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What is SEO and how do search engines operate?

Understanding why search engines play a vital role in every website.

So what is SEO?

Simply put, SEO (search engine optimization) is the practice of increasing a website’s visibility by improving its value to the search engines. The more search engines value your site, the higher they will rank it, and the more traffic you will get simply because more people find your website when searching for something they want. That’s pretty easy to understand, right? So, the reason you are reading this guide is to find out how to improve your website so that the search engines will understand it better, so that you get more traffic and win more profits. Once we’ve got that as a firm goal in our minds, we’re ready to move forward.

How do search engines operate?

We’re starting with the basics here, and understanding exactly how search engines operate will take the mystery out of why SEO work is vital to any small web business that hopes to succeed. Search engines like Google, Yahoo!, and MSN perform four basic tasks. These are as follows:

  • A) Search engines use programs called bots or spiders to ‘crawl’ the World Wide Web, looking for pages.
  • B) When a bot or spider finds and crawls a page, it can then store it in the search engine’s database. This is called indexing. The search engine’s index contains all of the pages and documents the spiders or bots have crawled.
  • C) Search engines process queries. For instance, when you go to Google and type ‘affordable camping gear’ into the search box, Google processes your query and returns you results based on what you are looking for. Hundreds of millions of these queries take place every day.
  • D) The final function of a search engine is to rank results. When you type in a query like the above, the search engine quickly runs a sorting equation to see which results it feels are most relevant to your query. This sorting equation is called an algorithm, and each search engine has a different algorithm. In other words, they have different priorities regarding what web pages they think are the best match for what the query is. They perform this huge task of picking the best results in seconds, and SEO is all about creating pages that the search engines find to be the best, most relevant matches for important queries.

So, basically, search engines work by crawling, indexing, processing queries, and ranking results. Your hope as a small web business owner is to get into the top 30 ranking results of the big three search engines: Google, Yahoo!, and MSN. The coveted, cream of the crop rankings are those which fall on the first page of the search engine results in the top ten positions. And, because Google enjoys the biggest market share, most small businesses see most benefits from ranking well in Google. Google is the main search engine on which we concentrate.

SEO professionals devote their time to trying to make educated guesses about each of the search engines’ algorithms. Only a few select employees at each of the search engines know what the secret algorithms are. SEOs do not know the secrets, but experience optimizing websites leads us to basic conclusions about what each engine is looking for when it’s rating how valuable a given web page is. This guide is devoted to covering those topics.

By reading this guide, we hope that you will get your goals firmly in mind and will feel well-informed about how to strive to meet them. Now that we understand what functions search engines perform, we need to find out how to please them. If your site does not please the search engines, they will not bring you up when people make queries, and you will not be getting the traffic you need to make your web business profitable. It’s as simple as that. So let’s delve into our next topic:

SEO Begins with Good Website Design from the Ground Up.

Return to the SEO Guide Outline.