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How search engines see the web

By knowing how a search engine decides what a page is about, you can optimise your pages to make sure they show up in the search results.

How search engines see the web

If you want to make sure your website turns up in more search engine results, stay tuned for this video, which includes:

  • how search engines understand what’s on a web page
  • which parts of a web page help search engines do this
  • how to make your web pages more visible to search engines.

View Transcript

Hello there, and welcome to our video looking at how search engines see web pages.

We’ll go over how search engines understand what’s on a web page, which parts of a web page specifically help them, and how you can make your pages more visible to search engines. In simple terms, when you ask a search engine to find something, it looks through a huge list of previously indexed pages, called “the index,” and pulls out relevant results based on what you’re looking for.

Pages make it into “the index” only after the search engine has determined what they’re about. That way, it can file them in exactly the right place amongst the other pages, and find them the next time a search relates to their content.

By knowing how a search engine decides what a page is about, you can optimise your pages to make sure they show up in the search results of people looking for websites just like yours. Let’s say you own a coffee shop, and you’ve got a website to promote it. When you look at a page on the site you see this.

But when a search engine looks at the same page, in addition to seeing what you see on your screen, it also sees the code behind it, called HTML.

Specific parts of this code help the search engine understand what the web page is all about. And knowing which parts are important can help you to optimise your site. First, the title of the page in the code.

In this example, you can see the title in the tab at the top: “Cotswolds Coffee Shop.” The search engine sees the title enclosed in a piece of code called a title tag. It looks like this:

Cotswolds Coffee Shop

Many websites can be edited using tools that handle all the HTML coding for you – that’s called a content management system, or CMS. If you use a CMS to make changes to your website, there’s probably a place to add this title, too. You can help the search engine index your page properly by making sure your page title accurately describes its content. That way it can show up in relevant searches. The next thing you’ll want to think about is the page’s text. Think about who you want to visit your page, and what words they’re using to describe your products and services. Do they talk about fair trade coffee? Do they use the term cappuccino instead of macchiato? These are probably the terms they’re also using to search.

Try to speak the language of your customers when you write your content. Because this can help ensure they’ll find your pages when they search. Finally, let’s talk about the page’s images.

Search engines won’t see the mouth-watering photos of your coffee creations in the same way we do – which is a shame. But what they will see is the code behind it.

To help search engines identify the image, give it a descriptive name.

For example, image.jpg is not a great file name for search engines. Whereas, something that describes exactly what’s in the picture, like iced-peppermint-mocha.jpg, is.

You can even take it one step further by adding “alternative text” in the code with your image. Known as an “Alt tag,” it describes the image, which is useful for people using web browsers that don’t display images, or for people with visual impairments who use software to listen to the content of web pages.

In the HTML, the ALT tag will appear something like this:

Again, if you use a content management system to update your website there’s probably a place to add an Alt tag, too.

So remember: Use descriptive, unique titles for each page on your site. Write for your customers, but remember to include important words and phrases that can help search engines understand what your pages are all about. And don’t forget to name image files with descriptive words and include alternative text.

Together, all of these tips can help search engines understand your pages and put them in front of the people that matter – your potential customers.


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