|OMIX WHITE PAPER|
An overview of what search engines do, how they work, and what site owners can do to get listed.
Website owners are often interested in having their site "rank" higher in the search engines: that is, when someone searches for keywords that relate to their business, they want their site to be listed at the top of the search results. With careful page design and coding, and enrollment in pay-for-performance services this can be achieved. As more and more businesses go online, all of which want to be at the top of the search engine listings, this is becoming increasingly challenging and expensive.
Strictly speaking, a search engine is a searchable index of all available web pages. However, since the number of web pages is in the hundreds of millions (and growing by the minute), the reality is that no search engine can index them all, and the same search in different engines can yield quite different results.
Furthermore, some search engines are really "directories", lists of website categories as opposed to a searchable index. Yahoo (www.yahoo.com) and the Open Directory (www.dmoz.org) are both "directories" that rely on people to compile and organize their listings. To further complicate matters, most of the search engines contain both search engine and directory information, though they tend to emphasize one type of result over the other.
There are hundreds of search engines and directories, but only the 17 shown below really matter.
Of those, seven are responsible for more than 90% of all searches (indicated with an asterisk).
Crawler-Based Search Engines
Crawler-based search engines, such as AltaVista, create their listings using software (sometimes termed a "spider") that automatically indexes web pages by following links on homepages or links between sites, and then creating an index of URLs and the text at each URL (only HTML text is indexed, not text shown as graphics). That means that when a page's URL changes, the search engine won't know it until its software returns to the site and re-indexes it. That can take weeks or months.
A human-powered directory, such as Yahoo, depends on people to create its listings. You submit a brief site description to the directory for your entire site, and the editors review it, decide whether or not it deserves a listing, and then place it in a category in the directory. When a Yahoo user runs a search, the directory looks for matches found in the submitted descriptions. Results are listed alphabetically by site title, with the most popular sites shown first, separately, and a few sponsored listings at the very top.
Changing your web pages has no effect on your listing. Things that are useful for improving a listing with a search engine have nothing to do with improving a listing in a directory. The only exception is that a good site, with good content, might be more likely to get reviewed for free than a poor site.
Hybrid Search Engines
At one time, a search engine either presented crawler-based results or human-powered listings. It is now common for both types of results to be presented. Much of the time a hybrid search engine will favor one type of listing over the other. Yahoo first presents its own directory listings, and then may give crawler-based results from Google.
HOW SEARCH ENGINES RANK WEB PAGES
This does not mean that the more times the words are present on the page the higher it will rank. Search engines are smarter than that. Programmers "tune" the software to reject such attempts at "spamming" the search engines to get a higher ranking.
Search engines use proprietary, and jealously guarded formulas, or "algorithms", to create their indexes in an attempt to produce good quality results for their users. Each search engine uses a different algorithm, which can change at any time. This is one reason why the same search on different engines produces quite different results.
It's In The Text
One of the main rules in a ranking algorithm involves the location and frequency of the words on a web page. Search engines take into account:
What is important to keep in mind is that each search engine weights these different web page text areas differently, and the weightings may change over time.
It's Not All In The Text
Crawler-based search engines know that many web developers constantly rewrite their web pages in an attempt to improve their rankings. Because of this, all major search engines now also make use of "off the page" ranking criteria that developers cannot readily control.
The principal criteria used are link analysis, which was pioneered by Google. By analyzing how web pages link to each other, a search engine can get a sense of what a page is about as well as whether that page is deemed to be "important" and thus deserving of a high ranking. In addition, sophisticated techniques are used to block attempts by developers to build "artificial" links designed to increase their rankings.
Another off the page factor is click-through measurement. This is when a search engine measures the results their users select for a particular search, then drop high-ranking pages that aren't attracting clicks while at the same time promoting lower-ranking pages that generate clicks.
SUBMITTING TO THE SEARCH ENGINES
"Search engine submission" refers to the act of getting your web site listed with search engines. Another term for this is search engine registration. Getting listed does not mean that you will necessarily rank well for particular terms, however. It simply means that the search engine knows your pages exist.
Increasingly, search engines are charging money for a site to get listed in a reasonable time frame. The web has grown so huge that it takes months for the search engines to index new submissions. Paying a small fee means that your site will be listed in a more reasonable time frame. However, it does not guarantee any sort of ranking or position in the search results!
Search Engine Positioning
Everyone wants their site to rank at the top of the listings for particular keywords. But remember: no one can "guarantee" a particular ranking on any search engine unless that engine allows you to pay for specific keywords and their ranking position. And even then the costs will vary over time as other businesses bid for those keywords.
"Optimization" vs. Positioning
Terms such as "search engine placement," "search engine positioning" and "search engine ranking" refer to a site actually doing well for particular terms or for a range of terms at search engines. "Search engine optimization" means designing a web page so that when it is indexed, certain keywords are noticed by the search engine.
Optimizing a web page for the search engines means careful consideration of the text on the page, which keywords are contained in the text and how many times they are repeated, the text position on the page relative to the graphical elements of the design, the page title, and the "hidden" page text: the meta description, meta keywords, and even the alt tags.
Doing well with search engines is not just about submitting properly, optimizing well or getting a good rank for a particular term. It's about the overall job of improving how your site interacts with search engines, so that the audience you seek can find you.
It is important to keep in mind that achieving and maintaining high search engine rankings is an ongoing process. Your competitors are making the same effort in their attempts to be number one. Regular monitoring will alert you to changes in your rankings, and corrective action can be initiated.
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