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How Search Engines Rank Pages

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Every smart search engine optimizer starts his or her career by looking at web pages with the eye of a search engine spider. Once the optimizer is able to do that, he or she is halfway to mastering the task.

The first thing to remember is that the search engines rank “pages”, not “sites”. What this means is that you will not achieve a high ranking for your site by attempting to optimize your main page for ten different keyword phrases. However, different pages of your site WILL appear up the list for different key phrases if you optimize each page for just one of them. If you can’t use your keyword in the domain name, no problem – use it in the URL of some page within your site, e.g., in the file name of the page. This page will rise in relevance for the given keyword.

Second, understand that the search engines do not see the graphics and JavaScript dynamics your page uses to captivate visitors. You can use a graphic image of written text that says you sell beautiful Christmas gifts. But it does not tell the search engine that your Web site is related to Christmas gifts – unless you use an ALT attribute where you write about it.

The same concerns the usage of JavaScript. Look at the two examples:

1. Visit our page about discounted Samsung Monitors!
2. < script language="JavaScript" type="text/javascript"> < /script>

The first is what visitors see, the second is the source code script that produces the output. Assume the search engine spider is intelligent enough to read the script (however, not all the spiders will, actually); is there anything in the code that can tell it about the Samsung monitor? Hardly!

As a rule, search engine spiders have a limit on loading page content. For instance, the Googlebot will not read more than 100 KB of your page, even though it is instructed to look to see whether there are keywords at the end of your page. So if you use keywords somewhere beyond this limit, this is invisible to spiders. Therefore, you may want to acquire the good habit of not overloading the HEAD section of your page with scripts and styles. Better link them from outside files, because otherwise they just push away your important textual content.

There are many more examples of relevancy indicators a spider considers when visiting your page, such as the proximity of your important words to the beginning of the page. Here, as well, the spider does not necessarily see the same things a human visitor would see. For instance, you place a left-hand menu pane on your web page. People visiting your site will generally not pay their first attention to this, focusing instead on the main section; however, the spider will read your menu before passing to the main content – simply because it is closer to the beginning of the code.

Remember — during the first visit, the spider does not know yet which words your page relates to! Keep in mind this simple truth. By reading your HTML code, the spider (which is just a computer program) must be able guess the exact words that make up the theme of your site.

Then, the spider will compress your page and create the index associated with it. To keep things simple, you can think of this index as an enumeration of all words found on your page, with several important parameters associated with each word: their proximity, frequency, etc.

Certainly, no one really knows what the real indices look like, but the principles are as they have been outlined here. The words that are high in the list according to the main criteria will be considered your keywords by the spider. In reality, the parameters are quite numerous and include off-the-page factors as well, because the spider is able to detect the words every other page out there uses when linking to your page, and thus calculate your relevance to those terms also.

When a Web surfer queries the search engine, it pulls out all pages in its database that contain the user’s query. And here the ranking begins: each page has a number of “on-the-page” indicators associated with it, as well as certain page-independent indicators (like the Page Rank). A combination of these indicators determines how well the page ranks.

It’s important to keep this in mind: after you have made your page attractive to visitors, ask yourself whether you have also made it readable for the search engine spiders.

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About Raul Vergara

  • My Beyond Babylon blog just jumped from a humble two to a better three! Why? Don’t rightly know. I’ve heard ideas, but they’re just guesses. Something about original content?

  • Your point “When a Web surfer queries the search engine, it pulls out all pages in its database that contain the user’s query.” is not completely accurate – that would take too long. It actually queries the index built from cross-referencing across pages.

  • I never really understood pagerank very well. I’ve read about it, understood the concept, but fail to see why my blog still has a pagerank of zero with about 300 sites pointing to me, including a few very big ones like lockergnome, infoworld, digg, lifehacker, etc…

    I still get some pretty good returns from google and msn search, but I never see anyone from yahoo.. All of this puzzles me 🙂


    [Geeks Are Sexy] Tech. News

  • GeeksAreSexy, your blog actually has a pagerank of 5, and that’s not bad at all, and yes, Geeks Are Sexy:)

  • 5? Wow 🙂

    I tried that page a few days ago and it showed 0 🙂

    I guess it doesn’t get updated very often..


    [Geeks Are Sexy] Tech. News