What would the World Wide Web be without the powerful database searching tools provided by search engine websites? It would be basically like an immense library with millions of books on shelves stretching down endless corridors-all without any librarians or even a single card catalog.
The estimated number of web pages stands at more than 8 billion, and that number is growing all the time. But with search engines, you can type in keywords you want information about and be presented with results in just a matter of seconds-a truly amazing fact given the vast collection of information on the Internet.
Finding the best search engine for your purposes often boils down to personal preference. Here are the Web’s top six search engines, which together comprise over 90 percent of searches conducted by users, and, not surprisingly, are some of the Internet’s best-known brand names.
- Google (www.google.com)
- Yahoo! (www.yahoo.com)
- MSN (www.msn.com)
- AOL (www.aol.com)
- Ask Jeeves (www.ask.com)
- Information.com (www.information.com)
This section will discuss the different types of search engines and provide some ideas on how to get the most from your search engine use.
Indexes. Most search engines, including Google (by far the most popular), are index-based. Internet users like them because they return a large number of accurate results quickly.
Before a search engine can find web pages and files, it must first search the Web to locate and index all the data that’s out there. A search engine accomplishes this with sophisticated software robots called “spiders,” which scour web servers to search for web pages and links to yet more web pages. Spiders record all the words they find, creating a massive set of keywords that are then written to the search engine’s database.
Directories. With directories, the search engine user compromises a bit of comprehensiveness for better organized and fewer irrelevant search results.
Directories are compiled by people based on websites that are submitted to their directories by website creators. Yahoo!’s directory is a good example of directory-based search engine.
Some search engines, called meta-search engines, are designed to solely to search the results of other search engines. These are powerful tools when you want complete search results, especially when trying to uncover difficult-to-find information. The most-popular meta-search engines include Dogpile (http://www.dogpile.com), Mamma (http://www.mamma.com) and Metacrawler (http://www.metacrawler.com).
Search engine tips. Getting the most from your search engine searches is more than just typing a word or two then clicking the Search button. How you combine the keywords in the search will help you get more accurate results. Each search engine website has its own set of features, but here are a few tips that apply to most any search engine you’ll use:
· Quotation marks. Putting quotation marks around two or more keywords will return results that exactly match the phrase. For example, typing “That Network” will return only results that contain this exact phrase. Typing “That Network” without the quotation marks will return all web pages containing the word “that” and the word “network”. This would result in millions of search results completely unrelated to what the searcher was looking for.
· Boolean operators. In mathematics, Boolean refers to a variable that can only have an answer of true or false. This same principle applies to search engine searches. Boolean operators (typically AND, OR and NOT) let you include or exclude keywords from your search results. For example, typing Vatican AND pope would return results that contain both words. Typing Vatican OR pope would return results that contained either word. Typing Vatican NOT pope would return results that contained “Vatican” but not “pope.”
Some search engines, including Google, have eliminated true Boolean searches in favor of “advanced” searches that let you accomplish the same type of searches by filling keywords into different fields (http://www.google.com/advanced_search).
· Math symbols. Similar to Boolean searches, you can use plus (+) and minus (-) signs to include or exclude words from your search. For example, typing winter + coats would return sites that contain both words, while typing winter – coats would return all search results for the word “winter” that did not have the word “coat” on the web page. The plus feature isn’t particularly useful (typing winter coats without quotation marks does the same thing), but the negative sign is a helpful tool in narrowing the scope of a search.
· Unique phrases. A clever way to find a narrowly defined set of search results is to type in a unique phrase you think might be on the types of web pages you are looking for. For example, if you are looking for information on starfish off the west coast of Canada, it would be more useful to type the keyword phrase starfish in the Pacific rather than just starfish.
Search engines are fairly easy to use, and the best way to learn their features is to pick one or more you are comfortable with and try different keyword combinations and practice with the website’s searching features.
