Google as a Glorified Librarian: A Metaphorical Simplification of the Complicated World of SEO

Google as a Glorified Librarian: A Metaphorical Simplification of the Complicated World of SEO

Whenever I’m asked what I do, the conversation usually goes something like this:

Stranger: “So, what do you do?”

Me: “I’m an SEO Manager at a digital marketing agency. Are you familiar with SEO at all?”

Stranger: “Nope. What’s that?”

Me: “It’s complicated, but basically I fix up websites so they have a better shot at showing up in Google.”

Stranger: “That sounds interesting. What sorts of things do you ‘fix up’?”

Me: “Uh, well, I don’t want to get super technical and bore you …”

Me & Stranger: 

It would be nice if I had a snappy witticism that summed up SEO in just a sentence or two, but the truth is: it’s just too vast and abstract a concept.

In my mind though, the next best thing after a witty comment is a really solid metaphor. Metaphors take the abstract and tough-to-grasp concepts and repackage them as a simpler, more familiar idea.

That’s why I chose to demystify SEO by comparing Google to a library.

When you boil it down, Google and libraries exist to serve the same purpose: aid in the quest for information.

In both worlds, the individual seeking out information could have a problem they need to solve or a subject they’re interested in learning more about. Some things – like commerce-related searches – don’t translate well to a library setting, but the basic concepts still line up very nicely.

This metaphorical explanation may eventually turn into a series of blog posts, because, like I mentioned earlier, SEO is a vast subject. But for this post, I’ll limit the explanation to three common high-level questions I get from friends, family, clients and prospective clients:

  1. What is SEO?
  2. What are the basic ranking factors?
  3. When can I expect to see results?

I’ll use the aforementioned library metaphor to answer these questions in some detail. Before I get too far into the weeds, however, I want to offer the following “metaphor key” that you can refer back to as you read the post.

Metaphor Key

SEO Term

Library Term

Google’s index


Google’s crawler (Googlebot)


Google’s algorithm

The criteria a librarian uses to sort/rank information

Performing a search

Asking the librarian to find the most relevant results for your needs and rank them

Search results (SERP)

The array of information the librarian returns



Website session

The time between when a reader opens and closes your book

Website/business owner




User experience (UX)

Ease of navigation, overall helpfulness of the book


The book’s table of contents


A citation or mention of your book from another book

Pogo sticking

When readers jump back and forth among books

Question #1: What is SEO?

This is an extremely high-level question and one you’d think I’d have no trouble answering. But alas, it’s probably the most difficult question of the bunch.

In the most basic sense, SEO is the process of rewriting, restructuring and consistently updating your book in an effort to match the librarian’s ever-evolving criteria for recommending your book to library patrons.

The question that’s probably on your mind now is, “How do you know what the librarian’s criteria are?”

The answer is that we technically can’t know 100% of what the criteria is. Fortunately, the librarian has made explicit statements about what matters the most (which I’ll get into in greater depth in the next section).

In addition to what the librarian has told us outright, we (meaning SEOs) also have the advantage of having read a lot of books. As avid readers, we have a finely tuned intuition for what makes a good book. Things like well-written, relevant content and intuitive structure/organization are hallmarks of a good book.

So, as SEOs, we’re the expert middlepeople between the authors and the librarian. We’re constantly looking for ways to get your book in front of a larger portion of your target audience while monitoring how often people are reading your book and whether or not they’re satisfied with the information they found.

Question #2: What Are the Basic Ranking Factors?

Or, put another way, “How do you get websites to rank better?”

This is the question I typically get from acquaintances who are genuinely interested in learning more about SEO.

Like I mentioned earlier, the librarian has publicly stated that things like high-quality content and mentions or citations from other books will improve your chances of making the librarian’s short list.

Beyond these explicit examples, however, there are no fewer than 200 “secret” factors with varying degrees of impact that can influence your chances of showing up – so there’s a lot of educated guesswork we have to do. Luckily for us, SEO has been around since the dawn of search engines; we’ve had 15+ years to run experiments and measure the results.

Below, I’ll dive deeper into known ranking factors, as well as a few that we’re pretty certain can impact rankings.


Content as a ranking factor can be broken down into two columns: quality and quantity.

The librarian has developed a very sophisticated system for quickly determining the quality of your book. It used to be that you could trick the librarian by stuffing your pages with repetitive phrases, but librarians have since wised up. They know that a book about raising a pet tortoise that reads …

Raising a pet tortoise can be fun! If you’re thinking about raising a pet tortoise, we have a lot of information about tortoises. Raising a pet tortoise can be a challenge, but we’re here to help. Please continue reading to learn more about raising a pet tortoise!

… is not a good experience for the reader.

