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SEO: Search Engine Optimization

How public search engines work.

The basics

Search Engines, like Google, use an Algorithm to decide what results should show at the top.

What is an Algorithm? A procedure or formula for solving a problem, based on conducting a sequence of specified actions. (I got this definition from searching good-old Google!)

What Google (and other search engines) will look for in effective websites:

  • Keywords: The algorithm searches for how many times your keywords are used in a website. More uses equals more relevant to search engines.
  • Title: Do your keywords show in the official title of the website?
  • Links: The more links from other sites that go to a particular site makes it more attractive to search engines.
  • Words in Links: "Amazon has lots of books" (with the word books linking out) will relate Amazon with books in a search engine results.
  • Reputation: Websites with lots of links going to it and fresh, recent material are more attractive to search engines.

All of the above factors will raise a website's ranking in your results (i.e. show in the first results page).

Other factors to consider

Your Location: If Geo-Tagging is turned on with the device you are using, search engines will take this into account and give priority to sites that are close to your location.

Browsing history: If you are logged into your Google account (or even just your Gmail account), Google will keep track of the links you click on and tailor your future results based on what sites you are visiting.

Social Media: If you "Like" an article your friend posted on one of your social media accounts, you may see this article float to the top in future search results (depending on what you are searching for).

Language: Search language directly affects what websites are shown in your results (i.e. if you search in English, websites in English will float to the top of your results).

Search engines personalize your results based on these factors. Your Google search results might be different than your friend studying at the same table!

Bottom Line

Just because Google has placed a website at the top of your results doesn't mean that it's the most relevant or credible. It is up to YOU as the researcher to determine if it is the best site to meet your needs and the assignment criteria. You can always check with your professor or a librarian if you are not sure.

Search Engine Land's Periodic Table

Click the image above to get a free copy of SEO Periodic Table from Search Engine Land.