How Search Engines Work
Table of Contents
Search Engines are special sites on the web that are designed to help people find information stored on other sites. There are differences in the ways various Search Engines work, but they all perform basic tasks:
They search the Internet – or select pieces of the Internet – based on important words, phrases, questions, and images.
They keep an index of the words they find, and where they find them, and they allow users to look for words or combinations of words found in that index.
Early in development, Search Engines held an index of a few hundred thousand pages and documents and received maybe one or two thousand inquiries each day from users. Today, a top Search Engine will index billions of web site pages, and respond to hundreds of millions of queries per day from internet searches. This obviously includes people that are looking for automotive focused inquires.
Before a Search Engine can tell you where a file or document is, it must be found. To find information on the billions of Web pages that exist, a Search Engine employs special software robots, called spiders, to build lists of the words found on all web sites.
In order to build and maintain a useful list of words, a Search Engine’s spiders have to look at a lot of pages. How does any spider start its travels over the Web? The usual starting points are lists of heavily used servers and very popular pages.
The spider will begin with a popular site, indexing the words on its pages and following every link found within the site. In this way, the spidering system quickly begins to travel, spreading out across the most widely used portions of the internet.
Once the spiders have completed the task of finding information on web sites, the Search Engine must store the information in a way that makes it useful. There are two key components involved in making the gathered data accessible to users:
The information stored with the data, and the method by which the information is indexed.
In the simplest case, a Search Engine could just store the word and the URL where it was found. In reality, this would make for an engine of limited use, since there would be no way of telling whether the word was used in an important or a trivial way on the page, whether the word was used once or many times or whether the page contained links to other pages containing the word.
In other words, there would be no way of building the ranking list that tries to present the most useful pages at the top of the list of search results.
To make for more useful results, Search Engines store more than just the word and URL. A Search Engine might store the number of times that the word appears on a page. The engine might assign a weight to each entry, with increasing values assigned to words as they appear near the top of the document, in sub-headings, in links, in the META tags or in the title of the page, along with the headers on that page.
Each commercial Search Engine has a different formula for assigning weight to the words in its index. This is one of the reasons that a search for the same word on different Search Engines will produce different lists, with the pages presented in different orders.
An index has a single purpose: it allows information to be found as quickly as possible. There are quite a few ways for an index to be built, but one of the most effective ways is to build a hash table. In hashing, a formula is applied to attach a numerical value to each word.
The formula is designed to evenly distribute the entries across a predetermined number of divisions. This numerical distribution is different from the distribution of words across the alphabet, and that is the key to a hash table’s effectiveness.
When a person requests a search on a keyword or phrase, the Search Engine software searches the index for relevant information. The software then provides a report back to the searcher with the most relevant web pages listed first.
Choosing The Proper Keywords
Search Engines are the vehicles that drive potential customers to your websites. But in order for visitors to reach their destination – your website – you need to provide them with specific and effective signs that will direct them right to your site. You do this by creating carefully chosen keywords.
Think of the right keywords as the “Open Sesame!” of the Internet. Find the exactly right words or phrases, and presto! Hoards of traffic will be pulling up to your front door. But if your keywords are too general or too over-used, the possibility of visitors actually making it all the way to your site – or of seeing any real profits from the visitors that do arrive – decreases dramatically.
Your keywords serve as the foundation of your marketing strategy. If they are not chosen with great precision, no matter how aggressive your marketing campaign may be, the right people may never get the chance to find out about it. So your first step in plotting your strategy is to gather and evaluate keywords and phrases.
You probably think you already know EXACTLY the right words for your search phrases. Unfortunately, if you haven’t followed certain specific steps, you are probably WRONG.
It’s hard to be objective when you are right in the center of your business network, which is the reason that you may not be able to choose the most efficient keywords from the inside. You need to be able to think like your customers. And since you are a business owner and not the consumer, your best bet is to go directly to the source.
Instead of plunging in and scribbling down a list of potential search words and phrases yourself, ask for words from as many potential customers as you can. You will most likely find out that your understanding of your business and your customers’ understanding is significantly different.
The consumer is an invaluable resource. You will find the words you accumulate from them are words and phrases you probably never would have considered from deep inside the trenches of your business.
Only after you have gathered as many words and phrases from outside resources should you add your own keyword to the list. Once you have this list in hand, you are ready for the next step: an evaluation.
