Search engines rely on complex mathematical formulas to generate the results that are displayed on their search engine result pages (SERPs). While these algorithms remain a closely guarded secret and constantly undergo revision and modification, some knowledge of how they work can help a website owner optimize its content for better visibility in searches.
For example, if you’re searching for information on the treatment of cancer, a search for the word “cancer” may return millions of Web pages, many from websites offering medical services. If you instead inserted the phrase “river bank” into your search, your results would be much more relevant because the search engine would recognize that you are looking for information on banking institutions rather than medical sites.
Other factors that influence search engine results include the number and types of links pointing to a site, the content on a page and how well it matches your search terms. The use of structured data, which allows a web designer to code certain types of information into a site’s HTML, can also affect how your site appears in search results.
In addition, some Web pages are favored more than others because they’ve been “linked” to by other Web sites that share similar topics or serve the same audience. Search engines look at these links to decide which results are most likely to be relevant to you and which should appear first in your search results.
Search engines also analyze the text and metadata on each Web page to determine whether or not it’s relevant to your search terms. They then index the page so that it can be retrieved when you enter your search terms. This is called “crawling.”
Once the pages have been indexed, the search engine uses its ranking algorithm to decide which ones are most important and should be shown at the top of your results page. This process is called “ranking.”
Another element that influences your rankings is the frequency and location of your keywords. Gimmicks that less-reputable SEO firms tout as ways to get your site higher in the search results typically only work for a short time before the engine’s developers become wise to them and change its algorithm. In the past, such gimmicks included placing keywords in a certain pattern on a page and using specific phrases in links to your site.
Most search engines allow you to narrow your results by adding filters to your search term. For example, enclosing a keyword in quotation marks will search for that exact phrase. You can also use the AND or OR operators to search for information that contains both words or phrases. A minus sign (-) can also be used to exclude keywords from your results. For example, a search for “Joe Bloggs” jeans will find only those that have the words Joe and jeans in the same context, but will not retrieve any that simply contain the words. For best results, use this with caution because it may exclude important information from your results.