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How Search Engines Rank Websites

This SEO Tip focuses on Google's ranking methods, but they also generally apply to all of the major search engine families. There are several key areas of your website and individual webpages that are crucial to putting emphasis on your target keywords to obtain good rankings in Google, Yahoo! and Bing. This tutorial shows you which ranking factors matter the most, and which ones are less effective at helping your website get its fair share of the search engine traffic.

Search Engine Ranking Factors

Once you start to put some serious effort into search engine optimization, it becomes clear that some things you do have more effect on ranking than others. Naturally, the search engine companies like to keep their methods secret to preserve their ability to apply an automated, but objective, judgement on all of the pages in their index and to avoid having the search results artificially manipulated by unscrupulous search engine optimization techniques. Many factors have to be taken into consideration when a search engine does its ranking. Careful observation after many months of research and simple trial-and-error experimentation have led me to some broad conclusions. I present some of them here. Again, this information is biased for results on Google, but will generally hold true for all search engines.

Here's where to include keywords and phrases to enhance a page's search engine ranking for those terms (in approximate order of importance):

  1. In the <title> tag.
  2. In the <a>nchor text of incoming links. (especially Google and MSN/Bing)
  3. In <h>eadlines, <b>old or <strong>, or <i>talics or <em>phasis tags.
  4. In the <body> text - the closer to a <h1>eadline tag, the better.
  5. In an <img> tag's ALT attribute (as appropriate and especially in <a>nchor tags).
  6. In the page's filename.
  7. In the subdirectory name.
  8. In the domain name

Once you have a page rich in content that properly emphasize your keywords, you can start paying attention to incoming links to that page in general in terms of the issue of PageRank (Link Quality and Quantity). Check the incoming links to a given page by using Google's Webmaster Tools console and the Bing Webmaster Toolbox. The Links tool in Google's Webmaster Tools console will show you which pages on your site have links pointing to them and where those links originate. Then you can check to see the anchor text (the text contained between the <a> and </a> tags in the HTML code) to see if they include the keyword phrases that you're targeting.

Don't neglect mobile visitors. All of those people on smartphones and tablets use search engines, too. Google can determine if your webpages are designed for mobile devices, adds those pages to their mobile index and will give those pages priority in the search results served to those users. If you haven't done so already, look into "responsive design". Like the lottery, you have to be in it to win it.

Once you have the Google results, check the Bing Webmaster Toolbox to find almost all of the links pointing to the site. Keep a record of the number of links each of these search engines show for your site so that you can track your progress over time. Both Google and Bing give differing credit to each individual links. The effect of a link from a poor quality page with no related content will not help you nearly as much as a natural link coming from within the body of a good quality page that discusses a related topic. Links that include the 'rel="nofollow" attribute are no help whatsoever in terms of search engine rankings, although they can obviously still send user traffic to your site. You can also assume that site-wide links (ie. links that appear on every page on a website), links in the page footer, and in other template areas are not as valuable as links within the main content of a web page.

This SEO Tip by Rainbo Design was last updated on April 25, 2016

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In writing these SEO tips, I'm often reminded of a pearl of wisdom that my high school computer programming teacher passed on from one of his teachers, "Computers are high-speed idiots!" Remember that, and don't let them get under your skin.

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