Introduction to Search Engines

Introduction to Search Engines

Introduction

In this article I am going to be taking a closer look at search engines (Google in particular) and how they do what they do. We will be taking a look at the search engine interface and the mammoth task of crawling and indexing the billions of web pages in existence today. I will then finish off by looking at arguably the most important element of the entire SEO process, ranking factors.

What are Search Engines?

As discussed in my first article What is Search? I identified that search engines provide a platform to discover information on the internet.

Search engines comprise of a front end interface in which we can enter queries for instant answers relating to our search. In September 2010, Google announced that in the UKalone it now processes approximately one billion searches each day. If the processing ability of search engines were not impressive enough, the work carried out behind the scenes is truly amazing. In order to provide the most relevant search results for any conceivable search query, search engines must know about as many web pages as possible. To achieve this they use intelligent software programmes called spiders or crawlers. Spiders have the ability to interpret a web page and index it into its enormous database. Spiders also have the ability to traverse links within pages enabling it to leave sites and begin indexing other domains. This allows the entire discovery process to be dynamic and operate autonomously without human intervention. In July 2008, Google claimed to have indexed over one trillion web pages

There are many search engines in operation worldwide but the three main players in the game are:

  • Google
  • Bing
  • Yahoo

As a successful SEO, it is essential that you familiarise yourself with popular search engines. We will discuss ranking factors shortly but I would like to say at this point that each search engine operates differently. Just because you rank first in Bing for a particular search criteria, it does not mean you will place top in Google.

As Google is without doubt the most popular search engine on the planet it is important to familiarise yourself with its layout and features. The image below is a standard Google results page. I have highlighted a few of the main areas on the page and provided a brief description of their function.

Note: the interface of both Yahoo and Bing contain similar features but it is always useful to see it for yourself, try searching on both Yahoo and Bing to see how they differ.

Google Interface for generic search

Figure 2.1 The Google User Interface

  1. Vertical Search & Local information – Vertical search provides an added facility to refine your search into further subcategories, by indexing results into categories such as images or news you increase the chances of returning results of greater relevance. Each vertical also provides an added opportunity to feature your information within.

Location services are able to detect your geographical location and provide local results for your search criteria

  1. User Search Interface – the area where you input your search criteria. Each search engine allows the use of advanced search parameters, most of which are unknown to the average searcher. I will cover some of these features in a future article as they are of great value to SEO
  2. Paid results (PPC advertising) – Pay per Click (PPC) advertising is the process of paying for placement on results pages for specified search criteria. Google Adwords allows you to create adverts which will create links to your site. Each time your ad is clicked it will cost you; the amount it costs depends on how much you are willing to pay, naturally, the more you allow per click, the higher your placement. Paid placement is a very good way to attract visitors but research shows that natural or organic rankings are far more effective
  3. Natural / Organic results – The search engine has indexed all of your content and that of your competitors, using their complex algorithms; they will now proceed in ranking each page in order of perceived importance for any given search criteria. The goal of any SEO is to aspire to the top position in organic rankings for their chosen search criteria.

Now that we are familiar with the search engine interface we can now move on to the most important element of SEO and an area that is imperative that you have a firm understanding.

Search Engine Ranking Factors

Search engine ranking factors have always been a contentious subject. Only the search engines themselves know the true inner workings of their algorithms and the influence each factor has on overall rankings. Google provide an SEO Starter Guide which contains a very good “dos” and “don’ts” guide.

Another great source of accurate ranking factors is provided by SEOmoz SEO Ranking Factors

Before we get into the list it is important to realise that effective SEO begins before you have even created a single web page and before you have registered your domain. It is a good idea to know what search criteria (Keywords) you want to compete for before you enter into site design. If you know what keywords you are targeting your SEO efforts towards so that you can implement best practice methods in the appropriate manner.

Here is a quick overview of the main ranking factors:

Keyword usage within Domain name

An exact match of your targeted keyword within your domain name can have an extremely positive effect on your rankings.

Example: your chosen keyword is “Audi A4 Spares” therefore the ideal domain name would be www.audia4spares.com

Inclusion of the keyword in the domain name also carries ranking weight, although not believed to be as much as an exact match

Example: carrying on with the same keyword set www.cheapaudia4spares.com

  • It is believed that this ranking factor is becoming less significant.
  • The real power of this attribute comes into effect when combined with good keyword research.
  • It is not enough to simply acquire a great domain name. As with each individual factor, this is only a small piece of the overall process.

