Part IV: Marketing your Website

Search Engine Ranking Information – Key Elements

by Pauline Sugarman

In this article we’ll begin to explore the most important Search Engine Optimization elements you need to consider in your web design to help boost ranking in the search engines.

No one but Google knows the exact formula, called an analog, that they use to classify a site and decide what ranking that web site will have in its search results. But, there are search engine professionals who specialize in analyzing the different search engines analogs in order to understand them as best as possible. They will tell you, for instance, that in total Google’s analog contains over 100 factors. Not all the factors are given the same level of importance by Google.

In this Search Engine Ranking Information section, we will discuss the most important factors that must be addressed to boost your ranking in Google, Yahoo and MSN as well as the other search engines.

Understand How Search Engines Gather their Data

Search Engines use what are referred to as “spiders”, also knows as “robots” to crawl from link to link through the vast web of pages currently uploaded to the net. As they crawl they create indexes of the Web, which in turn are searched according to certain criteria (the algorithm, which we’ll talk in more detail below). Once searched by the criteria, the results are delivered, ordered by relevancy to those search criteria.

These search engine spiders are considered pretty primitive in some ways. They crawl by “reading” their way through pages, following text links from page to page. They are just starting, to "read" Flash animations, images and database driven sites (dynamic content) but are still fundamentally text driven. While the crawling capabilities may advance in the coming years, text is still the safest route when creating websites with the desire to be highly ranked.

Be the Very Best within Your Community

Of all the search engines being used, I would call Google the "purist".  They hold close to their hearts the principles that have guided the internet from its inception (discussed in Important Website Design Principles Guiding the Internet Today). These include "Knowledge First, Money Second" and "Creating Community". While Google continues to change many of its criteria for ranking pages, it has to date held true to these principles.  To reign supreme in Google means to be the very best, most informative website for your area of interest. Google wants to return the best results to its searchers.  If your site has the most knowledge to offer, Google will more likely reward you.  And you will naturally be sought out by other websites that have similar interests (your "community"), who will want to link to you as a valued resource.  This means that you will naturally, over time, have many relevant websites linking to you, called "relevant links", Google's second main criteria. By relevant, Google means that they are not arbitrary links but actually in some way relate to your area of knowledge and enhance the information you are offering on your website.  We will discuss linking in further detail in a later section titled Link Building Campaign Overview.

Yahoo appears to also value knowledge and relevant links, but they also value business, more so than Google, and show it by including businesses in their search results more readily than Google.  And while Google has refined their main criteria to the two above mentioned elements, Yahoo still appears to value other elements that Google once weighed but has since dismissed.

Keyword Phrases

Of all the search engine ranking information provided here, keyword phrases are the most important.  Both Google and Yahoo rely in good part on searching through the text on each page to read what that page’s content is about. If it finds that the phrase called the "keyword phrase" entered in the search field is also prominently used on the page at hand, it boosts that page’s ranking within the search results.  For example, if someone searches for 'green felt hats' Google and Yahoo will search through their index of pages looking for results that match this phrase.

It does us no good to be ranked high for terms that are irrelevant to what we truly are about. So, before we can place a keyword phrase prominently in our text, we have to decide what search terms we want to be found by.

Ask yourself, what exactly do you have to offer? Notice also that I called this section Keyword Phrase, not Keyword. One-word terms are almost always too vague. What we want to do is bring traffic to our site that is looking for exactly what we have to offer. Narrow your definition so that the traffic that comes to your web site is highly targeted. For instance, say your business was selling hats. Instead of choosing “hats” as your keyword, think about exactly what type of hat or hats you sell. If you sell straw cowboy hats then the key words phrase “Straw Cowboy Hats” will bring traffic looking for more clearly for what you have to sell.

Another important part of choosing keyword phrases is to choose phrases that are being searched on. If no one is searching for straw cowboy hats, it makes not sense to optimize our page for that term.

There are two great tools for keyword research. The first is Overture’s free search tool found at:

The second is WordTracker located at:

Both let you see how words are ranked for number of searches done on them in the past months. Word Tracker is a more comprehensive product, telling you how often people search for them, and also telling you how many competing sites use those keywords in all the top search engines.

If you find that the various forms of your words are equally highly ranked (ex: engineer, engineering) then you should use all the forms within your copy.

Decide on 2-3 Keyword phrases related to the subject of each page. Again, be as specific as possible- phrases should describe exactly what you do. Do not get attached to one specific phrase. And make sure to optimize more than one page of your site. The results should be that your site optimized for lots of different keyword phrases. That way if the search engine changes its ranking for you for one of your phrases you have others to fall back on.

Text on the Page

Just as important in the search engine ranking information discussed is your copy.   Now that you have chosen your key word phrases that best describe what you are about, you will need to work them into your text in a natural, unforced way. Most search engine optimizing professionals (yes, there are professionals who specialize in search engine optimizing, called SEOs), would say that a minimum of 250-400 words per page is important, giving you ample room to work your key word phrases into the text without sounding like you are forcing it. Key word phrases should be used as naturally as possible. In other words, write first for you audience and second for the search engine. Write copy that is compelling to your audience.  Text is a very important element in achieving high ranking in the search engines.

Internal Links

Your internal links (anchor text) and clickable images  are both used to link to other pages within your website. Search engines read these links to understand what the page being linked to is about.  Use these links to clearly describe the contents being linked to.  Your keyword phrases are ideal for this purpose and can almost always be used. (see Linking Campaign Overview for more information on Linking Campaigns)

Headings and Sub Headings - A Yahoo Thing

While it appears that Google is no longer giving extra weight in its algorithm to headings and sub-headings, Yahoo and other engines may still be using them as part of its algorithm to help decide ranking. This is understandable as Headings are good indications as to what the page is about. Use headings if it makes sense for your audience, for instance as a way to break up the text on a long page. They will help your audience to get a clear idea of what you are writing about. If you are using them, place your key word phrases in them, as long as it is done in an unforced manner. Consider using 1 main heading and breaking up your text with 2-6 sub-headings.

Next in our exploration of search engine ranking information, we will discuss Meta Tags and their importance in optimizing website pages for boosting your ranking...

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