Understanding Search Engines and How They Rank Sites

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For this section we are talking about organic listings rather than pay-per-click or sponsored listings.

Organic listings are the search results that are displayed to the left of the page and below the sponsored listings. Organic listings are free listings and are gained by how your site is ranked based on a unique formula, or algorithm, for each search engine. Pay-per-click or sponsored listings, on the other hand, are listings that are paid for and gained through a bidding process. Sponsored listings are always displayed at the top of the results and down the right-hand side of the page.  See Figure 2.1 for a visual explanation of organic and pay-per-click positioning on the search engine results page.

Organic listing

A free listing of a site in the search results ranked by the search engine’s ranking formula or algorithm.

Search engines use programs or intelligent agents, called bots, to actually search the Internet for pages that they index using specific parameters as they read the content. The bot reads the information on every page of your site and then follows the links. For example, Google’s spiders continually crawl the Web looking for sites to index and, of course, index sites upon their submission. Google is obviously very important in the search engine community, so be sure your site is easily accessible to its spider.

Programs used by search engines to search the Internet for pages to index.

Each search engine has its own unique ranking criteria and its own unique algorithm, or formula, giving different weighting to each of the criteria in its formula. For the search engines that you have decided to focus on, you have to
learn as much as you can about their ranking criteria and relative weighting. See Figure 2.2 for a breakdown of how the search engines score sites. The site with the highest score appears at the top of the results, and the rest appear in descending order of their score.

Pay-per-click or sponsored listings appear

To maximize your score, you need to address all three areas. You need to make sure your site is optimized for keyword phrases. You need to scoop up the miscellaneous points; some of these are easy and some you don’t have much control over. We cover these points more in this chapter, too.

The search engines are all fighting for market share. The more market share a search engine has, the more valuable the company is. To gain market share, a search engine has to provide better results than its competition. It is for this reason that the search engines are changing and improving their formulas on an ongoing basis. You have to keep up with changes in these formulas, tweak your site accordingly, and resubmit when necessary.

The search engines have different algorithms or formulas for their ranking. They have different weighting for the various elements within their formula. They change their formulas over time and they change their ranking over time. Social media has had an impact on search engine ranking, and we are seeing changes in the search engine formulas to make sure that the appropriate weight is attached to those elements and manipulation of search engine ranking is kept at a minimum. Sound complicated? Let’s get started.

how search engines rank Web sites

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