The first thing you need to understand when working on improving search engine rankings is how search engines rank pages. Before we go any further, it is important to understand that each search engine does it differently and nobody knows exactly how pages are ranked at any search engine other than the engineers at the search engines. The good news is that there are some things that are universally accepted as being important.
There are three things that most people agree are important. I am going to discuss each of them below. Search engines rank pages not sites. Sites can contribute to the rankings, but that is a topic for another article. For now, I am just going to focus on the basics.
On Page Optimization
On page optimization is what is on the web page that is being ranked. If you have a page about blue tennis shoes that you want to rank for the term “blue tennis shoes”, you should make sure the term blue tennis shoes is in the title of the page and used several times on the page. The good news is that this is very easy to control. You can change your page any time you want. The bad news is that this is probably the least important part of ranking.
Links are what connect pages on the internet. These are the (usually) blue words that take you to another page when you click on them. Links are what makes the internet. Without links from one page to another, there would be no web, just a bunch of individual pages.
Links are considered votes. If one page links to a page, they are casting a vote for that page. In general, if you have 100 links to your page, you should rank higher than if you have 10 links. Not all links are created equal though. For example, a link from cnn.com is going to be worth a lot more than brandnewsite.com. This is a more advanced topic so for now, just remember that more links is better.
External links usually have more to do with how well you rank than what what your page actually says. Unfortunately, getting links is usually harder than making changes to your web pages.
Link text is what a link says. It is like casting a specific vote for your page. For example, if the link says “blue tennis shoes”, it is making a specific vote for the term blue tennis shoes.
This is probably the most important thing to get your page to rank for a specific term. It is so important, it can make you rank for a term that isn’t even on the page. If you Google the term “click here”, you will see that http://get.adobe.com/reader/ ranks #1. The term click here is nowhere on the page. It ranks number one because there literally millions of links that say something like “Click Here” to download Adobe Acrobat.
Since this is the most important part, it only makes sense that it is the most difficult. You not only have to get a link, you need it to say exactly what you want.
Tips to Start Using Right Now
Whenever you create a page, you need to know what term you are trying to rank for. Put this term in the title, preferably at the beginning. Use the term several times on the page, but don’t use it more than is natural. You can actually hurt your rankings by using a term too often. Just make sure it sounds natural and you should be ok.
Find places where you can get links to your page (don’t worry, I will put up articles showing you where to get links). When possible, use your keyword in the link. This is why it is important to have the keyword in the title because many sites will link to you with the title of the page. Don’t forget links on your own pages. They count too. This means if you have a 100 page website, that gives you 100 opportunities to link to yourself. Make sure these links say what you wan them to. There is no reason to link to your home page with the term home unless you want to rank for the term home.
I hope this has helped you understand how search engines work. Just remember, each search engine is different and they are all changing constantly. These 3 principles are the core of rankings though and will probably always be important.
Below is a graphic from PPCblog.com which shows how Google works (or at least how it might work). From what I understand and have observed, this graphic is pretty accurate.
If you are having a hard time reading it, you can just click on the graphic and it will take you to the full size image on PPCblog. You can also zoom in.
Infographic by the Pay Per Click Blog