Search engines and organic traffic

Search engines are like tour guides. They spend time studying the layout of the internet and learn the location of websites. This allows them to direct tourists, or internet users, to specific locations on the World Wide Web.

However, unlike tour guides, search engines operate at a significantly larger magnitude. There are over 1.7 billion websites containing in excess of five billion web pages on the internet – and the numbers just grew by thousands more by the time you finished reading this sentence.

Search engines funnel organic traffic from the chaos of cyberspace. Image courtesy of Pixabay

Why do we need search engines?

Websites are located on invisible locations in cyberspace. To access them, users use web browsers to navigate to their locations using Romaniseduniform resource locators (URLs) which contain information about the protocol used by websites and the location of their servers and resources.

The average person will be able to remember a bunch of website URLs. However, since there are billions of websites around, web surfers can’t possibly remember the correct URLs to comfortably navigate the World Wide Web. In the early days of the internet, there were attempts to manually list and catalogue the entire internet by dividing websites into specific categories. However, this eventually proved not practical because the size of the internet rapidly grew to gargantuan proportions.

By the mid-1990s, multiple companies began to develop search engine software to address the issue.The emergence of search engines such as Lycos, Alta Vista and Excite changed the way we view and navigate the internet. Suddenly, it became so much easier to just type in what you need into search boxes instead of scrolling through bookmarks or directories.

This paradigm shift came about with the development of algorithms capable of collecting, collating and organising vast amounts of data which allowed search engines to develop indexes of the internet. Search engine companies are understandably secretive about their algorithms to prevent them from being gamed and abused, but they provide sufficient amount of information to guide webmasters on how to ensure their websites are indexed and visible to the public.

What is the relationship between search engines, organic traffic and organic ranking?

Three decades on, search engines have cumulatively mapped, listed and catalogued practically the entire visible internet. While users can still go to their destinations using memory, bookmarks, and especially referral links from social media, search engines are the preferred choice for the bulk of internet users.

Traffic generated by search engines is considered pure, since they are not reliant on external factors or referral links. The traffic is derived organically from user needs and queries – hence the term organic traffic.

Website owners and webmasters, especially for e-commerce sites, highly value this organic traffic as they typically arrive at the beginning stage of the conversion process. They have not been influenced by external factors such as social media and advertisements. In addition, organic traffic is also technically free, unlike other sources of traffic like paid search and email marketing. Achieving a high organic ranking is the key to getting organic traffic.