Friday 2 December 2011

Understanding search engines

If you ask 100 businesses what they would like if they could have 3 things for their website, you're almost guaranteed to have 'higher listing in google and other search engines' as an answer for every one. And why wouldn't it be? Research1 clearly shows that the higher your listing (on a relevant search), the more clicks you will get, which is no surprise to most internet users. (Who ever clicks past the second or third page of results?)

The natural result is that SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is a hot topic, and one that many companies sink thousands of dollars every day into ensuring their lofty placement. While that may be an option for a national or international chain with millions in marketing revenue, it's not usually an option for local one-off stores or family businesses.

Unfortunately, there is no magic solution (if there was then it would be widely known and shared, not to mention abused). If you go backwards to the source, however, it's a little easier to track back how the search engines determine listings, and give some helpful insight into the ways you can improve your own ranking.

What is the purpose of a search engine?

Basically, a search engine attempts to unite a searcher for an answer. The less accurate the results, the more frustrated a user gets, and ultimately they look for another provider, so its in the best interest for a search engine to determine an algorithm that takes many pieces of information to determine how 'relevant' a site is for a given search, and for a given searcher.

How does a search engine work out the 'right' answer?

This is the million dollar question. Most modern search engines work on a concept of relevancy. What web page is most relevant to the words or phrase used in the search, and which of those are most relevant to the person searching? There are a few ways to look at how that's determined.

1. You need to remember that a search engine works mathematically, not with reason, so the relevant results are going to be tied directly with specific words, and the words they are commonly associated with.

2. Think how a searcher thinks. This may seem obvious, but it can often help to use the exact tense, verbiage or even spelling in your optimisation based on who you want to target.
2a. A wedding cake maker may tend to use phrases like 'wedding cake varieties' where they may be better targeting a phrase like 'wedding cake ideas'.
2b. If you're targeting a global market, you may want to use American spelling on some key words so that you're not overlooked by that market.
2c. Use a tool such as Google Insights to see how many people are actually searching for the things YOU think are relevant.

3. What do other 'important' websites say about your website? It's important to know the major directory websites for your industry and make sure you get listed. The more detailed the listing, the better. Generally directories are very high on search engine results, so getting a link in them is essentially a recommendation for you. Better still, because the majority of the directory is very keyword specific, so every listing they add makes your listing more valuable.
Although it's less common these days, link swapping can be an effective way to get your site linked on a site with similar keywords to your own. Just make sure your link is filled with keywords that match both your site and the host site, and with your reciprocal link, make sure you're not going to be promoting a questionable business or one that could leech business off you. Also make it a point to periodically check to make sure they still have your link, and if you want to maintain the agreement.

4. What does YOUR website say? How do you say it? How much do you say it? The content within your domain says it all. Make sure search engine robots can actually read your content (they cant read images and have difficulty reading the content within flash). Make sure you use words that your customers use. Make sure you include specific model numbers for people looking for alternate sources to purchase a specific product. If your business specialises in one area, make sure you use many different words and phrases when talking about your product or service. Also consider anti-keywords using a phrase like 'alternate to productX' or even 'we don't offer the cheap productX because of poor quality'. You can already see how you might snag a few people looking for productX.

5. Personalised Results. This may surprise some people, but with the introduction of a google accounts, Google now builds a profile of every (logged in) user that completes a search. Now with the introduction of Google+, it now cross-references the sites you like, with the sites that your  'circles' (people you know or have some association with) like - it's like a friend has given their recommendation within your search results.

D.I.Y. SEO - 5 Easy things you can do to boost your listing

Here's a list of tips and tricks you can do (quite easily for the most part) to help yourself.

1. Make a list of 20 key words / phrases that you want to use that cover your entire site. Make a top 10 from that list and separate it from the ones that relate specific to a product or service that you will cover in more detail on your site, and the ones that are more general. The 10 words you use here should be used on every page of the site where possible.

2. Go through your site and list every page. Then write out a list of 10 key words that are specific or most relevant to that page, and try to incorporate those words or phrases at least twice on the page. If you can, try to get some of the most important ones into a headline.

3. Create a site map page. This is basically just a page of links to all of the pages in your site. It can also help if you add a short description of each page along with the link, again including some of the page-specific keywords from #2. Make sure there is a text-link to the site map page from somewhere on your page. Usually it's located in the footer with any copyright or legal notices.

4. Make sure your images all have ALT tags and you use them to describe the image. Search engines like it when you do that and you can also slide in a few extra keywords. Adding a tag for every image also shows Google that you built your site correctly.

5. Add content regularly. Google LOVES active websites. The more you can update your site with relevant content, the more frequently your site will be indexed. Google must figure that if you're putting in the effort to update it, that it must be more valuable than a site that sits stagnant. Plus, every now piece of content will either strengthen your existing keywords or add some supplemental ones.

Too much to take everything in?

Feel free to talk to us about ways we can help you to help yourself. At Digerati, we're not just here to sell you a new site every time you talk to us, we want you to get the most out of your investment. Talk to us today.


Related Articles:
See also Meta what? & Living content