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Search engine optimisation involves achieving the highest position or ranking practical in the natural or organic listings on the search engine results pages after a specific combination of keywords (or keyphrase) has been typed in. In search engines such as Google, Yahoo! and MSN Search, the natural listings are the main listing on the left as shown in Figure 8.15(a), although there may also be sponsored links above these. The position or ranking is dependent on an algorithm used by each search engine to match relevant site page content with the keyphrase entered. There is no charge for these listings to be displayed or when a link relevant to the site is clicked upon. However, you may need to pay a search engine optimisation firm to advise or undertake optimisation work to make your web pages appear higher in the rankings.

Spiders and robots

Automated software tools that index keywords on web pages.

How are the search engine results pages produced?

Search engines compile an index of words on web sites by sending out spiders or robots to crawl around sites that are registered with that search engine (Figure 8.16). The search engine algorithm weights the index according to different parameters and then stores the index as part of a database on a web server. This index is what is searched when potential customers type in keywords.

Figure 8.15 (a) Google™ search engine results page for

Source: Reprinted by permission of Google, Inc. Google™ search engine is keyphrase 'car insurance'

a trademark of Google, Inc.

Figure 8.15 (a) Google™ search engine results page for

Source: Reprinted by permission of Google, Inc. Google™ search engine is keyphrase 'car insurance'

a trademark of Google, Inc.

Search engine registration

For success in search engine marketing, the first thing that companies need to check is that they are registered with all the main search engines. While some unscrupulous search marketing companies offer to register you in the 'Top 1000 search engines', in reality, registering in the top 20 search engines of each country an organisation operates in (see compilations at SearchEngineWatch, www.searchenainewatch.com/reports) will probably account for more than 95% of the potential visitors. Achieving registration is now straightforward, for example, in Google there is an 'Add a URL' page (e.g. www.aooale.com/addurl.html) where you supply your home page URL and Google will then automatically index all the linked pages (it will even index your site automatically if other sites in its index link to it). If you have links from other companies that are registered with a search engine, many search engines will automatically index your site without the need to submit a URL. Companies can check that they are registered with search engines by:

1 Reviewing web analytics data which will show the frequency with which the main search robots crawl a site.

2 Using web analytics referrer information to find out which search engines a site's visitors originate from, and the pages they use.

3 Checking the number of pages that have been successfully indexed on a site. For example, in Google the search 'inurl:www.davechaffey.com' lists all the pages of Dave's site indexed by Google and gives the total number in the top right of the SERPs.

Figure 8.15 (b) Google™ search engine results page for keyphrase 'cheap car insurance'

Source: Reprinted by permission of Google, Inc. Google™ search engine is a trademark of Google, Inc.

Figure 8.15 (b) Google™ search engine results page for keyphrase 'cheap car insurance'

Source: Reprinted by permission of Google, Inc. Google™ search engine is a trademark of Google, Inc.

Search engine Spider or robot

Spider regularly visits registered site

Spider fo!!ows !inks on site


Page A, B


Page B


Page A, B, C


Page A

New York

Page D


Page E


Page F

Spider creates a list of keywords and their page locations

Spider creates a list of keywords and their page locations

Figure 8.16 Stages involved in creating a search engine listing

Unfortunately it can take time for a site to be ranked highly in search results even if it is the index: Google reputedly places new sites in a 'sandbox' while assessing their relevance due to previous efforts to distort its index by creating interlinking sites.

Keyphrase analysis

The key to successful search engine marketing is achieving keyphrase relevance since this is what the search engines strive for - to match the combination of keywords typed into the search box to the most relevant destination content page. Notice that we say 'keyphrase' (short for 'keyword phrase') rather than 'keyword' since search engines such as Google attribute more relevance when there is a phrase match between the keywords that the user types and a phrase on a page. Despite this, many search companies and commentators talk about optimising your 'keywords' and in our opinion pay insufficient attention to keyphrase analysis.

You can see from comparing Figure 8.15(a) with Figure 8.15(b) that some well-known companies are visible for one search phrase, but not the other. Other companies which have done the appropriate analysis are visible for both.

Key sources for identifying the keyphrases your customers are likely to type when searching for your products include your market knowledge, competitors' sites, keyphrases from visitors who arrive at your site (from web analytics), the internal site search tool and the keyphrase analysis tools from vendors such as Overture (www.over-ture.com) listed at the end of the chapter. When completing keyphrase analysis we need to understand different qualifiers that users type in. For example, this list of seven different types of keyphrases with different qualifiers is taken from an Overture representative talking at Search Engine Strategies in 2004. We have added examples for 'car insurance':

1 Comparison/quality - compare car insurance

2 Adjective (price/product qualifiers) - cheap car insurance, woman car insurance

3 Intended use - high mileage car insurance

4 Product type - holiday car insurance

5 Vendor - churchill car insurance

6 Location - car insurance UK

7 Action request - buy car insurance.

You can see some of these types of keyphrases by using the Overture keyterm suggestion tool. For example for a single month in the UK, the most popular phrases related to car insurance were:

1 Car insurance, 1,423,350

2 Cheap car insurance, 71,979

3 Car insurance quote, 32,857

4 Woman car insurance, 21,087

5 Young driver car insurance, 17,175

6 Performance car insurance, 12,379

7 Car insurance uk, 11,719

8 aa car insurance, 7,956

9 Online car insurance quote, 7,423 10 Car insurance company, 7,186.

These data suggest the importance of ranking well for high-volume keyphrases such as 'cheap car insurance' and 'car insurance uk'.

