How search engines work
A search engine is a constantly updated index of pages on the web.
Search engines have spiders that crawl the web looking for new pages. The spiders start with popular pages and follow links to other pages, creating an ever larger network. While crawling the web, spiders look at all of the significant words on each page to get a sense of what the page is about. Using a search algorithm, a search engine ranks all of the pages in its network for various keywords and phrases.
Nobody knows the exact algorithms that search engines like Google and Bing use to rank pages. It's clear, however, that certain things—e.g. meta tags, titles, alt text, and inbound links—are very important factors.
What search engines look for
- Content that’s relevant to a given search query
- Unique, valuable, engaging content that's written for humans, not for search engines
- Large Heading elements (H1 tags)
- Site Title and Page Titles
- Page Description (meta description tag)
- Inbound links
- Social signals (i.e. The number of people that like your brand on Facebook, number of Facebook shares, number of Twitter followers, number of tweets mentioning your brand name or including a link to your website, number of people that have you in their Google+ "circles")
- Alt text
Things to avoid
- Keyword stuffing
- Using irrelevant keywords
- Images with text; Google doesn't recognize text on images
- Pages with little or no content
- Pages with duplicate content
- Participating in link schemes
- Participating in affiliate programs without adding value
- Hidden text or links
Improve your Google ranking
- Do some keyword research and pick a few search phrases you want to optimize for. Work to have those phrases and the words in those phrases appear regularly, and naturally in the content of your pages. Pay attention to site title, page titles, page descriptions, and headings (large, medium, and small). Make sure every page has a large Heading element at the top of the content area, then use the medium and small Heading elements to break up the content into sections.
- Leverage social media and blogs in your industry to generate interest in your site and thus generate links back to your site.
- Submit your XML sitemap to Google using Google Webmaster Tools so they're aware of your site and more likely to re-index it sooner rather than later.
- While Google doesn't use Google Analytics data for as a ranking factor, there are indications that they account for “dwell time”, which measures how long it takes for someone to return to the search results page after clicking on a search listing. You’re probably interested in decreasing your bounce rate in order to increase conversions anyway, so it’s a good practice to try to keep people on your site.
- Search engines look for social signals (i.e. the number of people that like your brand on Facebook, number of Facebook shares, number of Twitter followers, number of tweets mentioning your brand name or including a link to your website, number of people that have you in their Google+ "circles"), so it's a good idea to set up social media profiles.
- Perform some competitor research to determine your SEO strategy.
- Use SEO tools to monitor your site and your competitors' sites.