don't find what they want with “Fort Collins lawn care” they can always change their search strategy again.

Now that we know this, we might want to make sure that our site ranks pretty high for “Fort Collins lawn care”, “Fort Collins lawn maintenance”, and  “Fort Collins lawn mowing”. It would be nice if we knew which of these keyword phrases were searched the most, and there are ways of finding out, but that will have to wait until another day (of course if you just can't wait contact me for more information)

A couple of other interesting search engine related features to mention are; Google Shopping , Google Images , and geo-targeted search results. If you are selling products on your website, you should seriously consider submitting those products to Google Shopping (formerly Froogle).

Google Shopping

With Google Shopping you can simply enter the product you are looking for and in return you will see a listing with a product photograph, description, price and the vendor selling the product. Optionally you can even add it to a shopping list so that you can compare items at a later time. Google images is kind of similar except that it isn't limited to just products, you could be looking for an image of the Mona Lisa. Simply go to Google Images and type in “Mona Lisa”, you will get a listing of images (naturally), along with the dimensions in pixels, what file format it is, and a link to the website that it is from.

Google Images

Getting in Google Images is also a good idea as people do use it for product browsing.


The last one is geo-targeted search results, and this is something that you can't really get into, it is something that the search engines are experimenting with more and more, especially Google. You will see it when you type in a product or service along with a city name. For example if you were to type in “cars” in Google, you would get a listing of sites that have to do with cars. If however, you were to type in “Fort Collins cars”, at the top of the search results you will see “Local business results for cars near Fort Collins, CO”, followed by a Google Map and 10 or so business listings right next to it. Google has figured out that you probably want to see who has cars available in Fort Collins and is trying to make it easier for you. Pretty cool eh? They are also experimenting with displaying search results that depend on where geographically the search is coming from. So if a user types in “parks” and their computers' IP address is from Fort Collins, they can guess that the user would primarily want results from their geographical area. Now this gets pretty scary.

Why does Google care?

No doubt the search engines will change the way search results are displayed to make it easier for the searcher. In fact they are already starting to use similar words in search results, trying to guess what you are trying to find. Why are they concerned with search results? Because they make all of their money on paid listings (you know the ones on the right hand side), If you don't find their search engine helpful, you will use another, and then their paid listing sales go down.


In summary it really helps to know how people use search engines, so that we can better understand what keyword phrases we want our website to rank highly for. If you don't think your site is ranking as high as it should for popular search terms contact me so that we can discuss how to improve your ranking.