What is a search engine?
A search engine is a web-based tool that enables users to locate information on the World Wide Web. Popular examples of search engines are Google, Yahoo!, and MSN Search. Search engines utilize automated software applications (referred to as robots, bots, or spiders) that travel along the Web, following links from page to page, site to site. The information gathered by the spiders is used to create a searchable index of the Web.
How do search engines work?
Every search engine uses different complex mathematical formulas to generate search results. The results for a specific query are then displayed on the SERP. Search engine algorithms take the key elements of a web page, including the page title, content and keyword density, and come up with a ranking for where to place the results on the pages. Each search engine’s algorithm is unique, so a top ranking on Yahoo! does not guarantee a prominent ranking on Google, and vice versa. To make things more complicated, the algorithms used by search engines are not only closely guarded secrets, they are also constantly undergoing modification and revision. This means that the criteria to best optimize a site with must be surmised through observation, as well as trial and error — and not just once, but continuously.
Gimmicks less reputable SEO firms tout as the answer to better site rankings may work at best for only a short period before the search engine’s developers become wise to the tactics and change their algorithm. More likely, sites using these tricks will be labeled as spam by the search engines and their rankings will plummet.
Search engines only “see” the text on web pages, and use the underlying HTML structure to determine relevance. Large photos, or dynamic Flash animation mean nothing to search engines, but the actual text on your pages does. It is difficult to build a Flash site that is as friendly to search engines; as a result, Flash sites will tend not to rank as high as sites developed with well coded HTML and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets — a complex mechanism for adding styles to website pages above and beyond regular HTML). If the terms you want to be found by do not appear in the text of your website, it will be very difficult for your website to yield high placement in the SERPs.