TWV Media

The Nuts and Bolts of Search Engines


Yahoo is an example of a topical search engine (also sometimes referred to as a vertical search engine). The methodology of a topical search engine is to focus on specific industries, sectors or topics. Yahoo is still a 100% human edited directory, with secondary search engine results generated through Google. That, of course, means that a good listing in Google will also mean visitors from Yahoo as well. Yahoo is still one of the largest traffic generators around, in terms of search engines and web directories. A listing with Yahoo involves “suggesting” a URL, which is then reviewed by a Yahoo editor (find the proper category and click on the “suggest a site” link at the bottom of Yahoo’s home page). Unfortunately, the listing process at Yahoo can take quite some time before your site gets recommended.

As an advertiser, marketer, business owner or website owner, you’ll need to know how all this applies to you. The first thing you’ll need to do is to get your site listed in the Yahoo directory where it’s a good fit.

You can go ahead and get your site listed through the above method, which can take some time and doesn’t have any guarantees.

The other option is Yahoo’s Express Service for expedited listings. Express has a $299 annual fee, with a guarantee that it will be reviewed within seven days – but no guarantees that it will make it into directory listings. Once you are listed in a directory, though, the upgrade to “featured” status is pretty easy. There will be a monthly fee involved, from $5 to $300 per month depending on the directory that your site is placed in. Listing fees only require a credit card number, and your monthly fee will automatically be charged to the card.

A featured listing does appear up top in the directory, so you won’t have to worry about your site being buried somewhere deep down in the listings. Coupled with an attractive, well-optimized site, this could go a long way toward your marketing goals. Featured listings, of course, also mean targeted advertising, which means people who are already on the search for your product or service being steered your way. The fixed cost of an upfront buy followed by a regular monthly charge can also be a help when it comes to staying within your marketing budget (while still trying for a reach to as many customers as possible.). Yahoo also offers banner ads (through My Display Ads), with easy-to-customize ads using their own design tools. Yahoo’s banner ads can be narrowed down to specific geographic areas, site-content categories and target demographics, along with various daily costs. Their costs can be broken down into pay per click or pay per impression, and Yahoo offers daily reports on clicks, impressions and conversions.

As for optimization …

Along with featured listings, another surefire way to up your status on Yahoo is to buy keywords through Overture, Yahoo’s subsidiary. Yahoo/Overture’s pay per click model sells keywords pertaining to your business, and results from web searches for your specific keywords will appear in your Yahoo Sponsor Results box. The Overture distribution network also takes in many other top portal sites and search engines, including, AltaVista and MSN.

Dogpile / Webcrawler

Dogpile is an example of a meta-search engine (also known as a federated search). Meta search engines scour several other databases and/or search engines, then compiles the results into a single list or displays each one according to source. The idea of a meta-search engine is that the Web is too vast for any one search engine to do an adequate job of indexing all of it; more comprehensive and complete results can be seen from aggregating results from several search engines.

The results of meta-search engines can vary, but they can still take in more of the web at once than any single stand-alone search engine. The other side of the coin is that the results can be less relevant; meta-search engines don’t have direct access to the databases of the search engines they’re pulling information from, and don’t know the “alchemy” that goes into their rankings.

Google / AltaVista

Google and AltaVista fall into the category of open search engines.

A Google search is actually a series of localized websites. A typical Google search will bring you definition links to dictionary sites and Wikipedia, links to other searches (i.e. if Google believes one of your words to be misspelled) and many, many others. Google will typically break up your query into a sequence of search terms, unless you put quotation marks around a phrase (telling Google to look for the entire phrase rather than one word at a time). Google’s Advanced Search feature allows other information to be figured into the search (such as date of first retrieval) to narrow down search results.

Google has evolved into one of the web’s biggest web portals, with a staggering number of extra features such as:

  • Weather
  • Stock quotes
  • Sports scores
  • Unit of measure conversion
  • Currency conversion
  • Maps
  • Synonym search
  • U.S. Government website search
  • Travel data and airport info

Since Google has come to dominate the search engine field so completely, the research (and speculation) on its search criteria has turned into an entire industry. Since much of the Google methodology for search engine ranking is a closely kept trade secret (to keep unscrupulous webmasters from manipulating results) and Google changes their 200-plus factors for rank regularly, much of it remains speculation. The following, however, is pretty certain when it comes to Google rank:

  • Google’s crawlers (or spiders) look at on-page factors such as H1 heading elements, keywords in copy, image alt attribute values and title elements
  • The crawlers look at off-page optimization factors like anchor text and keywords in URLs
  • The crawlers like fresh content (forums, blogs, articles, etc) a lot better than older stale content
  • Quality inbound links to your site can help page rank greatly

This is a gross oversimplification – of course there’s a lot more to it than that.

But the general idea is to work with Google’s relevance algorithm by using all these factors and more. Google does make the basics of these principles public; they’ve published guidelines for website owners or webmasters to use when they’d like to raise their rankings by working along with SEO consultants.

So …

Those are some of the basics of how search engines work and how you can get the most out of them. Yahoo, Dogpile and Google all operate on different principles and methodologies, but they all keep their methodologies fairly consistent. Each has their pros and cons for website owners and their own nuts-and-bolts when it comes to listings, relevance and optimization. But with some study, some consultation with a knowledgeable SEO specialist and a fair amount of trial-and-error, you can figure out how to use them all to help your business and boost your web presence.