How Search Engines Operate…

Today is the second post in a short introductory series on Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) for Small Business… and before we start I would like to credit Randfish over at SEOmoz for the foundation of this post. He has been writing a similar series on SEO, which was the inspiration for this series focused more towards traditional bricks ‘n’ mortar businesses who are just starting out online.

bart_blackboard.jpg To first understand how to make the most of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) for your business, you need to understand exactly how it is that search engines go about their business.

In the English-speaking world, the major search engines include Google, Yahoo!, MSN, and (which includes AskJeeves).

Typically speaking, search engines perform two functions.

  • They crawl the web and create an index (database) of the billions of documents (web-pages) that are available online – this includes your business’ website.
  • They use this index to provide useful answers to questions that users ask of them, most often in the form of a list of relevant web sites after someone searches on a particular phrase or term; such as “plumbers in melbourne”

Let’s look at each of these.

Crawling and Indexing

Search engines don’t just head out across the expanse of the web at random. Instead, they proceed along methodical lines. Most every webpage you’ve ever been to on the internet contains at least one or more hyperlinks to other website pages or files. This sharing of links, in theory, serves as a network connecting all of the pages that exist on the internet. By using these links, the software that search engines use to scour the web (known as crawlers or spiders) can reach the billions of documents available on the web through any given starting point.

Randfish explains it brilliantly using the analogy of a city bus or subway route. While the main points of interest are the various stops and cities along the route (think of these as the web sites and files), the streets connecting them (the hyperlinks) are critical and of no less importance.

So if you don’t have any hyperlinks (on other webpages) that point to your business’ website then the search engine spiders will never be able to find your website and place its pages in the index. It is this web structure (hence: world wide web) that the search engines crawl through, making these stops, where their next task is to take a look at the code that makes the pages and store the relevant sections of code in their database for retrieval…

Retrieval and Rankings

When most people go to search for something on the internet, say looking for someone to fix the leak in the bathroom… they submit a query at a search engine, by typing in the phrase/term they are looking for (plumber melbourne), and in return they get a list of relevant web pages.

To do this, the search engine looks through its massive collection of documents, and performs a two-step process. First, they return results which are likely to have some relation to what the user was looking for. Secondly, and this is important, they determine the order, or rank in which these pages are displayed to the user.

To make this determination, the search engine judges two aspects of your businesses page: relevance and importance.

Relevance is a very complex matter that we’ll be discussing throughout this guide. Suffice to say, relevance is no longer simply a matter of having the right words (plumber & Melbourne) in the text of your webpage. SEO goes far beyond that and incorporates a great number of factors.. but as a starting point; the only way the search engines can determine what your business (website) is about, is by reading the words of test on your sites pages. So if you are a plumber, make sure you incorporate words such as plumbing, plumber, leak, toilet etc etc in your copy.

Importance, from the search engine’s perspective, has to do with how popular your site is… and just like in high school where the most popular people had the most friends… the more links you have pointing to your site, the higher your importance, and the higher your rank in any given search.

If you’ve used a search engine before, you likely know this, but the more relevant and important a page is thought to be, the closer to the top of the search engine results list it can be found. How many times have you even bothered navigating to the second page of a results list to find what you’re looking for? …Exactly….

Of course, these two factors are determined by machines, so there’s a lot of room for error. But rather than see this as a negative thing, we should look at how we can capitalize upon it. In other words, if we figure out just how search engines go about determining how important and relevant your page is, we can make sure that they award us high rankings.

In the next post we will be going further into the actual look and feel of a Search Engines Results Page and how that all works… stay tuned..

The Take-Away: Now, I was a shocked as Lynne Spears was on Dec 18 , when I learnt that they don’t teach these basics at university… One of the graphic designer team at Infiniti, who was taught web design as part of her uni course, was amazed to learn this stuff…
After a university design course and a huge HECs bill… it’s a travisty on the Uni system (and a whole other blog post) that she thought that the result on the web were non-manipulable, that the search engine knew of every single page online, and displayed the results in real-time.
So the take-away here is; to pick up the phone an interrogate your web designers to ensure they are taking SEO into consideration when designing your site… because there is a good chance they aren’t…and that’s costing your business $$$

[tags] seo, search engine optimisation, search, engine, optimisation, google, yahoo, msn, sem, serps, pete williams, pete, williams, preneur marketing, preneur, marketing, small business, small, business [/tags]

  • Bongani Makhathini

    What really got me there was the crawling part. I always used to think that search engines already have a preset database, once the user queries. it gives exactly what has already been preloaded. But the crawling and blot phenomena has made me realize why it is that the same page I searched for yesterday has gone away and a new page is in place. Bascally, if its Spider worthy, its indexed.

  • Bongani Makhathini

    So, if its spider worthy, it is indexed.

  • Tim

    How interesting that every example is plumbing related. Excellent points

  • Parul

    I have a blog. And I find these informations very usefule to me. The Search Engine Optimization is explained here very nicely.

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