Web Success Series #3 Search Engines Simplified
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So welcome to the third in a series of “how-to” articles on topics related to web success. We’ll keep it simple, eliminate the techno-babble and provide, not only the tools, but the know-how to achieve web success.
Your success is our success.
#3 What Is A Search Engine?
You know them, you love them, you use them every day. Search engines: Google, Yahoo, Ask, Bing, or if you’re in China, Baidu. Search engines are the address books of the world wide web.
Exactly how they work is TOP SECRET: EYES ONLY kind of stuff. Search engines use top secret mathematical formulas, called algorithms, to assess (1) what the site is about and (2) whether it’s a site worthy of recommending to its users. You see, links on search engine results pages, or SERPs, are listed in order of relevance according to the search engine algorithm and the search term entered by the user.
So when a search engine user types in “bicycles” as a search word, the most relevant site appears first. The objective of search engine optimization (SEO) is to improve your rank among search engines so your site appears on the first page of Google SERPs when people type in your keywords – the words you choose to describe your site to search engines.
Search engines, like Yahoo and Google, use small snippets of code (using that top secret algorithm) to crawl or spider your web site. As these bots spider your web site, they gobble up letter strings – sequences of letters that repeat – like the word “bicycles.” These keywords tell a search engine bot that this is some kind of web site related to bicycles.
This information becomes part of the search engine index – the collection of information a search engine has on some of the 125 million web sites currently occupying web-based real estate.
There’s a whole combination of science and art called search engine optimization or SEO. SEO makes it easier for search engine bots, or “spiders,” to index your web site the first time through and to note that your web site changes frequently. Spiders like sites that change often and it recommends these sites to search engine users by ranking web sites that post new content higher because there’s a reason for visitors to see the site again: there’s new content.
Positive and Negative Search Engine Factors
Google isn’t going to reveal its positive and negative ranking factors because every site owner and site designer would use those elements in the construction of their web sites. It’s a secret!
Each year, SEOmoz (the blog for SEO professionals) conducts a survey of what the pros consider positive and negative search engine ranking factors. There’s almost no consensus. However, by simple observation, anyone can see the kinds of things search engine bots look for beside new content.
Here’s a quick list of tips to make it easier for search engine bots to learn all about you – and quickly.
1. Bots never see the presentation layer.
SE bots only see the HTML code used to build web sites. So all of your search engine optimization takes place in the code used to create your web site.
2. The positioning of keywords counts.
Again, keywords are words that repeat themselves many times. Bots use these letter strings to determine what your web site is about. However, where you place keywords matters as much as the keywords themselves.
Place keywords in strong text. Strong text includes:
- bolded text
- underlined text
- anchor text
3. Place keywords in anchor text.
Anchor text is nothing more than an embedded link to another page of your web site. Search engine bots follow these links so it’s one of the best ways to insure that all of your web pages are indexed within the search engine.
4. Avoid keyword stuffing.
Keyword bicycle stuffing bicycle occurs when the bicycle web site owner places bicycle important keywords bicycle equipment throughout the bicycle text.
Bots are programmed to detect keyword stuffing. No one knows for sure the exact percentage of keywords that turns stuffing into a negative ranking factor. Most search engine optimizers (SEOs) believe that if you stay below 3% throughout the site you’re okay. However, there are some SEOs who believe that a 5% ratio of text to keywords is acceptable.
Almost all web workers believe that placement of keywords is just as important as keyword density. Recommendation? Keep keyword density below three percent to be on the safe side.
5. Don’t assume all visitors come through the front door.
The front door of a web site is called the home page – a very valuable piece of digital real estate.
Many visitors WILL come to your site through the home page depending on the keywords they enter into the search engine search box. However, if a search engine user types in “bicycle parts,” s/he may end up on the parts section of your bicycle web site. These interior pages are called landing pages and each should be optimized for the information or products it contains.
In other words, bicycle parts appears more frequently than bicycles on the parts pages of your bicycle web site.
6. Keep your site fresh.
Add new content regularly. Search engines like new content. It gives them a reason to recommend your web site so, naturally, your web site appears higher up in the SERPs when there’s new content added daily or even weekly.
Static sites tend to slip in rank, though that’s not always the case. You (or your programmer) can “tell” search engines how often to spider your site. When new content is detected, you score points so keep it fresh with a blog or good, informational articles. Bots notice. People, too.
7. Bots can’t see pictures.
Bots are dumber than a box of hammers.
Search engine bots can’t crawl pictures, graphics or anything that has a graphics extension after the file name like jpg or gif. The fact is, search engine bots can only read text. However, you or your programmer can use HTML <alt> tags to “tell” a spider what’s in the picture or the graphic.
In terms of site design, avoid placing essential text in a graphic or in a picture. Bots won’t be able to read it.
8. Create links.
If a number of other web site owners link in to your site, it indicates to bots that you maintain a quality site. Non-reciprocal, in-bound links (one-way links from a web site in to your site) indicate that your site is highly esteemed even among competitors and colleagues trying to reach the same demographic.
The more inbound links you have, the higher your authority and, therefore, the higher your rank on SERPs.
9. Add <title> tags to your web site pages.
Or have your programmer do it.
Title tags tell bots what information is contained on each specific page of your web site. For example, if I type in bicycles as my search term, the search engine is likely to display a page from on-line behemoth, Amazon, because Amazon sells books on bicycles. And the Amazon pages that display information on bicycles have title tags attached to tell bots that there’s bicycle information over here.
Adding title tags creates numerous doorways in to your web site. Again, not every site visitor will land on the home page. Some will land on interior landing pages thanks to title tags.
10. SEO never ends.
Some site owners optimize their web sites before they launch (go live) and never re-optimize.
Search engine algorithms change all the time so what worked last week may not work this week. There’s a constant battle between search engine geeks whose job is to deliver the most relevant SERPs in order of value to the user, and site owners, SEOs and others trying to improve their SERPs rank any way they can.
Let’s face it. If your web site shows up on page 122 of Google SERPs, you might as well hang out the “Gone Fishin’” sign because, think about it, when was the last time you drilled down to page 122 of SERPs? Never.
Your objective is to use keywords that appeal to both bots and eyeballs – the people who actually visit your web site.
It’s important to remember that bots never bought a thing. People do. So, your web site has to be optimized for search engines below the presentation layer (sometimes called the site skin) and the HTML code on the other side of the site skin – the part of your site that bots actually crawl.
In the days and weeks ahead, we’ll provide more information on search engine optimization to improve your web site ranking on SERPs. For the moment, keep these few things about keywords, search engines, search engine bots and search engine algorithms in mind.
Oh, and don’t forget. Bicycle.