How The Search Engines Work

Here in a nutshell I will briefly explain how the search engines work.

I Am Sorry That It Is A Bit Of A Long Page But It Is Crucial That You Understand The Basic Concepts Of Ranking Your Website On The Search Engines So You Will Be Able To Follow My Advice If You Want To Be In The Top 10. The search engines are not “almighty” in the sense that they know it all and see all.  They are “machines” based upon human input who create the algorithms that govern them and makes them work.  No more scary than the PC you are using to read this page, search engines are machines…

What they basically do is they work like telephone directories, just like a telephone book but only for websites.  Your website has to be submitted to them directly or indirectly to be included in their index of websites in their database.  This database grows and grows and keeps being added to all the time as thousands of websites are launched every day.  For this reason it is getting harder and harder to rank high.

There is a difference between having your website “indexed” in a search engine, i.e reported and the search engine knows that it exists and places it in it’s index, and “rankings”.

Rankings are the placement of your website in the order of relevance when someone makes a search.  Your website may be indexed, but not ranking in the top 10, and if it is not in the top 10, then it may as well be dead. Once your website has been reported and indexed by the search engines, the search engines will send out a robot (commonly referred to as a spider, as they crawl the Internet and the Word Wide Web) that will crawl over every page of your site, reading the text on the site and making a decision on what your website is all about.

It then places a copy of your page in it’s memory and if all things are correct, will deliver it as results to people who make searches on the search engines. The spider also visits other websites and if it finds other websites referencing yours, it will start giving your site a popularity rating based upon the number and quality of links pointing to your site from other websites.

These “spiders” should visit your website often, to determine if you are making changes and if you are adding to the knowledge base of the Internet.  The more often these “spiders” visit your site, the more it means that the search engines like your website and the higher they should value your website.  Every link that it finds on other websites linking towards your’s also contributes to your site’s popularity rating and makes the spider visit more often.

Every page you create on your site is seen as a “website on it’s own” and stand the chance of ranking for it’s own keywords (keywords are the search phrases people use to search for products, services, solutions and information) in the search engines. Example : You have just created a website about all the fruit that is available in the world.  Your homepage is an introduction to all the different varieties of fruit that can be found with sub pages leading of from there to the different fruits. 

So now you will have a homepage intro about ALL the fruits and sub pages about apples, bananas, oranges etc etc. On your page about “apples”, you may give a brief intro about the different kinds and what apples are all about with sub pages leading of to the different apple varieties, Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, etc etc..

Now, when someone searches for the term “golden delicious apples” on Google, who’s spider has determined that your website is about fruit > apples > golden delicious apples. 

Google is not going to show your home page in the search results, but the MOST RELEVANT page to the search phrase “keyword” being used. Your Apples page will rank when someone searches for “apples information”, your Golden Delicious Apples page is going to rank for searches “golden delicious apples” and your homepage is going to rank for “fruits”.

By paying attention to what the search engine spiders want and by providing them with “spider food” you can attract them to your site more often and influence the way they behave on your website by doing Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

Important To Understand
Every page in your website has an opportunity to rank as a stand alone page and for it’s own chosen theme / topic as it is indexed and ranked in the search engine’s memory / index according to the web page’s content and popularity.

So How Exactly Does SEO Work?

This is the million dollar question. And I can almost guarantee you that for every person you ask, you’ll get a different answer.

That’s because marketing to the search engines is like any creative endeavor: cooking, painting, carpentry, etc. If you ask five people to bake a cake, you’ll get five unique cakes each with different ingredients. Ask ten people to craft you a chair and you’ll get ten distinct pieces each with its own style.

Because the search engines change their ranking algorithms (the equations they use to analyze a website’s reputation and rank ability) so often, and they each use such widely varying criteria, there are literally hundreds of ways to promote your site to the first page of search results.

However, there are certain universal guidelines regarding what central principles and elements are vital to your search marketing strategy. There are also very clear rules against certain practices that attempt to cheat or trick the search engine spiders to visit your website and rank it.

There are a Two Critical Factors to marketing your website on the search engines and I will show you what they are now

Factor 1 : Website Content / On Page SEO

Content will always be your key ticket to top rankings. Without it, any rankings achieved will be short-lived.

For content to help your ranking, however, you need a lot of it and it has to be updated regularly. Most importantly, each page of content must target a specific keyword term.

However, if your site possesses content that is poorly written, i.e. a human visitor would not find it useful and informative, the search engines will figure it out and demote your site, possibly even blacklisting you and preventing you from showing up in their results at all.

This “content” is generally provided in the form of text.  The Internet is known as the “Information Highway” and therefore, your website will be popular and ranked higher if you are providing good quality content in the form of text.

Google knows a “scary” amount of information about your website.  It knows when people click on your website and click the back button straight away.  So it is important that once your visitor gets to your website, that you keep them there by providing the solution that they are looking for. Other considerations such as conversion and “stickiness” comes into play. 

Is your website ready to convert the visitors you are getting into enquiries and customers?  Are you providing valuable info that will convince people to deal with you rather than your competitor?

