Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Whole World in Their Hands


Search Engine Optimization, Back to Basics, Part 2

First of all, let’s clarify something: When we say “Search Engine Optimization”: We’re really NOT optimizing any search engines. They couldn’t care less what we do. There are a million other websites to index. In reality, what we’re doing is optimizing our site to be more effective with the search engines. And the first step to doing that is to understand how that works.

Imagine I’m sitting in front of my computer, and I’ve got or (or any of thousands of others) up on my screen. I want to learn about “Underwater Basket Weaving”, because I saw it on Letterman in the “Silly Human Tricks” segment. So, I type “Underwater Basket Weaving” and I hit the search button.

What happens next? Well, some think that the search engine immediately launches out on a world-wide search, through servers and hosts all across our fair planet looking for websites that relate to “Underwater Basket Weaving”. That’s not quite the case. If it were, each search that anyone would do would take days. I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to do a search if I have to come back tomorrow for my results.

So, what the search engines REALLY do is to search databases. Each of the big engines has a big database full of information about literally billions of web pages. It’s like they have information on the whole World Wide Web. See, a local database can be searched in a fraction of a second. The whole world takes days. Some search engines, like Yahoo and Google, have databases so vast that other search engines will lease them.

So, the search engine will pull up every page in its database that matches “Underwater”, “Basket”, and “Weaving”.

Now, it has to show me, the user, the results of that search. And, it has to show it to me in a simple and useful way. Why? Because if I don’t find what I’m looking for, I’ll go somewhere else. If I try again later and end up going somewhere else again, then I’m probably not coming back. And that means fewer eyes on the pages, and that means fewer eyes on the ads there at the search engine. And fewer ads mean less money. So, it’s in the search engine’s best interest to provide good, usable and fast results.

That means that the engine has to guess which site, out of possibly millions or even billions, is most likely to match what I, the searcher, want. I’m looking for Underwater Basket Weaving. So I don’t want to see sites about Sports Cars.

Now, machines are notoriously bad at guessing what humans want. How can they be good at it? Most humans don’t even know what they want! But over the years, the people that program the search engines have created some pretty effective systems (they call them “algorithms”) to check the “relevancy” of a page.

Most of that process is done by checking the content of the page. Is the search word or words featured prominently in the text of the page? How many times do the search words appear? Are they more toward the top of the page, or buried at the bottom? Are they in big bold headlines? Are they in the links? The answers to these questions have a big impact on how high a page with rank in the final search engine results.

In addition to that, there are other factors that play into your ranking as well. How old is your site? How prominent or well-liked is your site (this is judged based on the number of other sites that link to yours)? Is your site isolated and poorly assembled, or is it “in the loop”?

What these things all add up to is this:

First of all, you’ve got to get in the databases. Go to the big search engines. Find the link to click in and submit your site. If your site isn’t listed, you won’t come up on any searches, no matter how many keywords you have or where you’ve stuffed them.

Second, You have to make your site so that it’s full of content, and so that content is rich with the best keywords for your topics.

And finally, you’ve got to get social and get connected. Your site can’t succeed if it’s an island without bridges.

Mark is the co-director of, the search marketing consulting arm of Clickincome (

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