Search Engines Focus on Providing Useful Results
Search engines match user intent (the intent of the person performing the query) with page content and present the results as a list of links. Search engines first create a knowledge map of the Web, studying every page in every website they encounter. They then create their own index and associate different key phrases and trust scores to each page.
The exact formulas are closely guarded trade secrets and are continuously tweaked. Much of the knowledge of search engine optimization (SEO) experts is based on numerous empirical tests to see how the search engine reacts to different scenarios.
It helps to understand that the [tippy title="search engine results page (SERP)" reference="" header="on"]A search engine results page (SERP), is the listing of web pages returned by a search engine in response to a keyword query. The results normally include a list of web pages with titles, a link to the page, and a short description showing where the Keywords have matched content within the page.[/tippy] provides a list of links to pages, not websites. The main job a search engine has is to find the pages that are most useful to someone searching for something. Search engines look for two main criteria when evaluating pages:
- Relevancy - Relevant pages are those containing key phrases related to the user’s search query
- Quality - Quality content is deemed trustworthy, reliable, useful, current, linked to by other quality websites, etc. Having quality content is the most important thing you can do to optimize the page for search engines.
How Search Engines Identify Relevant Pages: Keywords
Early on, search engines relied on the page author providing keywords which identified what the page was about. In the page HTML code, there is a “keyword meta-tag” which lists page keywords. Unfortunately, this tag got so wildly abused by authors that search engines no longer rely on it in their effort to provide relevant results to users.
Lately, search engines ignore the keyword tag completely or treat as no more importance than regular text on the page. Consequently, there is little utility for the page author to use this tag. It can still help a bit if you use it for misspellings of the target keywords or keywords which otherwise you have a legitimate reason to not display explicitly in the visible text. Note though that abusing this tag can prompt a penalty from search engines so never use it to deceive the search engine.
Today, search engines create their own keyword map for every page they index. So, to help them along in associating your page with the keywords you want, you need to smartly write the page content around those keywords.
How Search Engines Assess Quality Content
Quality content is the most important aspect for your pages and your website. There is no simple recipe to follow as quality is derived from many different aspects, including:
- How many authoritative websites link to that page (more endorsements is better)
- How long ago the page was created (longevity is good)
- How recent the page was updated (fresh content is good)
- How often the page is updated (frequent updates show active attention)
- How focused the page topic is (can provide stronger match to a specific search query)
- How much content on the page (more comprehensive is good)
- How fast the page loads (indicator of a better the user experience)
- How structured the content is (using sub-headings can be an indicator of a more clear presentation)
- How many links are provided to other related pages (indicator of depth of content available)
- How much other media available on the page (images or video can indicate richer content)
- And the list goes on…
The first aspect listed above, is arguably the most important one search engines use to determine the content quality. It relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page’s value. Google captures this page value in what they call [tippy title="PageRank (PR)" reference="" header="on"]PageRank provides a rough estimate of the overall importance of a Web page. The word “page” in PageRank does not refer to web pages. It comes from the name of one of PR’s inventors – Google co-founder Larry Page.[/tippy] and uses it to establish the order in which pages get listed in search results.
In essence, the search engine interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B. But, the search engine looks at more than the sheer volume of votes, or links a page receives; it also analyzes the page that casts the vote. Votes cast by pages that are themselves “important” weigh more heavily and help to make other pages “important.”
If you still decide to do this, do not do on your own; seek help from an experienced SEO expert you trust to help you push the envelope without crossing the line.
Quality content is hard to define, hard to do and takes time to do right; but, it is the type of optimization with the most impact. Search engines keep changing their algorithms in an effort to improve their performance. But they consistently try to achieve one goal: providing quality content to end-users. If you also focus on the end user, search engines will reward you with traffic.