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Search Engine Algorithms

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is defined as the process of improving the volume and quality of traffic to a web site from search engines via “natural” (“organic” or “algorithmic”) search engine results (SERPS).

Generally, the earlier a site gains a position in the search results, or the higher it “ranks,” the more visitors will visit that website. SEO can also target several different kinds of search, including image search, local search, and industry specific vertical search engines.

Because Google is currently the world’s most popular search engine, webmasters generally concentrate their efforts in getting their website to rank as high as possible in the Google search results, followed by Yahoo search, and MSN (Live Search, Bing, etc).

Webmasters and content providers began optimizing sites for search engines as early as the mid 1990s, as the first search engines were indexing the Internet. Website owners started to recognize the value of having their sites highly ranked and visible in search engine results, creating an opportunity for both white hat and black hat SEO’s. Basic early versions of search engine algorithms usually relied on webmaster provided input such as the keyword meta tags on a web page.

Today SEO techniques can be classified into two broad categories:

1 – Techniques that search engines recommend as part of good design.

2 – Techniques of which search engines do not approve.

The search engines attempt to minimize the effect of the second as much as possible. The two terms commonly used today to classify these methods are white hat SEO, or black hat SEO.

* Black hat SEO attempts to improve rankings in ways that are disapproved of by the search engines, or involve deception. Tricking the search engine into ranking a site higher than it actually deserves, often only temporarily.

* White hat SEO is when a webmasters site development and optimization techniques conform to the search engines’ guidelines and involves no deception.

By 1997 search engines had realized webmasters were making efforts to rank higher in their search engines, and some webmasters were actually manipulating their website rankings in the search results by stuffing pages with excessive, hidden, or irrelevant keywords. Early search engines, such as Infoseek, started to adjust their algorithms in an effort to prevent webmasters from manipulating (spamming) rankings.

Two graduate students at Stanford University, Larry Page and Sergey Brin developed “backrub”, a search engine that relied on a mathematical algorithm to rate the prominence of web pages. Page and Brin later founded Google in 1998. Google attracted a loyal following among the growing number of Internet users, who liked its simplicity. Off page factors (such as PageRank and hyperlink analysis) were considered as well as on-page factors (such as keyword frequency, meta tags, headings, links and site structure) to enable Google to avoid the kind of search result manipulation seen in other search engines that only considered on page factors for their website ranking algorithm.

Over time Google would downplay the importance of certain factors, like meta tags because it was commonly used to stuff keywords in there that had little to do with the site's content.

By 2007, the major search engines had incorporated a wide range of undisclosed factors in their ranking algorithms to reduce this huge impact that webmaster link manipulation was having on their search result relevancy.

Google says it ranks sites using more than 200 different signals. The three leading search engines, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft’s Live Search, do not disclose the algorithms they use to rank website pages. They are essentially trade secrets, and are kept secret so SEO people cannot game the system once they know the most important factors - the really experienced ones know how to game the system regardless. The SEO Checklist on designSEO.ca for example shows 115 things people should be doing, but it doesn't cover all 200+ things that Google looks for.

Whether you are new at website design or an old pro you really should study this list of things to do, and not do, when using search engine optimization for high rankings to avoid search engines penalizing your website for search result manipulation. Just follow the rules on the Checklist and you will do well.

Remember SEO is not always an appropriate strategy for every website, and other Internet marketing and offline strategies can sometimes be much more effective, it all depends on the site operator’s goals. eg. A brand marketing campaign for example might be better suited to have a Social Media aspect.

Implementing the signs of a quality website should vastly improve your chances of being ranked higher in search engines such as MSN’s Live Search, Yahoo, and Google’s search results. If you intend to make a living from working online and are in for the long haul then designing a quality website that adheres to the search engine guidelines is a must.

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