Article Archive by Karen Luther

February 11 2008

Microsoft Bids for Yahoo

by Karen Luther

If you haven’t heard already, Microsoft is out to buy Yahoo. And so here’s the low down. Microsoft Corp. has made a $44.6 billion bid to Yahoo.Inc. This is not the first time Microsoft has extended an offer, and it illustrates their resolve in having the two companies come together. What’s different this time, is that it looks like Yahoo is taking the bid into real consideration.

All I can say is that my head is reeling with all the possible implications. My main interest is with organic search and what impact on optimization efforts this merger will have.

On the one hand, it may make life a little easier. It’s one less search engine algorithm that you have optimize your site toward. This could allow you to streamline your SEO efforts. On the other hand, it could actually become more difficult to cover your bases among the search engines. Which in my opinion (and trust me it is just an opinion), seems to be the most likely. What happens many times is that your site will perform differently among the different engines. This is to be expected since they have different algorithms. But for the most part, since they have the biggest market share, many people focus most of their energy on optimizing for Google. If Microsoft and Yahoo combine, then there very well could be two major players with a more equal amount of market share — which will then beg the question: Who do you gear your SEO efforts toward?

December 13 2007

What is a Search Engine Index?

by Karen Luther

I have been throwing around the term “search engine index” without really taking the time to think about what exactly that term means and how it relates to websites. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one and that’s a bit a shame. Once you start to think about what a search engine index encompasses you can really begin to appreciate the magnitude of work that search engines go through to try to give users the most relevant results to their queries.

When someone performs a query, the search engine does not in real time work its way through the web trying to find pages that are relevant. It has an index that it refers to in order to display a list of URLs that are related to the search query terms used. Essentially a search engine index is a database that holds a list of all the words on all the pages that the search engine has been able to find. From there a list is created of which pages those search words are found in and this data makes up the search engine index.

To generate the index, search engines use a tool referred to as spiders, also known as crawlers, to take inventory of every word found on web pages. The way spiders find your web server is by following a link to your website. It will then request that URL from your server and begin to put together a list of words found on that particular URL and place it in the search engine index. It has been reported that Google for example has over 24 billion pages indexed. I don’t know about you but I think it’s amazing that a search engine has that much reach and indexing capabilities.

In the end, the main goal of a search engine index is to optimize the speed and the methodology of finding the most relevant documents for its users. And that’s a pretty cool thing.

November 15 2007

Increasing Your Website’s Curb Appeal in Search Engine Result Pages

by Karen Luther

Everyone wants their site to be number one in Google. But there is much more to consider than just high positioning in search engine result pages (SERPs) when examining the success of a website. Just because a page does well in SERPs doesn’t necessarily mean that you are driving visitors (never mind qualified visitors) to your website. The focus of your SEO efforts shouldn’t just be achieving high positions in the SERPs. Instead increase your curb appeal by making sure that you have the best looking house on the block — and thus making sure searchers click the link to your website. In other words, it is very important that measures are taken to influence how pages on your website are displayed in the SERPs.

A result in a search engine is comprised of two main parts — the title and the snippet. The title is the first thing displayed for a listing on a results page and is the link that will take a searcher to the actual website. Just below the title is the snippet. The snippet is a brief description of what the search engines believe is the theme of the page. Search engines utilize parts of the meta data (title meta tag and description meta tag) of a page and the content found on the page to create how your website is displayed in the SERPs. Knowing how to modify these two tags to work in your favor can help you attain higher positions in search engine result pages and convince searchers that your site is what they are looking for.

The title found in the meta data is the first thing displayed in the SERPs. To capitalize on the title meta tag you should think about what searchers are looking for when they type in the keyword search terms and convey that message in your title. Make sure the title is engaging and the first words are the main keyword phrase your page is targeting. Incorporating a call to action, terms such as low prices or special features, and brand image terms are also advisable. But keep in mind that the title meta tag should only be 70 characters and it should be readable (make sense to a human reader) to ensure it has maximum curb appeal to searchers. So play around with different possibilities for titles using some of the tips mentioned above. Then put yourself in the searcher’s shoes and decide which version would be the most appealing for you to see in the SERPs.

The description and the text found on the page should also be optimized for the engines and for potential visitors. Users spend most of their time analyzing the snippet. Potential visitors to your website will use the snippet to decide whether to click on the link to your website. Many times the snippet is created from the first full sentence containing the keyword terms and moves down pulling clauses containing the term until the character limit of about 150 to 180 characters is reached. But this is not an exact science. The text in the description meta tag will often be used for the snippet if content is placed further down on your website’s page or there is no content at all. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact algorithm that search engines use to create the snippet so both the description in the meta data and the content that is found on the page should be optimized to increase your overall success.

The same guidelines given to increase the curb appeal of your title can also be applied to the description in the meta date and the content found on the page itself. Make sure that the keyword terms and your brand name are placed at the start of the description and repeat the keyword terms while still maintaining readability. Your website will not do well in the SERPs if the snippet is awkward to read. The same goes for the content on the page. Also make sure that the description meta tag and the content on the page have a call to action in proximity to the first instance of the keyword term. This way you help to increase the chances that the keyword term and the call to action are displayed together in the snippet.

Remember, high positioning should go hand in hand with appealing to searchers. What’s the point of being number one on a Google results page if no one clicks the link to your site? Having an understanding of how search engines create what is displayed in the SERPs is half the battle.

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