I’ve had several discussions regarding how search engines work with several marketers lately. I felt it’s time for a post that explained how search worked. Having a basic understanding of how search works will help marketers and business owners.
Search engines are in the business of providing relevant information to searchers. When search engines index and rank your content, search engines look at several factors to ensure they’re users are getting best possible results. The ranking factors search engines use are often divided in to two categories, on-page factors and off-page ranking factors. Some factors influence more than others, but one thing you should know is that all these factors work together
On-page search ranking factors
These elements are within your direct control. This is the first place you should look at. Each of the factors below need their own blog post, this is a brief overview.
Your site must contain well written quality content that is actually helpful for your visitor. Searchers find your website by entering search terms into search engines. Use commonly used keywords that your customers are using to find your product or service. Use related keywords in your page content.
Always remember, why search engines are in business. Don’t try to fool them, instead try hard to provide quality relevant information to your customer. See how users engage with your content, if visitors leave your pages back to search results quickly, that is a signal to search engines that searchers are not finding what they searched for in your site. So, keep a keen eye on web analytics, use this data to help you improve your site.
Keep your content fresh and up to date. A local news site that was last updated two weeks ago does not help the searcher, be mindful of your content and refresh accordingly.
Page Code/HTML Structure
Keep your html code clean and semantically correct. What does it mean? In laymen’s terms it means that you’re calling a page element what it really is. For example, use title tags (h1, h2, h3 etc) for titles instead of bold paragraphs text. This benefits you and your user, it makes your site more accessible to all. Are you starting to see how this all reverts back to the user?
A slow loading site is of no use to a user. So improve speed. Ensure that your visitor can easily find pages within your site. If your site contains navigation designed in flash elements, images as navigation items, consider a text based navigation so that it’s easier for users as well as search engines to index your site. Make sure your URLs contain meaningful keywords to page topics.
With exploding increase in mobile traffic, it’s time to think of providing your users a mobile experience. Mobile search will prefer sites with mobile friendly versions.
Off-page search ranking factors
These factors are influenced by readers and other websites. Though you have little control over these factors, if you’re providing quality useful content and if you have a solid search marketing plan, you can improve these over time.
This means that you have other sites linking to you. The site which links to you, quality and reputation of the site plays a very big part in your ranking. You could have a thousand sites that link to you with no effect and one site that links to you that makes the whole difference. This is a signal to search engines that your content, and your site is relevant to a specific topic.
Domain Trust and Authority
Search engines look at your domain to see if you have been around a long time and if you have been operating in similar fashion over time. Search engines also now use social signals, social shares, links from other sites to gauge if visitors consider you a trusted authority. If you aren’t encouraging content sharing and providing your user content that helps, now it’s time to start.
Social signals are important to search engines more than ever. Recent integration of Google+ in to search stream is an indicator of that. Search engines gather information about social reach of your content. How often does your content get shared in and mentioned in social networks to provide more socially relevant information to searchers.
Local and Personal Ranking Factors
Mobile revolution also made local more important. If you’re searching for “pizza” in Green Bay, WI, a highly talked about very popular pizzeria in Chicago is of no use to you. Search engines know this and they look at local relevancy as a ranking factor when location matters for the searcher. Search engines also intelligently personalize search results based on your past search history and preferences.
If nothing above makes sense to you, it’s okay. Focus on providing helpful, relevant information about your product or service to your consumer, make it easy for your website visitor to read, engage with your brand regardless of how your visitor accesses your site.