The aim of the evaluation is to narrow down your list to a small number of words and phrases that will direct the highest number of quality visitors to your website. By “quality visitors” I mean those consumers who are most likely to make a purchase rather than just cruise around your site and take off for greener pastures.
In evaluating the effectiveness of keywords, bear in mind three elements: popularity, specificity, and motivation. Popularity is the easiest to evaluate because it is an objective quality. The more popular your keyword is, the more likely the chances are that it will be typed into a Search Engine which will then bring up your URL.
You can now purchase software that will rate the popularity of keywords and phrases by giving words a number rating based on real Search Engine activity. Software such as WordTracker will even suggest variations of your words and phrases.
The higher the number this software assigns to a given keyword, the more traffic you can logically expect to be directed to your site. The only fallacy with this concept is the more popular the keyword is, the greater the Search Engine position you will need to obtain. If you are down at the bottom of the search results, the consumer will probably never scroll down to find you.
Popularity isn’t enough to declare a keyword a good choice. You must move on to the next criteria, which is specificity. The more specific your keyword is, the greater the likelihood that the consumer who is ready to purchase your goods or services will find you.
Let’s look at a hypothetical example. Imagine that you have obtained popularity rankings for the keyword “automobile companies.” However, your company specializes in bodywork only.
The keyword “automobile body shops” would rank lower on the popularity scale than “automobile companies,” but it would nevertheless serve you much better. Instead of getting a slew of people interested in everything from buying a car to changing their oil filters, you will get only those consumers with trashed front ends or crumpled fenders being directed to your site.
In other words, consumers ready to buy your services are the ones who will immediately find you. Not only that, but the greater the specificity of your keyword is, the less competition you will face.
The third factor is consumer motivation. Once again, this requires putting yourself inside the mind of the customer rather than the seller to figure out what motivation prompts a person looking for a service or product to type in a particular word or phrase. Let’s look at another example, such as a consumer who is searching for a job as an IT manager in a new city.
If you have to choose between “Automotive job listings” and “Automotive recruiters” which do you think will benefit the consumer more? If you were looking for this type of specific job, which keyword would you type in?
The second one, of course! Using the second keyword targets people who have decided on their career, have the necessary experience, and are ready to enlist you as their recruiter, rather than someone just out of school who is casually trying to figure out what to do with his or her life in between beer parties.
You want to find people who are ready to act or make a purchase, and this requires subtle tinkering of your keywords until your find the most specific and directly targeted phrases to bring the most motivated traffic to your dealership site.
Once you have chosen your keywords, your work is not done. You must continually evaluate performance across a variety of Search Engines, bearing in mind that times and trends change, as does popular lingo. You cannot rely on your log traffic analysis alone because it will not tell you how many of your visitors actually made a purchase.
Luckily, some new tools have been invented to help you judge the effectiveness of your keywords in individual Search Engines. There is now software available that analyzes consumer behavior in relation to consumer traffic. This allows you to discern which keywords are bringing you the most valuable customers.
This is an essential concept: numbers alone do not make a good keyword; profits per visitor do. You need to find keywords that direct consumers to your site who actually buy your product, fill out your forms, or download your product.
This is the most important factor in evaluating the efficacy of a keyword or phrase and should be the sword you wield when discarding and replacing ineffective or inefficient keywords with keywords that bring in better profits.
Ongoing analysis of tested keywords is the formula for Search Engine success. This may sound like a lot of work – and it is! But the amount of informed effort you put into your keyword campaign is what will ultimately generate your business’ rewards.
The methods employed to increase your Search Engine rankings may seem like rocket science to you, so you have probably avoided dealing with this issue. I am here to tell you – the time has come to face your website!
A high Search Engine ranking for your website is so essential that if you have the slightest desire to actually succeed in your business, there is no way you can continue to avoid this issue.
At least 85% of people looking for goods and services on the Internet find websites through Search Engines such as Google, Yahoo, and MSN. The idea of optimizing your pages for high Search Engine rankings is to attract targeted customers to your site who will be more than likely to make a purchase.
The higher your page comes up in Search Engine results, the greater the traffic that is directed to your website. That’s what Search Engine optimization is about.
You can immerse yourself in all the technical information available online to figure out how to optimize your web pages to achieve higher rankings.
Or you can look at a few simple items on your pages, make some small adjustments, and most likely see improved rankings quite rapidly. The first item you should examine is the title bar on your homepage.