Improving search engine ranking through SEO

Although each search engine has its own algorithm with many weighting factors and they change through time, fortunately there are common factors that influence search engine rankings. These are, in approximate order of importance:

1 Frequency of occurrence in body copy

The number of times the key phrase is repeated in the text of the web page is a key factor in determining the position for a keyphrase. Copy can be written to increase the number of times a word or phrase is used (technically, its keyphrase density) and ultimately boost position in the search engine. Note though that search engines make checks that a phrase is not repeated too many times such as 'cheap flights.. cheap flights.. cheap flights.. cheap flights.. cheap flights.. cheap flights.. cheap flights.. cheap flights..' or the keyword is hidden using the same colour text and backgound and will not list the page if this keyphrase density is too high or it believes 'search engine spamming' has occurred. Relevance is also increased by a gamut of legitimate 'tricks' such as including the keyphrase in headings (<H1>, <H2>), linking anchor text in links and using a higher density towards the start of the document.

2 Number of inbound links (Page Rank)

The more links you have from good quality sites, the better your ranking will be. Evaluation of inbound links or backlinks to determine ranking is one of the key reasons

Page Rank

A scale between 0 to 10 used by Google to assess the importance of web sites according to the number of inbound links or backlinks.

Google became popular. Page Rank helps Google deliver relevant results since it counts each link from another site as a vote. However, not all votes are equal - Google gives greater weight to links from pages which themselves have high Page Rank and where the link anchor text or adjacent text contains text relevant to the keyphrase. Google's Page Rank algorithm is what initially made it successful, but it was published by the founders and now a similar technique is used by all the main search engines. It has been refined to identify sites that are 'authority sites' for a particular type of search. For keyphrases where there is a lot of competition such as 'car insurance', the quantity and quality of inbound links may even be more important than keyphrase density in determining ranking.

Inclusion in directories such as Yahoo! or Business.com (for which a fee is payable) or the Open Directory (www.dmoz.org, which is currently free) is important since it can assist in boosting Page Rank.


Keywords that are part of an HTML page that result in a higher search listing if they match the typed keyword.

3 Title HTML tag

The keywords in the title tag of a web page that appears at the top of a browser window are indicated in the HTML code by the <TITLE> keyword. This is significant in search engine listings since if a keyphrase appears in a title it is more likely to be listed highly than if it is only in the body text of a page. It follows that each page on a site should have a specific title giving the name of a company and the product, service or offer featured on a page. Greater weighting is given to keyphrases at the left of the title tag and those with a higher keyphrase density. The Title HTML tag is also vital in search marketing since this is typically the text underlined within the search results page which forms a hyperlink through to your web site. If the Title tag appearing on the search results page is a relevant call-to-action that demonstrates relevance you will receive more clicks which equals more visits (incidentally, Google will monitor clickthroughs to a site and will determine that your content is relevant too and boost position accordingly).

4 Meta-tags

Meta-tags are part of the HTML file, typed in by web page creators, which is read by the search engine spider or robot. They are effectively hidden from users, but are used by some search engines when robots or spiders compile their index. In the past, search engines assigned more relevance to a site containing keyphrases in its meta-tags than one that didn't. Search engine spamming of meta-tags resulted in this being an inaccurate method of assessing relevance and Google has reported that it assigns no relevance to meta-tags. However, other search engines such as 'Yahoo! Search' do assign some relevance to meta-tags, so it is best practice to incorporate these and to change them for each page with distinct content. There are two important meta-tags which are specified at the top of an HTML page using the <meta name=""> HTML keyword:

(a) The 'keywords' meta-tag highlights the key topics covered on a web page.

Example: <meta name="keywords" content="book, books, shop, store, book shop, bookstore, publisher, bookshop, general, interest, departments,">

(b) The 'description' meta-tag denotes the information which will be displayed in the search results page and so is very important to describe what the web site offers to encourage searchers to click through to the site.

Example: <meta name="description" content="The largest online book store in the world.">

Other meta-tags are used to give other information such as the type of tool used to create the web page. Remember that incorporating the names of competitors is now not only underhand, but case law in the UK has demonstrated it is illegal.

5 Alternative graphic text

A site that uses a lot of graphical material and/or plug-ins, is less likely to be listed highly. The only text on which the page will be indexed will be the <TITLE> keyword. To improve on this, graphical images can have hidden text associated with them that is not seen by the user (unless graphical images are turned off), but will be seen and indexed by the search engine. For example, text about a company name and products can be assigned to a company logo using the 'ALT' tag as follows:

<IMG NAME= "Logo" SRC= "logo.gif" ALT="Eastern Engineering - lathes and milling machines">

Again due to search engine spamming, this factor is assigned lesser relevance than previously (unless the image is also a link), but it is best practice to use this since it is also required by accessibility law (screen-readers used by the blind and the visually impaired read-out the ALT tags).

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SEO Guide for Top Rankings

SEO Guide for Top Rankings

Search engines are special sites on the web that are designed to help people find information stored on other sites. There are differences in the ways various search engines work. Learn more about this topic within this guide.

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