A Short Guide to Search Engines

Online marketing starts with search engine optimization

Search EnginesSEO is a huge focus of online marketing, and rightly so. Search Engines rule the Internet. They’re the only way we can mine through the billions of pages of content to find what we’re looking for.

Search engines are also perceived to be relatively unbiased. Sure, they have a specific set of criteria that they use to rank pages (more on that in a few moments), but one business can’t outrank the other by giving Google money. Visitors rely on search engines to display the most relevant websites for their search query without worrying about how ad dollars impact what they see.

On the flip side, search engines are vying for loyal traffic. The higher their volumes, the more valuable their stocks and their companies become. So, to secure that loyal traffic, their programmers are continuously trying to find ways to provide the most relevant, accurate listings in response to search queries.

So how can search engines comb through all of the content on the Internet, decide what’s important, and categorize it according to what people type into the search field? Sounds like a complex task, and it is.

Search engines basically have little spiders (also known as robots, ‘bots, or crawlers) that are small software programs that sift through the Internet to index pages and find relevant websites. These spiders are programmed using a complex algorithm to look for a specific set of criteria.

Search engine spiders are constantly being upgraded to improve their ability to deliver relevant search results. Each search engine has its own proprietary algorithm that is highly valuable and never shared or distributed.


To determine whether a website is relevant to a specific concept or topic, search engines use key phrases or keywords. Keywords or groups of keywords tell search engines what the site is about, and allow the spiders to link them to concepts and synonyms. For example, phrases like “Seattle hotels,” “prom dresses,” “cars,” and “Angelina Jolie” are all keywords. Keywords are what we use to optimize your website as well as run paid search listings advertisements – if you choose.


Search engines display query listings in order of relevance, as determined by their spiders or crawlers. They are programmed to determine relevance based on the following criteria:

  1. Authority: This is largely determined through links. If the site is an authority on a particular subject, then other sites on the same subject will link to it. These links act like “votes,” with some links being worth more votes than others.
  2. Primary Focus: Is the subject the primary or secondary focus of the site? For example, a plumber with a sub-page on plumbing supplies would have a primary focus on plumbing services and secondary focus on selling supplies. This is determined through the structure of the site, the concepts on the landing pages versus the sub-pages.
  3. Content: How many pages are about the particular subject or topic? Which pages are they? Are they linked from the home page, or buried deeper in the site?
  4. “Score” relative to other pages: All of this data is collected, and ranked next to other pages. The site that is more relevant based on this score will appear higher in the rankings.

The Big Three: Google, Yahoo and MSN (Bing)

Of all the search engines available online, Google, Yahoo!, and MSN are the three that dominate in terms of traffic. According to recent data from hitwise.com, Google sees the most traffic at 71%, followed by Yahoo at about 14% and MSN at 9.5%. While data varies by country, the three account for about 95% of all searches online.

At Mr.BusinessBuilder, our goal for optimizing your website is to get your listing on the first page of the search results for your keywords – those are the keywords that your prospective customers are using to find your product or service, not the keywords you think are most relevant to what you provide.

The reason for this is that most people don’t make it to the second page of search results – they either find what they need in the first ten listings, or they try a new keyword search. The first four to five listed sites earn the most traffic.

Of course, the components of the first page change depending on the keywords or search query. Sometimes there won’t be any paid listings at the top, or often there aren’t any local listings unless it’s a location-specific search. This will give you an idea of what each of the components are, and get you thinking about which will apply to your business.

Organic Listings

These are the unpaid listings that appear “organically” in response to search queries. As described above, they are ranked in order of relevance. Often, there are thousands of pages of organic listings – but it’s only the first few that typically get any attention.

You’ll see that some sites have a sub-page listed and indented below the main listing. The spiders have determined that a specific sub-page is relevant to the search query in addition to the landing page or main listing.

Paid Listings / Adwords

These are listings that, of course, businesses have paid for. Called Google Adwords, advertisers have chosen specific keywords that they wish their ad to be displayed with search results. Each time someone clicks on that listing, the advertiser pays Google (or Yahoo! and MSN).

Local Listings

These are the listings that display in response to local business searches. You’ll see local listings displayed because they include, for example, “Oklahoma City” to a search query. Sometimes, search engines will add your location to your query automatically (based on your IP address) and the local listings will display.

You’ll see that these listings display above the organic listings, which makes them highly useful for local business searches and valuable to your business.

Feel free to email me if you have any questions! You can email me at: frank@MrBusinessBuilder.com

OR CALL: 406-410-1950