Improving search engine results Part 1: How search engines work.

Improving search engine results Part 1: How search engines work.

High placement on search engine results is critical for a businesses of any size. For a small business, it can be a make or break factor. Unfortunately, getting started with SEO (search engine optimization) can be daunting.

In this post, Part 1 of 2, we’ll help you learn the basics of SEO and provide you with useful resources to take you to the next level.  In Part 2, we’ll dig in a bit deeper with some simple techniques to boost your search engine results. Let’s get started!

Some definitions.

Before we start, let’s define and differentiate SEO and SEM.  The two terms are often confused and incorrectly used interchangeably.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a set of best practices that help maximize how high search engines will list your page within un-paid (organic) results.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is a broader term.  It encompasses a number of marketing activities, including SEO.  However, SEO always refers to un-paid, organic search results. SEM, on the other hand, typically also incorporates paid advertising, including paid search result ads.

Oh, what a tangled web the Internet weaves: the basics of how search engines work.

The best place to start is to dig a bit into how search engines gather, classify and rank information about websites.  It all starts with links (hyperlinks) and search engine’s unsung heroes: automated “robots” lovingly, and appropriately, called “crawlers” or “spiders”.   These little guys work tirelessly, day and night, crawling the web and following each and every link to whatever website it leads them.  Along the way, they look through the site’s code and record selected pieces of content and other data.

As the robots crawl the billions of interconnected websites that make up the World Wide Web, they also take  note of how many times a particular website receives links.

Popularity matters.  But so does substance.

Hundreds of factors go into the rankings of search engine results.  But at their core, search engines are looking for  authoritative and quality content.

The popularity of a site, as measured by how many times it receives links from other sites, provides a good indication of how relevant and authoritative that site is for a given topic.

However, in both life and SEO alike, popularity isn’t everything. (If it was, then popularity could gamed by trading and paying for links in link farms)  The search engines are pretty smart and do not give equal weight to all links.  In fact, they sometimes completely ignore the value of links if they appear to be from link farms or shady sources.

Substance, or to be more precise, quality content also matters a great deal.

The engines employ sophisticated algorithms to analyze the quality and relevance of a page’s content.  Combined with the number and quality of links that page/site receives,  the engine has what it needs to rank the page relative to other sites/pages.

If you could only see things form the bots point of view.

In the next post in this series, we’ll talk about some basic techniques to boost your search results.  Before we get to that, it’s helpful to understand how your site looks from the search engine’s point of view.

The bots simply see websites as lines of text – code.  They don’t really “see” images or fancy animations.  Just text, for the most part.  Specifically, they search for content and keywords within certain special chunks of code, such as within certain HTML sections and “tags” (more on this later).

Search engine Spider sees atomic bell

This is how Google sees the Atomic Bell homepage

 

This is what Atomic Bell’s homepage looks like to a search engine bot.  A bit different than what you see in your browser, eh?

You don’t need to understand HTML in-depth to start boosting your search results.  But you do need to learn a few basic things that search engine’s are particularly interested in, so you can more effectively build and write your site’s content.

In part two we’ll dig into some of those basic techniques.  Until then, we’ll leave you with two great resources.

Resources for further learning.

  • Google gets over 70% of searches in the US, so their own beginner’s guide is a good place to start.  Click here to get a PDF version.
  • MOZ is one of the most respected sources of information about SEO, and their beginner guide is very easy to read and understand.

 

Alex Slinin is the Founder and General Manager of Atomic Bell. He has over 10 years of corporate marketing and product management experience, with a focus on Internet and technology.

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