Search Engine Optimization
The Internet has made fundamental changes in how companies of all sizes operate their businesses. Worldwide communications over the World Wide Web has mean business processes have been streamlined: digital automation has meant fewer people can do more work quicker; operating costs have been reduced because of these efficiencies; and better, cost-effective customer service can be provided through electronic mail (e-mail), websites, and digitized interactive voice response (IVR) phone systems.
The Internet and the Web are ever-evolving, and Internet marketing practices over the years have needed to change with them. E-mail marketing, for example, was once seen as the best inexpensive and effective promotion tools until the explosion of unsolicited commercial e-mail (“spam”) turned off the Internet masses, changing the face of how legitimate marketers communicate without offending.
Today, the most widely used tools for marketing commercial enterprises are search engine optimization (SEO) (sometimes referred to search engine marketing [SEM]), e-mail marketing, banner advertisements, and tried-and-true networking. Here’s an introduction to some of the Internet marketing techniques that can be used to build brands and generate sales.
Search engine optimization (SEO). Search engines have long been a part of the World Wide Web, but it took search engine kingpin Google to make it the most-popular and easiest way to find information on the Web.
It’s so easy to find products and services with Google and other top search engines that much recent Internet marketing has focused on ways to get e-commerce sites to appear at or near the top of search results. When a simple keyword search on Google, Yahoo! or MSN can return literally millions of web pages, the difference between being the third listing on the page or the 33rd can mean the difference in tens of thousands of dollars in sales.
For example, a Google keyword search for “doors” turns up 31.7 million web pages. On the first page of 10 results, five are for door retailers. Imagine the advantage they have over the competition that might be 50th, 500th, or 5,000th on that list.
Theories vary on how to optimize a website’s keywords to produce the highest position in search engines. Whole Internet marketing companies have spend countless resources trying to crack the mathematical algorithms Google uses to ensure their clients have top search engine placement. You can pay these companies to gain great search-engine ranking results, or you can do it yourself. There are even SEO software titles claiming to make SEO easy, and entire books have been dedicating to helping businesses achieve top search-engine rankings.
Much of the focus in SEO schemes involved the frequency and placement of keywords. Say, for example, you have a website promoting your Nevada-based real estate company. Ideally, you will want to place high in search-engine rankings every time someone does search-engine keyword search for “Nevada real estate” or “real estate in Nevada” or “Nevada Realtors”, just to mention three possible keyword combinations.
Placing these keyword variations on your website may help search engines find your website. Whether they will or not depends, in part, on the frequency of your keywords and their density, meaning the total percentage of the entire page that’s made up of keywords. Keyword density theories vary, but generally companies strive for a density of about 2 to 10 percent of keywords in their marketing and sales copy.
The placement of the keywords is also important. Including many of a web page’s most-important keyword phrases in the page’s META tag is one common tactic. A META tag is a piece of HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) code that describes the content of a web page. In our example, then, the HTML code for the Nevada real estate company might look, in part, something like this: <META>Nevada real estate, real estate in Nevada, Nevada Realtors</META>.
Another common practice is including a good, strategic description of the page in the TITLE tag, which is the piece of HTML code that displays the title of a web page at the top of a web browser’s interface. Many websites also incorporate keywords at the beginning and ending of their marketing and sales copy as well as at the beginning and end of individual sentences.
Registering an e-commerce website with a search engine is another important aspect of getting products and services before potential customers. Registering a website is usually free or at least inexpensive. Google, for example, lets you register any web page at http://www.google.com/addurl.html, although they make no guarantees when or if the link will be added to its database. A similar free service is provided by Yahoo! http://docs.yahoo.com/info/suggest. MSN offers a range of submission services for a fee (http://www.submit-it.com).
If you want to ensure you have a high search-engine ranking on a particular search engine, you can pay for a piece of this prime search engine real estate. Google, again, is the leader in this type of search engine advertisement with its text-only “Sponsored Links” displayed alongside the free listings. Other major websites offer similar advertising services.