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How do search engines work?

Before we look at anything specific it's worth saying a couple of things about how search engines work and in particular Google since it the single biggest search facility in the world, currently considered responsible for over 80% of all searches.


When we talk about search engine placement there are several kinds, natural and pay-per-click. Natural search is the term for the free listings that make up most search results. PPC is the sponsored section which appears above and on the right (on Google).


Google is an automated process. Although you can submit your site to Google for inclusion it also discovers sites on its own via a huge network of bots (search programmes) that constantly trawl the internet following every link they can find and reporting back.


Although it is automated, the basic principle of Google is to judge a site as much as possible on what it thinks someone would see if they visited. So it looks at what elements of the page are intended to catch the eye, which elements may be intended to deceive and makes a value judgement about the content.


The simplest advice we can give anyone about optimising their site is to be honest. You can weight the dice in your favour by making the site as relevant to your products as possible but only by working with search engines can you build long-term equity in your site and gain a respectable place at the top of the search engines.


The other thing to remember is that, although there are some short-term strategies that can boost your immediate presence, there are no immediate fixes to natural search optimisation.

So the sixty-four thousand dollar question...


What gets you to the top of Google?

The exact algorithms that dictate search engine placements are closely guarded secrets but it basically comes down to this:


Proper site construction with full use of:

  • alt tags,
  • metatags different to every page and relevant to the page content
  • key phrases used regularly and prominently throughout text
  • fully spiderable links so that search engines can access pages on the website
  • Inbound links from other sites around the internet, the more respected the better
  • Regularly updated, relevant content
  • Judicious use of Adwords or Cost-per-click where appropriate


Something to bear in mind about search engines and Google in particular is that they are automated processes with no human input but they are programmed to try to interpret as much as possible what they think a person would experience in terms of both looking for and going onto a website.


As a result, the most important elements in optimisation are those that are most visible such as page titles, words picked out in bold, headers, description metatags etc. These, along with keyword density are the things they use to decide how relevant and valid a site is.


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