The foundation of Google's trademarked site-ranking technique, called PageRank, is links, explains spokesman Jake Hubert. PageRank is based on the number of outside Web pages that link to a page, the number of pages that link to those pages, and so on.
But while links remain a major consideration in PageRank ratings, Google's techniques have evolved since the search engine was launched in 1997. The company now ranks pages with an algorithm that has about 200 factors, Hubert says. These factors are adjusted on a daily basis; he says he counted about 500 changes in the past year.
Further details about the algorithm are not made public, Hubert says. A public version of an individual page's PageRank rating is displayed by Google Toolbar. However, those ratings sometimes need to be taken with a grain of salt, as we'll see later in the story.
At Bing, a Microsoft spokesman would only say that the site uses upwards of a thousand signals when deciding search results ranking, and that the nature and weight of the signals are constantly being adjusted. Meanwhile, Yahoo Search has announced that it will use the Bing search engine.
Because the algorithms remain a closely guarded secret, many white-hat SEO techniques focus on the known element -- links -- and are aimed at getting other sites with high PageRank ratings to link to lower-ranked sites.
There are a lot of experts willing to give advice about how to legitimately get your site higher in search engine rankings. When you boil it down, what they're all saying is that the most important thing to do is to build a good site.
"The goal is to be relevant to the user -- and then think about search engine strategy," says Chris Koller, president of IdealGrowth, a digital advertising agency in Dallas.
"Have a differentiator that makes your site compelling and unique," adds Maile Ohye, a Google developer advocate who liaisons with webmasters. "Design it so that users can do what they need to do. Make it accessible to Web crawlers, so they can follow links through the site. And then develop buzz about your site."
"You want to have the most compelling content so people will be inclined to link to you naturally," said Doug Pierce, marketing strategist at Blue Fountain Media in New York. "Also, the URL structure of your site should make sense and have keywords in the page titles."
There are other strategies that can help. Rand Fishkin, CEO and co-founder of SEOmoz, a Seattle-based SEO software firm, suggests using an interlocking array of online marketing, public relations and brand-building activities designed to find the right audience. These methods include producing data-rich blogs of genuine interest to the readers, real conversations on social sites, news bulletins and interesting tweets. The use of infographics, podcasts, webinars, white papers, videos, forums and referring links should not be overlooked, he adds.
Sign up for MIS Asia eNewsletters.