The title bar is the colored bar at the top of the page. Look at the words that appear there when you access your home page. To increase Search Engine rankings, the words on your homepage’s title bar should include the most important keywords or phrases, one of which would include your company name.
Then click on all your links and examine the title bars on the pages you access. Each title bar on every single page of your site should contain the most important keywords and phrases taken from the page itself.
However, avoid very long strings of keywords, keeping them to six words or less. Avoid repeating keywords more than once in the title bars, and make sure that identical words are not next to each other.
The next item to put under your microscope is your website content. Search Engines generally list sites that contain quality content rather than scintillating graphics. The text on your site must contain the most important keywords – the words that potential customers will be typing into Search Engines to find your site.
Aim to have around 250 words on each page, but if this is not desirable due to your design, aim for at least 100 carefully chosen words. If you want to achieve a high ranking on Search Engines, this text is essential. However, the Search Engines must be able to read the text, meaning that the text must be in HTML and not graphic format.
To find out if your text is in HTML format, take your cursor and try to highlight a word or two. If you are able to do this, the text is HTML. If the text will not highlight, it is probably in graphic form. In this case, ask your webmaster to change the text into HTML format in order to increase your Search Engine rankings.
Next, we come to what is called META tags. I know this sounds like something out of science fiction, but it is really just simple code. Many people believe that META tags are the key to high Search Engine rankings, but in reality, they only have a limited effect. Still, it’s worth adding them in the event that a Search Engine will use META tags in their ranking formula.
To find out if your page is set up with META tags, you must access the code. To do this, click the “view” button on the browser menu bar, and select “source.” This will pull up a window revealing the underlying code that created the page. If there are META tags, they usually appear near the top of the window.
For example, a META tag would read META name=”keywords” content=. If you do not find code that reads like this, ask your webmaster to put them in. This may not do much for your Search Engine rankings, but any little boost helps.
Lastly, we come to the issue of link popularity. This is a factor that is extremely important in terms of Search Engine rankings. Almost all Search Engines use link popularity to rank your website. Link popularity is based on the quality of the sites you have linked to from your links page.
If you type in “free link popularity check” in a popular Search Engine, the Search Engine will then show you what sites are linked to your site. In the case that there aren’t many sites linked up to yours, or that the sites that are linked up have low Search Engine rankings, consider launching a link popularity campaign.
Essentially, this entails contacting quality sites and requesting that they exchange links with your site. Of course, this requires checking out the rankings of the websites you want to link up with. Linking to popular, quality sites not only boost your Search Engine ranking, but it also directs more quality traffic to your website.
Search Engine rankings are extremely important for a successful Internet marketing campaign. Before you go out and hire a Search Engine optimization company, try taking some of the simple steps listed above, and see if you can’t boost your rankings yourself. Don’t ever ignore this all-important factor in Internet marketing. Remember, the higher your Search Engine ranking, the more quality customers will be directed your way.
Increasing Your Link Popularity
Search Engines are the gateway to the Internet; they are the first tool that potential customers use to find the products and services they need. This is why link popularity is so imperative. If the customers do not find your website, you have no possibility of making any vehicle sales.
You’re probably wondering what the blazes are popular about a link! Well, in a word – plenty! Link popularity refers to the ranking assigned to your website by the Search Engines, and it determines the ranking your page gets when keywords are entered into a Search Engine. So, you’re probably wondering, how do I make my link popular?
Search Engines are discretionary, giving status and ranking to sites that have links to their pages from related, quality sites. It’s a simple formula, but a very important one. Google created the system, and now virtually all the most popular Search Engines employ it to rank your web pages in their indexes.
The more commonly used your keyword is, the harder it will be to achieve link popularity, but without achieving this step, it is almost certain your site will never rank highly on any Search Engine. But don’t be discouraged; there are tried and true ways of achieving link popularity using the most competitive keywords.
There are a few things you should be aware of. The first is that just linking up with a large number of other websites will not achieve link popularity. In fact, it may have quite the opposite effect.
This is particularly true when pertaining to websites that are nothing more than “link farms” – pages containing line after line of indiscriminate links. Search Engines may aggressively discriminate against your website if you are associated with a link farm, so steer clear of them!
The next thing to bear in mind is the quality of the site you are linking to. Never link to a page you have reservations about your visitors seeing. The last thing you want your website to appear as is indiscriminate and cheap. Linking to sites of poor quality will only lessen your link popularity, if not completely destroy it.
So let’s get to what you need to do to achieve supreme link popularity and improve your rankings to stellar status on all the popular Search Engines.