Keyword usage within page

There are many areas within your web page to include your chosen keyword, many of which are invisible to the searcher. There is definitely a right and wrong way to introduce keywords to your page and I plan to produce an article in the future which provides best practice advice.

Key areas to include your keyword are:

  • Page title – contained within the head tag of your web page it is often the information indexed first by search engines and displayed with SERPs. Believed by many to be the most important area to contain your keyword. From my experience Bing and Yahoo pay greater attention to this attribute than Google.
  • Meta keywords – also in the head tag of your page, this is where you define your keywords. Only relevant if they are consistent with the content of your web page and other on page SEO techniques.
  • Meat description – also in the head tag of your page this attribute can be used by search engines
  • Headings – the h1 tag outlines a clear area of importance within your page. Placing your keyword in the first h1 of your page is the best way to implement this factor. H2 and H3 tags should also contain keywords where appropriate. It is important that you do not implement ranking factors purely for the sake of appeasing the search engines. While the aim is to improve search engine rankings the goal is to produce well written, original content that appeals to the reader.
  • Body text – naturally, your content should contain your keyword set. Research suggests that keyword density should be about one to three per cent. Overdoing it can become a negative influence in what is commonly referred to as “keyword stuffing”. Placing your keywords in bold and within the first 100 words of your page are also considered to be best practice.
  • Internal links – anchor text is the visual representation of a hyperlink. Inclusion of your keyword within internally point links (within your own domain) can prove to be valuable. External links (links from other domains) which contain your keywords in anchor text are extremely valuable within Google especially

Inbound Links

An inbound link is a hyperlink from an external source to your own domain. This area is possibly the most abused ranking factor within the entire SEO process. There are many sites out there offering to create thousands of links to your website, this method is ill advised by all search engines and top SEOs. Links should be acquired naturally and from sources of relevance. Inclusion of keywords within anchor text also carries positive results. There are many methods of creating inbound links, in a legitimate and beneficial manner which I will cover in a future article.

Link Authority

As with many aspects of SEO, quality is always preferred to quantity. One link from a highly authoritative site can be of greater use than one thousand from poor sources.

Google PageRank

Google PageRank specifically focuses on link analysis to apply a score to a web page. Ranging from one to ten, the higher your score is, the more important the page is deemed by the algorithm. Sites which have been awarded a PR score of 10 (February 2012) include:

  • US Government Website
  • Adobe – Adobe Reader download
  • Twitter

As you can see from the list, some very big hitters included. Closely related to inbound links, Google PageRank is a highly abused area of SEO. Mass sale of high PR backlinks are available to purchase from many sites across the internet. The recent Google algorithm update “Penguin” heavily penalised sites who implemented backlinks in this fashion. Although it is an important factor, I see Google PR as a novelty element to SEO. I would much rather measure success by my click through rate (CTR) and conversion rate. I see far too many people on a quest to increase their PR score automatically assuming that with it, it will bring success.

Social Media

Introducing social media to your website and SEO strategy can have an extremely positive effect. Not only does it assist in improving your search engine rankings, it is a great medium to drive traffic towards your site. Building up a strong relationships and networks within sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and now also Google+ are an efficient way of building social interest in your site

Note: Google+ is a relatively new service. It is only logical to think that Google will pay heightened attention to activity within their application.

Site age

Site age refers to how long a domain has been active since registration; it also takes into account how long ago the site was first indexed by search engine crawlers. Not an obvious factor, domain age is more of an influencing factor with new domains, almost in a fashion that you need to prove your site can withstand the test of time; do not expect overnight results within search engines. Google Search expert Matt Cutts states that three months should be allowed before expecting to compete within the search market.

 

This is by no means a complete list of ranking factors and I am sure there are others that people would suggest hold more sway than the ones mentioned above.

Summary

Search engines are extremely complex and undertake mammoth tasks in both data processing and site indexing, in order to ensure your site is “in the game” you must implement best practice SEO methods as advised by the search engines themselves.

Below are a few key points which I would like to take forward and implement into my SEO for monetisation methodology:

  • SEO is a process which should be given consideration at the very beginning of your project. Integrating keyword sets should begin at domain registration.
  • Obtaining backlinks to your site is a vital step within the SEO strategy. It is important to do it in a way which will have a positive effect. Avoiding ill-advised (black hat) techniques is critical to a websites success
  • Keywords should be integrated into a site’s content naturally and without over emphasis.

Look out for my next article; “SEO Objectives” where I will be looking at different SEO approaches depending on site objectives

Follow my progress at www.theseoexperiment.co.uk and see how SEO and internet marketing are specifically targeted towards website monetisation.

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