The Various Search Engines: Their Whims and Wishes

You can’t optimize your website just for Google anymore. Wayne Hurlbert explains what both Google and its competition look for when awarding rank.

You’ve probably already heard that the ubiquitous industry leading search engine Google has some new competitors on the rise. Former Google affiliate and powerhouse search engine Yahoo, following its absorption of Inktomi, is now poised to make a move. MSN Search, backed by the powerful influence of the Microsoft Corporation, has its eyes on an enlarged market share. And smaller search engines, including Teoma, are looking for their spot at the search engine table as well.

When you design and launch a new website, aiming for strong result placements on Google remains very important. You must never forget the rising players in the search engine game, however. They have some similarities, and some differences, in how to achieve high rankings in their results, so you need to know what makes them happy.

As part of their desire to win the screens and minds of Internet searchers, the various search engines offer onsite interfaces to attract your queries. By making their technology available to webmasters, the various search engines appear to be attempting to gain some grassroots search loyalty.

Site design and site promotion must take all of the search engines and their whims into account in order to gain high rankings.

All search engines use complex algorithms to calculate the position of web pages in their search results. The basic functions of the search engines are the same. They send out computerized robots, known as spiders, to crawl the Internet searching for web pages for their indexes. Upon receiving a search request, the search engines examine all of the pages within their respective indexes, and return what their algorithm computes to be the most relevant results.

The various algorithms are unique to each search engine. In a broad sense, they use similar indicators of web page importance.  All search engines currently consider incoming links, page content, and off page factors in their calculations. Because of those similarities, the designer of a new website has some guidelines to follow in regards to what is required to achieve high rankings.

There is some speculation that the new MSN Search will use on page word consideration in place of link and off page factors. The thought is that MSN will use word context as the primary search technique.  That system places emphasis on strong copywriting skills. How the words are used, in the on page copy, would determine the relevance of a web page.

Increasing the relevance of contextual keywords in a search algorithm would not only work in MSN Search, but would also benefit a site in the other major search engines. The addition of well written content, to any website, will help its placements in the search results. By providing a solid reason for better written content, the addition of context based search could enhance the results in all of the search engines, regardless of algorithm. Content is a major part of all search engine results.  In fact, that is what search engines attempt to provide.

A decline in such search engine terms of service violations, such as hidden text and doorway pages might be a positive result.  Since those spam techniques can not provide any context relation to the on page content, they would be less of a threat to honest webmasters.

Such a search method would lessen the importance of keywords and incoming links. It is highly unlikely, however, that their value would be removed entirely. At this time, the presented scenario is only a possibility; MSN at this time continues to use calculations similar to that of other search engines.

Regardless of search engine, there are many similarities in their requirements that must be considered when you design your website. These are concepts of search engine optimization that are common to all search engine algorithms in varying degrees. By utilizing them in your site design from the beginning, your website can get a head start in the search engine placements race.

Make certain that your newly designed site includes a good site map. By creating an easily navigable site map, that links your pages together for ease of use by your visitors, you help create a user friendly site that will enhance your business. At the same time, a site map gives you double service, as it helps the various search engine spiders to crawl and index all of your web pages much more efficiently.

Be sure that the links to the various pages include the keywords for that specific page.  Try to avoid general and vague terms like “home,” “about us,” and the like. Use keywords that highlight the subject matter of the page. It not only helps the search engine spiders, but also assists your visitors.

Place a unique title on each page of your site. Use the main keywords for that page within the title tags. All of the search engine spiders can use that information, to help rank your page higher, in the search engine results pages (SERPs). Don’t try to cram all of your content into one page.  Use a different page for each important keyword. You get the added benefit of having more pages indexed by the search engines, meaning more entry points to your site. It is also generally thought that larger sites with more pages do better in the SERPs than smaller sites.

Place your keywords higher on the page when you create your content. Some search engines apparently prefer that the keywords to appear sooner, emphasising their importance. Make certain that the keywords appear, throughout the written copy, to give all of the search engine spiders something tasty to nibble.

Since there are some differences in the spiders’ crawling preferences, you cover all the bases by sprinkling your keywords high, middle, and late in your copy. Be careful about what appears at the top of your page. Make certain that they are
your site menu and navigation architecture.  Be careful of keyword density. While Yahoo might like heavier keyword use, Google has upper limits on the number of keywords on a page. Be careful to use your keywords in the most appropriate locations, where they naturally flow in your copy, and you should experience no problems. Solid placement of keywords is a good idea. Overuse could be considered spamming.

While the addition of meta tags to your site may not carry any noticeable weight in the Google algorithm, such is not the case for the other search engines. There is some evidence that Yahoo and MSN Search consider meta tags in their search calculations. The use of meta tags was certainly a strong consideration in the Inktomi algorithm.

When you create a list of meta tags, be sure to only use the keywords that actually appear on that page. Don’t use any keywords that are not included in that web page’s content. Over use of keywords, especially if they’re unrelated to the on page content, could be viewed as spam by the search engines. Keep your meta tags precise and targeted for that page alone.

It is a common practice to provide a search engine interface on your website. Sharing your search engine of preference with your visitors provides a useful service that many of your customers might appreciate. All of the major search engines provide script for adding a search interface to your site.

Search engine leader Google provides copy and paste code to add to your website, which enables search of the World Wide Web. Google also provides copy and paste code to enable search exclusively within your website. That code can be found at http://www.google.com/searchcode.html. Google also provides customizable options to make the results appear with your choice of background, text, and color of links. All of these options are free of charge to registered websites.

Similar onsite search interfaces are available from Yahoo, MSN Search, and other search engines, as added features for your website.

By enabling search within your site, visitors can locate your general content, your product and services information, and specific keywords for your site. Ease of navigation helps to keep traffic at your site, and makes it worthwhile to return as well.

Conclusion

When designing your website, it’s important to keep both the differences and similarities between the various search engines in mind. While there are some differences in the algorithms utilized by the search engines, there are many features that are common to all of them.  By employing the basics of search engine optimization right from the beginning of your design phase, your website can enjoy strong search engine placements regardless of which search engine option is used.

Knowing the subtle differences between the various search engine requirements will enable you to incorporate them into your site design as well. By providing on site search interfaces, the search engines are hoping to build search loyalty, as they strive to gain and hold search market share. And keeping the needs and requirements of both your visitors and the search engines in mind, you will have continued success with both.

(This article originally appeared in the May 2004 issue of Plug-In).

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