Readers want meaningful, relevant, easy-to-digest content. As SEOs, it’s our job to either write that content for you or give you detailed pointers on how to write it yourself.

While many may assume that quality is all that should matter when it comes to content, you’d be remiss if you ignored quantity entirely.

Going back to the “raising a pet tortoise” example, if your book had great, detailed information about what to feed your pet tortoise, but nothing about building the best living environment or ways to keep it healthy, it’s not going to meet the reader’s expectations and they’ll probably end up reading your competitor’s book instead.

Again, this is where having an experienced SEO can be really beneficial. We’ll do the legwork and help you figure out exactly which topics to cover so that readers won’t have to look elsewhere.


This ranking factor is a little more straightforward. The librarian has developed a system for checking all books for mentions of other books. If the librarian finds that more reputable and relevant books are talking about or citing your book, you’ll have a better shot of showing up ahead of your competitor’s book.

But be careful.

Don’t try to trick the librarian by creating a bunch of fake or low-quality books for the sole purpose of mentioning your main book. If the librarian finds out you’re doing this, there’s a chance you’ll get removed from the library entirely.

Part of our job as SEOs is to help you promote your book in hopes of getting mentioned or cited in other books. This can be a very difficult task to accomplish by outreach alone because the other authors may not trust you or think your book would be useful to their readers.

What we’ve found is that writing high-quality, useful content is the best way to acquire mentions or citations in other books. This way, if other authors randomly stumble upon your book and find it useful, they may share it with their readers all on their own.

With that said, if you do choose to go the outreach route, you’re better off having some killer content to pitch to them rather than a low-effort, generic piece.

User Experience

This is where the metaphor gets a little trickier.

In the internet world, user experience (UX) is an umbrella term for a conglomeration of distinct website characteristics. Things like ease of navigation, page load time, and whether your site works on all devices and screen sizes are all things that Google can accurately measure.

Navigation, page load time, and device compatibility are all pretty straightforward (or don’t have a great book equivalent), so I won’t dive into those. A more complicated UX phenomenon I do want to explain, however, is “pogo sticking.”

Pogo sticking is when readers are given a set of books to look into by the librarian, and they end up jumping back and forth between books. Since the librarian doesn’t have the ability to directly ask the reader whether they were satisfied with the books, one of best measures for satisfaction is taking note of the last book the reader looked into before leaving the library.

Let’s try an example:

If the reader looked into Book 1 first, then Book 2, and after looking into Book 3, left the library, the librarian has reason to believe Book 3 provided the best experience for the reader. Of course, the librarian can’t make the determination that Book 3 provided a better experience based on just one reader’s actions, but if millions of readers are leaving the library after looking into Book 3, the librarian can be reasonably confident that Book 3 is better than Book 1 and Book 2. So, in the future, the librarian will be more likely to show readers Book 3 before showing them Book 1 or Book 2.

Question #3: When can I expect to see results?

This question is one we get from clients and prospective clients all the time. The best answer we have is “anywhere from 4-12 months.” This isn’t something we pulled out of thin air, though.

Google actually came right out and said it.

The follow up to this question, though, is inevitably “Why does it take so long?”

For starters, if you remember from the “What is SEO?” section, good SEO work involves rewriting and restructuring your book. And we don’t just do this willy-nilly.

In order to set your book up for the greatest amount of success for the long haul, we need to do our research to understand what information your readers need. This is an ongoing process, but our initial discovery can take up to a month depending on the breadth of topics your book covers or needs to cover.

Second, there are hundreds of billions of pages in the library. Even for an ultra-sophisticated librarian like Google, that’s a LOT of information to keep track of.

Not every single one of those pages is going to be in consideration when the librarian is suggesting books on a given topic, but your book is still going to be competing with all of those pages for the librarian’s attention. If you’re making massive overhauls to your content and the structure of your book, it’s going to take a while for the librarian to pick up on it and reassess.

Third, if you recall our pogo sticking example a few paragraphs ago, the librarian needs a lot of time and data to measure perceived satisfaction in order to determine that most other readers will find your book useful as well.

Finally, the librarian has trust issues.

Google wants to stick with what it knows works, because if it suggests subpar books to readers, those readers may just go to another library. So, if you’ve got a newer book that the librarian is not familiar with, you’ll have to prove yourself over and over before joining the ranks of other trusted, established books.


SEO is about connecting readers to relevant and useful books.

It’s not “black magic;” there is no way to trick the librarian into sharing your book with readers – at least, not in the long term.

The only way to be successful in the library is to write a damn good book. It can be frustrating to wait for the results, but we SEOs have dedicated years towards gaining an understanding of how the librarian operates and although we can’t guarantee success (who can?), we’re committed to making your book the best book it can be.