Sunday, January 10, 2010

Search engine results pages

The other sides of the query interface, and the only other parts of a search engine that’s visible to users, are the search engine results pages (SERPs). This is the collection of pages that are returned with search results after a user enters a search term or phrase and clicks the Search button. This is also where you ultimately want to end up; and the higher you are in the search results, the more traffic you can expect to generate from search. Specifically, your goal is to end up on the first page of results — in the top 10 or 20 results that are returned for a given search term or phrase. Getting there can be a mystery, however. We’ll decode the clues that lead you to that goal throughout the book, but right now you need to understand a bit about how users see SERPs.

Let’s start with an understanding of how users view SERPs. Pretend you’re the searcher. You go to your favorite search engine — we’ll use Google for the purposes of illustration because that’s everyone’s favorite, isn’t it? Type in the term you want to search for and click the Search button. What’s the first thing you do when the page appears? Most people begin reading the titles and descriptions of the top results. That’s where you hook searchers and entice them to click through the links provided to your web page. But here’s the catch: You have to be ranked close enough to the top for searchers to see those results page titles and descriptions and then click through them, which usually means you need to be in the top 10 or 20 results, which translates into the first page or two of results. It’s a tough spot to hit.

There is no magic bullet or formula that will garner you those rankings every time. Instead, it takes hard work and consistent effort to push your site as high as possible in SERPs. At the risk of sounding repetitive, that’s the information you’ll find moving forward. There’s a lot of it, though, and to truly understand how to land good placement in SERPs, you really need to understand how search engines work. There is much more to them than what users see.

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