Search Engine Overview

Thu, Nov 17, 2005

Articles, Strategy + Marketing

Those search engine thingamabobs seem magical; type in a word or phrase and it finds them in seconds.  Ever “Google” yourself? Witnessing your name show up on the first search page fills you with a peculiar pride, similar to seeing that passionate editorial you wrote for the Op Ed section of the paper.  Then there is the cyber-joy in discovering that your website is first “O” worthy.   The benefits of being at the top of a search list in Google, or Yahoo! Search is beyond pride for a company with something to offer.  The majority – over 80% – of all Web traffic starts with a search.  Tap the attention of searchers and you achieve just in time marketing at its highest level.  But first, let’s review.

It’s valuable to understand the difference between directories and search engines – confusing as it is.   The types aren’t always easy to discern; Yahoo! has both a directory and search engine, plus some search engines include directory results in their searches.  Simply – directories are collections of websites appraised and indexed hierarchically by real live humans. The Yahoo! Directory is the mother of all directories, however Looksmart and DMOZ are also noteworthy.   Directories are useful when you have only a vague notion for what you are looking: “I want to know more about computers” for example.

Conversely, search engine databases are mapped by relentless virtual robots [called spiders or crawlers] roaming the internet, mapping the ever expanding vastness of cyberspace.  They successfully map only a portion of the web, so consequently the true value of any search engine is not only their criteria [algorithms] for finding those relevant to your search, but also the quality of their catalog of indexed pages.  Each time you run a search on an engine like Google, Yahoo! Search or, you aren’t searching all the web pages that exist – but even at 60 – 70% that’s still 2-3 billion or so pages.

Also in the mix are the search engines that search other search engines and directories: Metasearch engines.  Dog Pile, GO2Net, Vivisimo, Ixquick or MetaCrawler are all examples of these.   A metasearch will give you a variety of results from each engine identified.  They all have advantages and disadvantages but Google seems to be winning the search engine dominance battle – for now at least.

George Boole was a British born mathematician who lived from 1815-1864; useless information unless you’re a Jeopardy geek, right?  Well, yes – but he’s responsible for the method we use to search the internet: Boolean logic.  AND, NOT, OR – are the operators that allow you to refine your search so that the informational Holy Grail you seek isn’t obscured by thousands of irrelevant items. Additionally, quotes around words or phrases limits your search to those words in the order they appear.  If you’re better at math, try a plus sign (+) or a minus sign (–) in place of AND or NOT respectively – no operator is AND by default.

It helps to know how searches work if we want to take advantage of search engine opportunities.  However, the best place to start is to have a website worth finding.  Surprised?  I certainly hope not.  Content is still king – ultimately search engines work their magic to find sites with the richest content relevant to your search, and for the most part, they do a good job.

The content of your website is more important than the color of your home page.  If you have quality content it’s much easier to be found.  It’s even easier if you structure that content to match what the searcher and the search engines look for in that content:  keywords, meta-tags, link popularity, relevant page titles, etc.  Once found, great content justifies book-marking your site for future visits. (hint – don’t bury your valuable content in Flash, search engines can’t read it. Oh!  And don’t be underhanded – stay away from tricks; be authentic)

Everyone knows that Meta tags (keywords listed in the program code) and page titles are where you start.  Uh – well – yes, but not really.   Drag out that Marketing strategy you’ve been writing, you’re not done.  Finding the keywords or search phrases that are relevant to your prospective customers, and to your brand, isn’t an easy task.  They may be counterintuitive and require some creativity.  Your keywords and phrases should be simple but not too simple – obvious but not too obvious – unique but not too unique.  All that and they must support your brand and be supported by your integrated marketing efforts.  Type “on demand business” into the Google web search and see what happens.  Now that is good keyword support of a brand.

Next step – get on the map.  If your site has quality content there is a very good chance the spiders will find you, just like a cheap sci-fi movie.  Being found – in this case – is a good thing so eliminate uncertainty by registering your website with the majors.  [as an aid to you, has a “Resources” subsection inside INFORM on its website with links to the engine registration pages.]

In life and keyword selection, trial and error – in due course – leads you to the right choices.  Branding is important in keyword selection but so is the practical, and luckily there is keyword help in the form of website statistic tools like those found with a host like Synthesis.  These tools capture and report the keywords people use to find your site.  While everyone knows the egg came before the chicken [checking your alertness], it’s still hard to know which the egg is: trials or statistical reports. Do both – wiggle just right and you’ll find the ones that work best.

Link popularity also plays a role in search engine results. What’re they?  Link popularity is the number of times your site is connected by links on the www.  It’s not called a web for nothing you know.  Your ranking rises when quality sites link to yours.  If you repair computers and IBM chooses to display your URL on their site, your site will be given more weight by search engines.  If IBM likes you, it’s as though you were elected virtual prom queen (or king) of the web world.  To find your popularity go to or attend your next high school reunion ands kiss some serious butt.  [hint: link exchange programs are practically worthless – search engines are – as they say – on to that trick.]

Finally I want to offer some caution.  An optimized site never rests.  It takes ceaseless vigilance if you want to appear in the top ten of organic search engine results week after week. Competition for those spots is fierce and often beyond reasonable effort.  Ignore your spot for a week and you may find you slipped to page three.  Hire a company that claims they’ll keep you in the top 10 and you’re probably being taken, however a reputable company can help keep you fine tuned – be skeptical.

As for Web advertising, it has to pinpoint your exact demographic if you want high click through rate (CTR).  Judge that from your own surf habits: how do you respond to ads?  While banner ads usually don’t work outside of weak brand building or being annoying, search engine advertising is highly cost effective.  All search engines offer paid positions on the results pages these days.   In fact, there are entire conferences devoted to search engine strategies so we won’t cover much in a paragraph.  The next Synthesis Newsletter will drill deeper into Search Engine Marketing [SEM]. For now, check out – a reasonable starting point.

Just in time marketing means getting in front of your customer at exactly the right time with a solution that precisely meets their needs: Point of Purchase [POP] ads in the real world or Paid Search Positions in the virtual world are both good examples.  A link to your site routinely on the first results page of a consumer search for a product or service that you offer is a chicken from which everyone wants eggs.  Forget the chicken – who cares – take the eggs.

internet, marketing, Search engine, SEO, Spiders, strategy

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