[This is part of the The Blogger’s Essential Guide to Search Engine Optimization Series. So what does Jim Lee's incredible cover art have to do with this? Nothing. It's just awesome.]
I’ve been batting back in forth in my mind how far and how deep I want to go in this series as it pertains to each of the major search engines – Google, Bing, and Yahoo! because we could spend an eternity sifting through long-form theory and discussion if we wanted.
But to keep things light (and effective) and as practical as possible I decided that providing an canvas overview of some of the major elements and factors that each of the more significant search engines use to determine the quality of returns for search term and query.
The value of knowing even these things will help us later down the line as you begin to align your learnings with executable strategy as it relates to each of the majors SEs – for example, if you realize that most of your organic search returns are coming from Bing, then you can begin to dominate that search engine by enhancing existing content (and creating new content) specifically targeted toward that SE.
We’ll get into more of those things in a bit (and I am definitely excited about this series!) but here’s a brief and effective overview of what you should place in the back of your mind as we walk through this blog series on SEO and as I mention Google, Bing, and Yahoo! (GBY! for short):
Google remains at the top of the list (with good reason) as one the most significant search engine tool that you will need to know about. The studies about their particular algorithms, methods, and SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) in countless – in other words, you could drown yourself in research and documentation six ways til Sunday if you wanted to!
And some of you might (which is fine by me), but most of us will be able to see some significant increases in search engine traffic if we capture the major elements that Google considers.
As I mentioned previously in earlier posts in the series Google and the others change their algorithms often but these appear to have landed as fairly consistent historically so you can trust that if you’re doing it right you’ll be in headed northward traffic-wise.
Here are some of the major elements that you need to know:
- People – Blog for people, not for search engines. I even wrote an entire post on that idea. Now there’s a technical part to this consideration as there are some “Black Hat” strategies (read that as “bad” strategies that will get you banned) like displaying faulty or different information to your users than the ones that the search engines see. If you’re not technically savvy enough to know what this means then you’re alright already!
- Useful – People search for content because they need it and the content that Google supplies them is the content that is the most useful to the end user’s query. Crafting useful content should be on the forefront of your mind (not just your daily thoughts on bacon, which are fine by the way, but don’t expect to be #1 on Google for your “Daily Dose of Bacon Happenings”). Having your content be accurate and descriptive is as important as anything else that you do.
- 100 Links – This one’s pretty practical and there’s not much explanation that’s required (at least for now) but you should have a very reasonable amount of links on any given page – in fact, Google suggest that you have 100 or less. I talk about this briefly here near the end and show you a tool to help calculate how many links you have on a page. Take it for a spin and see if you’re too heavy.
- Meta Elements – I go into detail about meta elements here so you might want to review if you’re catching up but the addition that I’ll make here is that your meta elements need to be accurate, factual, descriptive, and succinct. There is somewhat of an art form here and you’ll get better over time. Don’t have 1,000 keywords or a paragraph for your meta description for example.
- Site Architecture – Google rewards consistently those sites which exhibit clear and coherent site architecture. In other words, blogs that have an obvious “pathway” through them (via links and text) are much more reachable and accessible for people and search engines. More and more people forget that good site architecture is part of a good blog design, but for those that keep it on their forefront are rewarded well.
Of course there are more than these factors that play a role in ranking but these are the tried and true and should be on the top of your mind when you think about Google Search and Google-relevant SEO.
Yahoo! is up next and has been a staple among us for quite some time. There are a lot of things that I personally do not like about Yahoo! search but it’s clearly still being used very heavily worldwide and so there’s no sense in throwing it away at all.
In fact, I optimize some of my blog posts for Yahoo! specifically when I know that the content can be formatted and produced in such a way for a high return. For example, over the previous month I received a significant jump in Yahoo! organic returns based around keywords of Twitter and iPhone:
As a result I published some big articles that surrounded my blog specifically with those keywords in mind. You can see them here:
In fact, I published them back-to-back to capitalize on this growing trend (from the previous month before). I have solidified some serious ground as a result for organic keyword returns based on those two posts from Yahoo!
