Are you ready for this? Surprise! There is no secret.
Now, before you get upset and try to hang me up by my toes, please let me explain. The big secret is, there is no secret. Of course, there are those who want to perpetuate the illusion of magic surrounding some so-called black hat tactics, but in reality there is no hocus-pocus. Great SEO masters can definitely help you get a higher ranking on most search engines. But these same SEO experts will tell you that the improved ranking is not because of potions or incantations. As I have advised before, if someone is feeding you that line, then save your money and put it back in your pocket.
Search Engines are just sophisticated software programs that use "spiders" to make requests of web pages, very similar to the way that your favorite browser requests pages. But here's the difference. These spiders don't care about the CSS formatting. They only want content, links, and the URL. They are hitting the web pages so quickly that they don't have time for anything else. Most spiders are not interested in your images either, other than the alt tags. (So, here is a tip to possibly improve your SEO ranking. ALWAYS use the alt tags with images.)
The spiders send this info to a program that creates or updates an index or indices. And it's a LOT of information. These index programs analyze the data and assign scores to the web pages based upon the relevance of the words being sent by the spider. And that's where some people like to claim they know the SEO magic. These index programs use different logic, or algorithms, when they process the data. We hear that Google uses algorithms that take into account approximately 200 parameters. All of the Search Engines keep this information pretty close to the vest and it is doubtful that anyone knows all of the little IF statements embedded in the code. And, to keep us on our toes, the Search Engines CHANGE their algorithms whenever they feel like it. After analyzing all of this data, the Index Program makes the results available for the next step.
And that is the Query Program. When you type a word, or string of words, into the Search Engine's search box, the Query Program tries to give you the most relevant results that it can. It doesn't actually search the web. It goes to the indices created by the Index Program and pulls the data weighted by the score that the Index Program has given the web pages.
And that's about it. See? No magic involved.
Now, how does this affect you, the proud owner of a business with a killer web site? Well, you need to anticipate the words that your potential customers will use when looking for something that you sell. For example, if you sell camping gear, and your web site only talks about movie reviews and theater tickets, I doubt that you are going to get many customers looking for camel tents. (Do they still make camel tents?)
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