Internet search tools 

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How can you ensure that your customers find your website? Understanding the tools that are used to search for and find websites can help you use them to their full potential.

This information may help you improve your chances of being found on the Web.

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Search engines

Like most Internet users, you probably find websites by using search engines. Understanding how search engines work can help you learn how to use them to find products and services and to drive potential customers to your own website.

People sometimes confuse search engines with web directories, but they are not the same thing. Directory listings are compiled manually by human editors, while search engines create listings electronically and automatically by using automated computer programs that browse the Web. Most directories are general in scope and list websites that cover a wide variety of categories, regions and languages.

Search engines run automatically and work by storing information about billions of pages on the Internet. The three essential features of a search engine are crawling, indexing, and searching. As a result, they often locate information that is not listed in directories. You may find more precise information by using a search engine than by using directories. However, this can also produce results that, while matching the search terms, have nothing or very little to do with the subject being searched.

All search engines are made up of the following three basic parts, but each search engine implements these elements differently. If you conduct the same search on different search engines, you may often get different results.

Crawling — A Web crawler, also known as a spider, browses through the Internet and fetches information about documents from their HTML. Most search engines run several spiders that explore the Internet together. The pages the spiders visit, and how often they do, varies from one search engine to another.

Indexing — The information collected by the spider is stored in an index. In most cases, the index contains a text-only copy of every page visited. This allows information to be found as quickly as possible. Because this process is automated, the resources are vast, with the biggest search engines indexing several billion web pages.

Searching — When a user enters a query into a search engine, the engine sifts through the pages recorded in its index to find the best matche and then ranks the results in order of what it believes is most relevant. Each search engine uses its own algorithm to determine relevancy and ranking. How each search engine's algorithm works is a closely-kept secret. However, the following is often considered:

  • The location of keywords on a Web page: Title tags containing the search terms are often assumed to be more relevant than titles tags that do not. Similarly, pages that contain the search term near the top of the page are also considered to be of higher relevance than those that do not.
  • Keyword density in relation to the search term: Search engine algorithms will analyze how often search keywords occur in relation to other words on a webpage. The greater the keyword density, the more relevancy the page will likely be given.
  • Link analysis: By analyzing how pages link to each other, a search engine can determine the subject of a webpage and its importance to the search.
  • Click-through metrics: A search engine will often analyze which search result links are being chosen by Internet users and attach greater relevancy to pages chosen more frequently.

Attempts to artificially or deceptively manipulate the way search engines determine relevancy is called search engine spamming. Search engines constantly monitor sites for spamming behaviour. If your website is involved in this, you risk having it removed from the index.

Directories

Directories are hierarchically-organized indexes of subject categories that allow you to browse through lists of websites by subject, in search of relevant information.

Directories are practical if you are looking for information on a fairly broad subject. People compile directories manually, so results are pre-selected and more likely to give a general, but relevant, result. These searchers also evaluate, review and categorize websites. A directory, however, provides a direct link to only a tiny fraction of the total pages on the Internet. You can find more detailed information by going from the general subject categories to more specific categories.

Canadian Company Capabilities is one such directory that gives you access to a database of 60,000 Canadian businesses. You can use this practical, searchable database to find suppliers, or to increase your own visibility.

Meta search tools

Meta search tools do not search the entire Internet, but access multiple search engines, collect the results, and present them to the user. The best meta search tools perform additional processes such as eliminating duplicate hits and reordering hits according to their own evaluation of relevancy. However, search results can often be less precise and sometimes slower.

Getting a website listed

As an entrepreneur, you probably want your website listed in the major search engines. The good news is that, even if you do nothing, your website will eventually be listed along with all the others. But, if you don't do anything, it could take months before the search engine spiders find and index your website.

To speed up the process, you can create a description that uses as many key terms as possible and submit your website to a search engine. Generally, the description should be less than 25 words, but check before you list as different services have different rules.

Key terms are words or phrases that people might use to search for your website. When you choose key terms, it's a good idea to include city names, the products and services you are offering and specific information that makes your website different from the others.

There are two ways to get your website listed:

  • Free listings: You can list your website for free by visiting the major directories and search engines, looking for information on how to add your business to the site and following the instructions. Even though this kind of listing won't cost you any money, there is no guarantee that your listing will be accepted. There is also no way of knowing when it will be listed, although it generally takes four to six weeks.

    If your website is listed with a major directory, search engines will eventually find it and list it, since the directories are spidered by the major search engine crawlers. Getting a free listing in a major directory or search engine may be a good way to test out your website and make any necessary changes before spending your money on an untested site.
     
  • Paid listings: To make sure your website is listed and to speed up the process, you can purchase a listing directly from a search engine. You can choose from a range of costs, features and options.

Search engine services: Since listing a website is a complicated process, you may find it easier to hire a business that specializes in search engine submission and website optimization. When you do, it is a good idea to check into the business' deliverables, follow-up services, customer service and track record.

Improving ranking

Once your website is listed, you may want to take steps to improve its ranking in search results. Improving visibility is known as search engine optimization, and you can do this as you create your content.

While each search engine uses its own algorithm for ranking, they each examine page titles and descriptions. It is therefore wise to focus your energy in these areas.

Tips to improve ranking:

  • Use reader-friendly words over industry terms
  • Write descriptions that attract readers and that represent your website
  • Link to reputable, complementary businesses and have them link to your website
  • Incorporate keywords, but remember that keyword flooding can lower your ranking
  • Submit your website to topic-specific and audience-specific directories
  • Limit your use of images and graphs; consider supplementing with plain text links
  • Promote your website and give readers a reason to visit it

You can a pay for link advertising, but remember to weigh the cost against the value of the results.

Once your website's ranking has improved, keep it that way by reviewing these steps on a regular basis and making changes to your site when needed.

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