Website marketing is not just “increasing website visitors” but also converting those visitors into sales

Trust me, I have had sites with 2000 + visitors a day who did not buy a single thing, and I have websites that get only 20 visitors a day and make a sale almost every day. 

Website marketing is NOT just about increasing visitor numbers… Your website must be ready to be indexed and ranked by the search engines.  There are technical matters that you need to consider for your website before you can progress to step three in the search engine marketing process.

Your website must be search engine friendly and technically correct from a search engines’ point of view, not just from a visitor’s point of view.  What you see when you look at a website and what Google sees when they look at the same website is not the same thing. Here is what Google sees when it looks at a web page :

<html> <head> <meta http-equiv=”Content-Language” content=”en-us”> <meta http-equiv=”Content-Type” content=”text/html; charset=windows-1252″> <title>Website Marketing</title> </head> <body> <table border=”1″ width=”100%” id=”table1″> <tr> <td> <p align=”center”>Website Marketing</p> <p align=”justify”> If You Are Looking To Market Your Website On The Internet, Specifically Through The Use Of The Search Engines, You Have Come To The Right Place.</p> </body> </html>

Looks nothing like what you and I see right?

Your website needs to be primed and ready for the search engines and visitors alike before you can progress to the “linking” part of the process.

The scope of this article is too limited to go into a broad explanation of all the on-site methods you can use to make sure that your website is search engine friendly and optimised to rank well, but I will give you some basic principles that has been true since I started marketing on the Net in 2001.

  1. Your website must not be built in frames.  Graphic designers love to build websites in Frames as this adds some design elements and features on all the pages.  If your whole website is built in frames like this, it can hinder your search engine rankings as what google sees are two pages being displayed and what we see is one single page.    If you had your website built for you, it may not be obvious to you that your site is built in frames, so you will have to check it or let someone check it for you. Frames are a hindrance and a nuisance to search engines, don’t use them, if you already have, remove them.
  2. Your website should contain content in the form of text.  This text must not be imbedded in an image or in a flash or animation file, but be in plain common HTML text format so the search engines can “read” your page and see what the page is all about.
  3. Your text should contain the keywords that you want to rank for.  People look for certain “keyword” phrases when they search Google for solutions.  They may be looking for “kruger park safari” and if your website is all about “Joe’s Travel” and you go on about how wonderful “Joe’s Travel Services” are and that remains the focus of your page, then you will rank for “joe’s travel services” yes… but not for anyone looking for “kruger park safari”.  Now I have never heard of “Joe’s Travel Services” so I will not type that in a search engine, but I have heard of the “Kruger Park”. What am I and 99% of other users most likely to type into a search engine when we want to go on safari in the Kruger Park? “kruger park safaris” right? (also see point 12)
  4. Your text should be roughly 750 to 1200 words as a general guideline.  Less than 550 words Google may not take your information “seriously” as a valuable resource for people looking for information and will not rank your page very high 750 to 2000 words is ideal.
  5. You should have meta tags.  Most importantly you should have the correct TITLE for your page and at the very least a description tag.  Google does use these and certain search engines and directories require meta tags, so have them, they can not hurt. (I am not here to have a debate with “experts” about the effectiveness of meta tags, USE them, they can not hurt you if you do, but can if you don’t)  The TITLE tag is crucial and counts for 25% of your ranking.
  6. Do not run a dynamic website with pages generated from a database that can not be indexed.  Make sure that whatever content management system you use or whatever format you choose your website to be built in, that the pages will display as static index able html to the search engines.  It does not have to be “static” in terms of the visitors, just in terms of the search engines, remember search engines see something different from what we see…
  7. The bigger the better. The more articles and content you add, the more opportunity you have to get visitors.  Every page on your website is being treated as if a website on it’s own.  If you have a website about fruit, with one page on every kind of fruit as sub pages, your “apple” page is going to rank in the search engines above your homepage for the search phrase “apples”.   Thus the more pages you have that are optimised for different keywords the more traffic you will get from the search engines. (also see point 12 below)
  8. Do not forget your users, you need good, solid information that is designed to lead your website visitor to trust you and then to take an action on the information that you provide.
  9. Goes with point 8, have a CALL TO ACTION on every page.  A clear instruction of what YOU want your visitor to do next.  If you give them too many options to click, or no instruction at all, you know what? They are going to click the back button and visit someone else’s website or they are going to be “lost”, not knowing what to do next.  You must TELL them what to do next, and what you TELL them is what YOU want to happen, do not leave it up to them to decide what to do next if you can help it.
  10. Decide what each page is about.  Do not waste words.  If a page is useless, or can be combined with some other info, then scrap it or change it.  Every page should have a purpose and a call to action (see 9 above).
  11. Do not link out to other websites unless you are prepared to loose your hard earned visitor to the other website.  If you want to link to someone else, make 100% sure that you are doing so for a very good reason and that the links opens in a new window.  Otherwise, with the 1.5 second attention span that most website visitors have, your visitor will go to the website that YOU just told him to go to, and forget all about the reason they came to your site in the first place… Visitor lost… potential enquiry lost, potential sale lost….
  12. Each page on your website can be optimised for up to 1 – 3 keyword phrases max, no more.  Each “page” being defined as every +/- 750 word article page on your website. Your page will most likely rank for more than just 1 – 3 phrases but you can actively optimize your page for just 1 – 3 phrases tops.  Do not expect a page to rank for 10 + keywords.  Each 1 – 3 phrases that you want to rank for should be closely related by topic and should be assigned to a separate 750 +/- word page. By closely I mean if you have a page about “sunny apples recipes, sunny apple juice and sunny apple tarts” will work.  However, “sunny apple recipes, banana skin uses and peach nectar juice” will not work.
Please Make Sure You Understand This
Most people asking me to rank their websites get point 12 wrong.  Each 1 – 3 phrases that you want to rank for should have it’s OWN DEDICATED 500 +/- WORD PAGE ON YOUR WEBSITE and these phrases must be CLOSELY related. It is CRUCIAL that you understand this principle.  If you still do not understand then ask me, but do not give me a list of 50 words and say you want to rank for all of them from your 2 page website.

