Understanding Search Ranking

To people outside the field, search ranking must seem a bit like black magic. The truth is that it is complex indeed. And, the algorithm (the actual steps the computer goes through) that performs the search is constantly changing.

But taking some time to understand it will help in the development of your small business marketing plan.

search ranking attempts to combine knowledge of what’s on the web with knowledge of what you want to see, to list those sites in the search results that have current and relevant information on them in order from most relevant/current to least

To help understand search ranking, it is helpful to start with what search engines (like Google, Yahoo, and so on) are trying to do. And that is, simply put, to give you exactly what you want every time you search on the Internet.

Easily said, but really it is much more difficult to do. That’s because there are three huge challenges for search engines:

  • the size of the Internet
  • humans are doing the searching
  • “Black Hat” SEO practices

Any one of these challenges is formidable. Combine them and you realize how just how amazing search engines are.

Click to read: Challenge #1, The Sheer Size of the Internet

Challenge #1: The Sheer Size of the Internetworking-in-an-office

The Internet has millions of sites and the information on them may change daily. Search engines use special code called “spiders” to “crawl” the Internet looking at every site. And yes, every one. (Programmers can, for special reasons, tell search engines not to crawl the site.)

While the size of the Internet that makes it awesome for small business marketing, it also makes the task of the spiders a very big one. Spiders are continually crawling the web, 24/7/365, because they never know when content on a site might change, making it more current (and deserving of a higher ranking).

This is how search engines know what is on every site and when it was put there. If this was all search engines had to do, things would be simple.

Challenge #2 for Search Engines: Humans Are Doing the Searching

But things aren’t simple at all, especially when you think about the search. The fact that a human is doing the searching adds language issues, spelling, typographical errors and myriad other things that the search engine must consider.

Dealing with the sheer size of the Internet and how often it changes, as well the humans that are doing the searching would be a daunting enough task. But search engines must deal with something else: people who want to fool the search engines.

Black top-hatChallenge #3 for Search Engines: “Black Hat” SEO Practices

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, the art and science of developing content that search engines rank highly. Like many professions, there are right ways and wrong ways of doing SEO.

The right way to optimize your content for search engines is with:

  • concise, highly relevant writing,
  • headlines that accurately describe the writing,
  • relevant graphics, videos, and other media,
  • moderate use of carefully chosen keywords,
  • a well-written meta description

These are called “White Hat” SEO Practices, and search engines reward this kind of content with good search rankings.

Disreputable practices that attempt to influence search engine rankings include overuse of keywords (called “stuffing”), use of hidden text, use of a large number of links, and pages that redirect to irrelevant sites. These are “Black Hat” SEO practices. These guys are always trying to fool the search engines.

Click to read: Why would anyone want to fool a search engine?

Why would anyone want to fool a search engine?

One reason is akin to the traditional shady sales practice called “bait and switch”. They want their site to appear like a site you’d want to visit. You click on it and you find the site is nothing about what you searched for.

All kinds of sites from pornography to Viagra to questionable nutritional supplements do this: they basically hijack your search by fooling the search engine into showing their site in the search results, and use a fake description of the site to lure you into clicking through.

The other reason is perhaps a bit less dishonest, but bad nonetheless. It’s when site managers employ Black Hat SEO when they don’t have fresh and relevant content to post on their site.

Small business marketing takes work: good sites take a lot of effort. Some are just too lazy to do the work.

As search engines reward good SEO practices, they penalize sites that employ Black Hat SEO with poor rankings and, in extreme cases, may ban them altogether from search results.

Click to read: So How Do Search Engines Rank Sites?

So How Do Search Engines Rank Sites?

The Google search engine is said to use more than two hundred factors in ranking websites.seo ranking factors chart

This, of course, is complete speculation because, like the recipe in any good restaurant, Google isn’t talking about their secret sauce.

And, if you listen to the experts—SEO experts that is—you end up with something like this mind-blowing chart.

Suffice it to say that there are lots of factors, but they break into a few groups:

  • content – relevance, readability, length, uniqueness [~25%]
  • popularity – sharing activity on social networks [~7%]
  • visibility – brand/domain mention in other media [~9%]
  • authority – quality and quantity of links [~31%]

Hey, if you’ve read this far, you now know more than your average bear about how websites are ranked by search engines.

You know it’s mainly about content, because that’s what you can control.

Heck, you probably know enough about SEO to do the work yourself. Maybe you should send us a resume.


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