The first step, and the fastest way to get your foot in the door, is to get a listing in a popular directory, such as Open Directory Project and Yahoo. If your site is business-related, you will want to be listed on Yahoo, and despite the fact that it will cost you around $300 a year, it will be money well spent.
If your site is non-commercial, the listing will be free, but it will take time and follow-up to actually get it listed. Open Directory gives you a free listing whether you are business-related or non-commercial, but be prepared to make a lot of follow-up inquiries before you see your site listed.
You are aiming to get listed in the highest level of the appropriate category, and this just takes some common sense. For example, if your company ships Alpaca wool from an Alpaca farm located in the middle of Nowhere, Tiny State, do NOT submit your listing to “Retailers from Nowhere, Tiny State.”
BIG MISTAKE! All you have to do is look a little deeper – and submit your listing to the “Fine Alpaca Wool” category. You will not only associate yourself with culture and quality but you will be listed in a national category.
The next step after you have attained directory listings is to locate other quality sites that will increase your link popularity. Try to find sites that are in some way related to yours, so not only will your link popularity increase, but your customer base may also be expanded.
You want to avoid your competitors and look for sites that are useful to your site’s visitors. Let’s look at the Alpaca Wool site example. Linking up to a site that sells knitting supplies would be helpful to your visitors, and the chances of the knitting supply site wanting to link up to your site are also greater.
By linking to a related site that will be relevant to your website’s traffic, you are increasing both of your site’s business prospects – and both of your sites’ link popularity.
Not all sites want to link to other sites, so you will have to do some research when you are looking for possible linking partners. Google is an excellent starting place for your search.
Make sure you enter keywords that you think quality customers will also enter to find your own site. Remember, your criteria are quality, highly ranked, non-competing websites that have a links or resources page.
Go to these sites and objectively assess them. Look at the quality of the product, the graphics, and the ease of use. Then check out the other sites they are linked to, and determine if your own site would fit in with the crowd.
When you decide you have found a good prospect, you must set out to woo them. The first thing to do is to add a link on your own links page to their site. This is an essential first step; it shows good faith, and ups your chances significantly of their reciprocity. After you have added their link, you must contact the webmaster of their site.
Since this is almost always done by email, you want to make sure it is immediately clear that your message is not junk mail. This requires that you tell them right off the bat that you have added a link to their page on your site. A hook like this almost always insures the reader will read on.
Next, be sure to be flattering and let them know how much you appreciate their website. Make sure you emphasize that you have actually visited their site and that their site is not just a random pick.
Give them the address of your links page, and ask them to check out the link for themselves. It’s a good idea to mention that they will not only benefit from the increased traffic your website will direct their way, but you will also increase their link popularity.
Briefly, explain why link popularity is so essential, but do this in a sentence or two so you don’t sound like a professor! Finally, tell them you would greatly appreciate it if they would reciprocally add a link on their own links page to your website.
Go through this process with as many appropriate sites as you can find, bearing in mind the criteria of quality and non-competitiveness. After you have emailed all relevant sites, be sure to check these websites frequently to see if they have added a link to your page. Give it about a month, and if no link appears, try another charming email.
Then give it another month, and if your site is still absent from their links page, it’s time to remove their link from your own links page. The only time you want to pursue a link further than this is if you believe a site is crucial to your link popularity and your business needs. Just remember to keep all your communications complimentary and cordial.
Then set up a schedule to check your ranking in Search Engines frequently to see if your link popularity has improved. This is not achievable in the blink of an eye. It will take some time and a good deal of work. There is no way around the labor-intensive quality of improving your link popularity, which is why Search Engines regard it with such importance.
By the way – make sure you have a beautiful, streamlined site or you will never persuade anyone to link up to you. Be prepared to keep plugging away at this process, as long as it takes until you achieve link popularity stardom!
Maintaining Your Search Engine Ranking
Your website’s ranking on Search Engines is a vital element of your overall marketing campaign, and there are ways to improve your link popularity through legitimate methods. Unfortunately, the Internet is populated by bands of dishonest webmasters seeking to improve their link popularity by faking out Search Engines.
The good news is that Search Engines have figured this out, and are now on guard for “spam” pages and sites that have increased their rankings by artificial methods. When a Search Engine tracks down such a site, that site is demoted in ranking or completely removed from the Search Engine’s index.