These are just some basic principles to good website design that will create content that is search engine and visitor friendly and will lay the foundation for the critical phase two of marketing your site on the Internet.  I  am sure there are many other things we can list on this page, but these are the basics, if they are in place, you should be OK.

Factor 2 : Incoming Links

More specifically, one-way links from other websites. If 2 websites are created equal, both on the same topic, both roughly 500 to 750 words each, both well optimised, which one must Google Rank first?

Google looks at how “popular” your website is and it does so by checking how many and in what context are OTHER websites on the Internet talking about you.  

Whether other websites are linking to your website or mentioning your website, each counts as a “point” in terms of how popular your website is when it comes to the topic of your keyword.  

Thus, the one with the most links win! (it is not as simple as that I know but this is it in a nutshell).

What this means for you is that you want as many OTHER websites owned by OTHER people linking into your site as possible (without you linking back to them). This is because Google counts these links towards your popularity and value their “recommendations” signaled by who they choose to link to.

If all this sounds a bit complicated, think of it this way: Google and the major search engines analyze your website the way scholars judge academic papers. The more journals and other reputable papers cite your research and quote you, the more authoritative and “expert” you become.

Also see what Wikipedia says about backlinks (note the section about the search engines). 

Backlinks are an integral part of ranking your website.

Getting Links To Your Website

Here I think it is appropriate now to explain to you how the search engines use links to rank your website so you can understand this critical but most often overlooked Step Two of search engine marketing.

This is a highly condensed and “simplified” explanation, but it’s accurate nonetheless…

Google is a multi-billion dollar business that depends solely on its millions upon millions of daily users to use it as a starting point on the internet. Google monetizes its search results by displaying targeted text-ads related to the query searched for.

Users choose to use Google because its organic, unpaid results, are usually relevant to the query – and because it works & loads results quickly. Relevance and speed, then, are the single largest foundation of Google’s success. Therefore, Google literally wants to send you traffic – but your site needs to be relevant to the user’s query.

How does it decide which sites are relevant to a query?  Ah, yes… the million-dollar question (perhaps more aptly re-worded as saying, “So how can I make Google rank my site for a certain query?”).

Google Uses A Natural, Link-Based Voting System To Determine How To Rank Any Given Site Within Its Index

For example, if you wanted to rank as the #1 spot for the search term “Pretoria Temp Agency”, then you would want to get as many other websites as possible to link to your own website, with the link-text (the words that are linked, usually in the format of blue-underline) that says “Pretoria Temp Agency”.

The amount of links required to influence Google’s rankings as such ranges from 1 to 100,000 or more. (It depends on how many sites are aiming to be at the top for the same keyword, in other words, how competitive your industry is). But it has as much to do with quality as it does volume. Obtaining one such link from a site that Google weighs highly – such as an official Newspaper website – will have much more overall value than a link from a free classified ads website.

Knowing which websites to link from, and what anchor text to use, how many links and how often can be a major headache. Google only wants to rank sites that get “link votes” naturally, and from trusted websites.

But here’s the good news…

Very simply, I have through trial and error discovered exactly what works.  How to build quality links from other websites over a period of time that will show up as a natural growth in your website’s incoming link pattern, generating one-way links that Google will soak up like a sponge – and make your website rank. It all starts with building natural links. Have a look at my SEO Packages

Do Not Expect Search Engine Rankings Within The First Three Months

 These methods work for getting search engine rankings, they have proven themselves over time and they are the methods we know that work, that I use on my own websites, but you must please understand that Google, Yahoo, MSN etc does not belong to me or my staff and associates. Google et al can do what they please, we can only deliver what we know they like and prefer and have tested over time to work for us.

No one can guarantee your search engine rankings and if they do so they are lying.

We do what we know works, but if for some reason beyond our control, Google et al does not rank your website, there is not much we can do. Please do not see these packages as any “guarantee” of some sort. There are just too many factors outside of our control that can not be influenced by myself to “guarantee” anything.

Your ranking will depend on how much your competition has done before you and how many links their websites have already. Either way, getting search engine rankings takes TIME and patience and consistently adding links.