Understanding Search Engines

By Team YS|8th Aug 2009
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kittens.tif
Introduction

A discussion of Search Engine Optimization (SEO XE "SEO" ) requires an understanding of the importance of search engines.


Most people who use the Internet to surf the World Wide Web XE "World Wide

Web" , the graphic-related part of the Internet, are familiar with search engines. A search engine is a website users use to find information on the World Wide Web. Search engines aren’t limited to searching for web pages anymore. Users can use search engines to find emails, newsgroups, blogs, videos, pictures, and music files as well. Some of the most popular search engines online include:

  • Google XE "Google"
  • Yahoo XE "Yahoo" 
  • AltaVista XE "AltaVista"
  • Ask XE "Ask"
  • Lycos XE "Lycos"

After navigating to the desired search engine, the user will then enter some keywords XE "keywords"

 or keyword phrases into that search engine. These keywords can be very general, like “shopping” or very specific, like “British comedy DVD shopping.” The search engine will then retrieve results, and the user can then search through these pages to find the exact information he or she wants. Since the search engine has provided plenty of results, often thousands or millions of listings, users can then go through the listings until they see what they need. The results are not in alphabetical order or by date, but rather organized by something called “relevancy XE "relevancy"

.” This is the part of the experience that makes search engines so popular with web users.

 The Importance of Search Engines

Search engines are an important part of the growing online economy, mainly because they are becoming an important part of how people use the Internet. Just 10 short years ago, Internet users weren’t using search engines very often, but favored index sites like Yahoo XE "Yahoo" !, and for good reason. Index sites generally had human editors that chose websites based on topic and posted them in a hierarchical way where there were main categories and sub categories that got more specific. For example, under the heading “Arts and Humanities,” were more subtopics XE "subtopics"

 like “Artists, Art History, Visual Arts” and more. When users clicked on any of these subtopics, they would see even more subtopics. The directory XE "directory"  of sites by topic allowed the user to find the exact topics they wanted and verity, with the help of human editors, that those pages contained good information. The sites listed were usually reliably accurate in regards to what the user was seeking and still exist to this day.

On the other hand, search engine technology was far behind today’s standards ten years ago. By using older search engines, users would likely come up with search results unrelated to their keywords XE "keywords"

. Back then, the technology hadn’t evolved to accurately find and filter search engine results. By simply using some shady techniques, a webmaster could get his or her site displayed for totally unrelated keywords. For example, a site selling herbal supplements might be able to get their site to show up in search engines under search terms unrelated like “education” or “home mortgage.” The result was that search engines were fairly unreliable and not as many people used them. Today more than 85% of web users use search engines to find the pages they want.

               Currently there are several ways in which users can find the web pages they want to view:

  • First, they can use search engines. More than eighty-five percent of web surfers use this method in order to find what they’re looking for.
  • Users can go to websites they’ve heard about on TV, radio, and print advertising XE "advertising". Examples include traditional advertising that lists a website as part of normal advertising, like listing fedex.com in a Fed Ex XE "Fed Ex"
  •  ad. Another example is an advertisement for a specific website like Monster XE "Monster"
  • .com XE "Monster.com"
  •  or eHarmony.com. XE "eHarmony.com."
  •  
  • Users can click on ads they see online. Many sites display advertising XE "advertising" on them, and users can follow those ads to find the sites they want to visit.
  • Users can find websites they learned about from viral marketing techniques, a topic that will be discussed in greater detail in a later chapter. This includes links XE "links"  that have been sent to users by a friend or recommended by someone they know, like word of mouth advertising XE "advertising" .     

The Search Engine Results Page

The Search Engine Results Page (SERP) is the page that results from searching for a keyword on a search engine. This page is critical to websites on search engines because this page is the first thing a user sees. The user will then click on sites that most appeal to them, so making a first impression is important. Here’s an example of a SERP XE "SERP" :

 


 


kittens.tif


Notice a few things about this graphic. First of all, this SERP XE "SERP"  is from Google XE "Google" , the most popular search engine. In this case, the search term is “kittens.” At the top, notice the logo of the company as well as other services offered by the company like mail and news searches. Under that is a list of several web sites that are related to “kittens,” sorted into two columns of listings.

 

 On the left, larger column is a long list of websites related to that keyword. In this case, Google XE "Google"  has retrieved 15 million results related to the word “kittens.” On the right is a heading titled “Sponsored Links XE "Sponsored Links" ,” and underneath this heading are listings for other sites related to kittens. These listings are paid advertisements from companies that have paid Google for the listing.

Organic vs. Sponsored Listings



organic_v_sponsored.tif

Most search engines have two types of listings on SERPs, organic listings XE "organic

listings"  and sponsored listings. The difference may not seem dramatic, but these differences are critical to who will actually click on a site.

Organic Listings are the listings that the search engine finds and produces in the results page. These listings are posted free of charge to the website. The goal of any search engine is to provide a useful surfing experience to their users. After all, search engines are businesses and the search experience is their product. These listings are the bulk of what users see on search engine results pages. Most people, about 70%, will click on an organic listing when using a search engine. This figure can be even higher, depending on the search engine. People tend to trust organic listings XE "organic

listings"  more. After all, not all sponsored links XE "links"  relate to exactly what a person is looking for. Organic listings will show all pages related to that specific topic, not just the ones that have something to sell.

Sponsored listings, on the other hand, are websites which have paid Google XE "Google"  for their prominent display on a SERP XE "SERP" . Since the majority of search engine users click on organic listings XE "organic listings" , why would anyone want to pay for a sponsored listing? Consider this: the search for “kittens” yielded 15 million listings. There might be millions of pages that use the same keywords XE "keywords"

 and relate to the same topics. A sponsored link is a way to spread the word about a site and get more visitors, especially if that site is lower down on the search engine’s ranking for a particular keyword.

In the next write up we will look at how search engines work and types of search engines followed by a review of the above learning. 



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