YBT Digital Marketing Series on Search Engine Optimization. Part 1 includes: An Introduction to SEO - How search engines work. By Afshan Shaikh
If you are a regular internet user, you have most likely used a search engine like Google to look for information on the net. Have you ever wondered why some websites show up at the top of the results page while others only make it up to the 5th or 6th page? And how do you usually find what you are looking for within the first two results pages? Take, for example, searching for an online grocery retailer in Chicago. You would ideally go to Google, enter ‘online groceries in Chicago’ and search. Your search would yield the following results page:
Notice that the first few results have the word ‘Ad’ prefixed to them in a yellow box. This shows that these are paid links, that is, markets of these websites have paid for the keywords you entered so that their website appears at the top when anyone looks for online groceries. The list separate of links on the right side of the page are paid adverts.
The links that appear after the paid links, these are the ‘organic’ search results. These links have not been promoted by buying keywords. They have been brought to the first page because the search engine deemed them to be the most relevant and helpful in the context of the keywords entered by you. As you can see, your keywords appear in bold font in the link descriptions (circled in red).
Although paid links and adverts will temporarily place your website in the forefront, long term search engine visibility can only be achieved through Search Engine Optimization or SEO techniques that take time to implement, but cost nothing at all and leave a more lasting impression.
Understanding Search Engines
Google is the most popular search engine on the planet – but what exactly is a search engine? It is a unique type of database that consists of software programs known as spiders (also called robots or bots) that are used to identify websites and arrange them on the basis of relevance to specific search inputs. These spiders ‘crawl’ across the World Wide Web, constantly indexing information for the search engine in its database. This information, once it has been cross-referenced among websites though link, an information ‘spider web’ is created in the search engine database.
While crawling through websites, search engines rely on mathematical formulae known as search algorithms. These algorithms define how search engines file, organize and, importantly, rank website based on their relevance to specific search queries. The algorithm used by different search engines such as Google and Yahoo are different and so you will get different search results on each of them.
To be able to effectively file and rank websites, search engines need to access web content – the content that is available and used in websites, across the World Wide Web. This is much more complex than a person physically reading all the books in a library and then tagging each book with keywords. If someone requests for “European Architecture”, the librarian would be able to give them a list of books with their exact location, based on their relevance to the keywords. However, what happens if the librarian finds it difficult to read a particular book or cannot decide what keywords to assign to it.
This is the issue faced by several websites. When the design, development and content of a website is not SEO “Friendly”, the algorithms cannot effectively identify the description, title or even the keywords of the website. In other words, the search will not be able to figure out what your website is all about, and hence will not be able to associate relevant search terms and keywords with it. Further, the links within your site could be broken and it might be difficult for the spiders to navigate the website’s structure. Search Engine Optimization is all about making a website easy to find and affix a high rank to by search engines. Through SEO, not only does your website become more appealing to consumers but it also drives traffic to your website through boosted organic search results significantly.