The bad news is that some high quality, completely above-board sites are being mistaken for these web page criminals. Your page may be in danger of being caught up in the “spam” net and tossed from a Search Engine’s index, even though you have done nothing to deserve such harsh treatment. But there are things you can do – and things you should be sure NOT to do – which will prevent this kind of misperception.
Link popularity is mostly based on the quality of sites you are linked to. Google pioneered these criteria for assigning website ranking, and virtually all Search Engines on the Internet now use it.
There are legitimate ways to go about increasing your link popularity, but at the same time, you must be scrupulously careful about which sites you choose to link to. Google frequently imposes penalties on sites that have linked to other sites solely for the purpose of artificially boosting their link popularity. They have actually labeled these links “bad neighborhoods.”
You can raise a toast to the fact that you cannot be penalized when a bad neighborhood links to your site; penalty happens only when you are the one sending out the link to a bad neighborhood. But you must check, and double-check, all the links that are active on your links page to make sure you haven’t linked to a bad neighborhood.
There is no need to be afraid of linking to sites whose scale shows only a tiny sliver of green on their scale. These sites have not been penalized, and their links may grow in value and popularity. However, do make sure that you closely monitor these kinds of links to ascertain that at some point they do not sustain a penalty once you have linked up to them from your links page.
Another evil trick that illicit webmasters use to artificially boost their link popularity is the use of hidden text. Search Engines usually use the words on web pages as a factor in forming their rankings, which means that if the text on your page contains your keywords, you have more of an opportunity to increase your Search Engine ranking than a page that does not contain text inclusive of keywords.
Some webmasters have gotten around this formula by hiding their keywords in such a way so that they are invisible to any visitors to their site. For example, they have used the keywords but made them the same color as the background color of the page, such as a plethora of white keywords on a white background.
You cannot see these words with the human eye – but the eye of Search Engine spider can spot them easily! A spider is the program Search Engines use to index web pages, and when it sees these invisible words, it goes back and boosts that page’s link ranking.
Webmasters may be brilliant and sometimes devious, but Search Engines have figured these tricks out. As soon as a Search Engine see the use of hidden text – splat! The page is penalized.
The downside of this is that sometimes the spider is a bit overzealous and will penalize a page by mistake. For example, if the background color of your page is gray, and you have placed gray text inside a black box, the spider will only take note of the gray text and assume you are employing hidden text. To avoid any risk of false penalty, simply direct your webmaster not to assign the same color to text as the background color of the page – ever!
Another potential problem that can result in a penalty is called “keyword stuffing.” It is important to have your keywords appear in the text on your page, but sometimes you can go a little overboard in your enthusiasm to please those spiders.
A Search Engine uses what is called “Key Phrase Density” to determine if a site is trying to artificially boost their ranking. This is the ratio of keywords to the rest of the words on the page. Search Engines assign a limit to the number of times you can use a keyword before it decides you have overdone it and penalizes your site.
This ratio is quite high, so it is difficult to surpass without sounding as if you are stuttering – unless your keyword is part of your company name. If this is the case, it is easy for keyword density to soar.
So, if your keyword is “renters insurance,” be sure you don’t use this phrase in every sentence. Carefully edit the text on your site so that the copy flows naturally and the keyword is not repeated incessantly. A good rule of thumb is your keyword should never appear in more than half the sentences on the page.
The final potential risk factor is known as cloaking. To those of you who are diligent Trekkies, this concept should be easy to understand. For the rest of you? Cloaking is when the server directs a visitor to one page and a Search Engine spider to a different page.
The page the spider sees is “cloaked” because it is invisible to regular traffic, and deliberately set-up to raise the site’s Search Engine Ranking. A cloaked page tries to feed the spider everything it needs to rocket that page’s ranking to the top of the list.
It is natural that Search Engines have responded to this act of deception with extreme enmity, imposing steep penalties on these sites. The problem on your end is that sometimes pages are cloaked for legitimate reasons, such as prevention against the theft of code, often referred to as “page jacking.” This kind of shielding is unnecessary these days due to the use of “off-page” elements, such as link popularity, that cannot be stolen.
To be on the safe side, be sure that your webmaster is aware that absolutely no cloaking is acceptable. Make sure the webmaster understands that cloaking of any kind will put your website at great risk.
Just as you must be diligent in increasing your link popularity and your ranking, you must be equally diligent to avoid being unfairly penalized. So be sure to monitor your site closely and avoid any appearance of artificially boosting your rankings.