I’ll most likely walk you through some of this in some posts later but the point is clear: Yahoo! still is a force to consider when search engine optimizing. Here are some of the major factors that you can’t afford to miss:
- Links – Yahoo! has been known historically to weigh heavily the amount of links coming to and from the site, especially the former. The more sites that link to you the better. Using this as a strategy moving forward is obvious if you want to get high on Yahoo! SERPs, and there’s some good ways to do it too.
- Content – This seems obvious but it plays heavily in Yahoo!. The better your content, especially keyword-specific content, the higher you will rank. Internal linking structure apparently is a high-value target as well so it’s best to have some good internal linking strategies as well. I share my thoughts on that here which I suggest all bloggers read.
- Age – The age of your domain plays a significant factor in all of the major search engines but people have noticed a little higher rating with Yahoo!. For some this is one of the major reasons they can’t seem to “beat” out their competitors no matter what they do since their domain is simply much younger.
- Updates – Updates made to Yahoo!’s proprietary search algorithm, indicies, and new related sites all play an important role in Yahoo! search.
- Density – A final factor that plays an important role is keyword density, a topic that we’ll discuss in much greater detail in this series (and whether it’s really relevant – or is it a myth?). The Spider Tool that I released can help give you a picture of what that looks like currently with your blog but I’ll walk you through how to decipher (and leverage it) better in a few posts from now.
There are a few other factors that we’ll walk through later that you’ll also want to consider with Yahoo!.
Bing. I mean, who doesn’t like saying that word? The most memorable, for me at least, is when the viral video of one of the search engineers at Microsoft got fired for not saying it “right” in the presence of Mr. Ballmer but that’s nearly here nor there at this point.
The point is though that it’s the same deal with Yahoo! above: Spend some serious time here and you’ll see some gains with your traffic via Bing. For example, I noticed this big spike in traffic via Bing earlier this month:
With a little digging I was able to find the source and the reason, interpret it correctly, and then begin to execute a few posts with strategic keywords to “solidify” the gain that came from the organic returns.
As a result the following 3 more spikes resulted in the following weeks, all with roots from the original spike:
Needless to say I’m still reaping the benefits of those increases today. So, without further ado, here’s a general overview of some of the most important characteristics of Bing’s Search algorithm:
- Contextual Info – I label this as such because there’s something that happens with contextual keywording that Bing really likes. In other words, using keywords or phrases that users specifically query to find information. I leveraged some of this in the above example via the graphs. If you can find these niche queries you can reap the rewards for the rest of your blog’s life.
- Page Size – Bing takes into consideration the relative size and weight of your HTML page. Keep it low and don’t hang it up too much and you’ll be better off for it. We’ll talk more about optimization but you’ll want this for all the search engines in any case. Images and rich-media aside you should keep your HTML size under 150 kb. This is a good number to remember. A good WordPress Theme can help a lot in this department as software practices and good code give you better returns. I suggest using something like Standard Theme for WordPress, but hey, I’m biased.
- Focus – Bing likes to see that there is really just one topic or content focus per page with it’s SERPs. This also is considered with your links as well and all your pages should be accessible by a link (or two). Don’t overdo it but make sure the crawlers and bots know how to get there. This goes for internal an external linking as well.
- Structure – Site structure and architecture play an important role in Bing’s returns as well as the way that you structure you media, especially images. Make sure you have all the text you want outside the image if you’re going to want it to give you some returns. This goes for logos and other collateral art as well.
And that’s Bing. I enjoy Bing and use it occasionally for search queries but I really use it more for research than anything else.
What Do I Do Now?
Now that you have this key overview of the three major search engines we’ll use this as a sounding and reference board throughout the series. You may want to bookmark it so that you can comeback often.
My hope is that overtime you learn these by heart (or at least the more important elements) so that they can a part of your content strategy and execution when you publish. Remember, though, that you should always blog for people and not search engines!
Finally, if you want an activity to get your mind right about all of this here’s one that’s helped me and a few of my clients historically – see if you can answer these:
- What are the biggest search terms/queries for your blog in each of the major search engines? Why?
- What are the patterns that you see across all of the three search engines as it relates to your blog? Why?
- What is the biggest surprise per search engine that you’ve discovered related to your content? Is this a good search query or a puzzling one?
Hope that helps! Please leave any comments or questions below! Looking forward to working more on the series this week!
[This is part of the The Blogger’s Essential Guide to Search Engine Optimization Series.]