How The Search Engines Associate Your Web Pages With Keywords

When I consult with businesses, clients or not, one of things that I always try to help them understand is the site optimization process and how the search engines associate their web pages with keyword sets or themes. Since this is a regular discussion that I have, I decided to put it in blog format so they can read and solidify what was just discussed. Let’s get started!

How Search Engines Work

Before you can understand how a search engine associates a web page with keywords, it’s important to understand how a search engine works. Search engines have what they refer to as web crawlers in which they deploy to crawl the internet, find web pages, read web pages, determine what they are about, decide how relevant and authoritative the web page is, and then rank it accordingly. It’s really as simple as that.

How Search Engines See A Web Page

Now that you understand how a search engine works, let’s talk about how they see an individual web page. When you and I visit the ESPN home page, we see this:

web page content

We see some numbers, some pictures, a video, and some text. It is very easy for us to know what the page is about.

However, when a search engine visits this same web page, they see this:

espn-web-code

Way different… right?

You see, as of right now, crawlers can only read words and numbers. They can’t look at a picture or video and know what it’s about. As they crawl through the code, they look at certain elements of the page to help them determine what it is about. Strategic placement of keywords in each of those elements helps send signals to the crawler as to what they are looking at. Let’s talk about those elements next.

Components Of A Solid Web Page

Title Tag: One of the first things a crawler sees when they crawl a web page is the title tag. This is one of the strongest on page signals you can send to a crawler. That is why any SEO will tell you to use your most important keyword in your title tag so they know what the content that follows is about.

Heading Tags: Heading tags are also used to tell the search engines what the following content is about. Think of heading tags as chapter headings that preface what you are about to read. When building out your web page, make sure to use variations of your keywords in your heading tags.

Content: Content is another element of a web page that a crawler looks at to determine what the page is about. Strategic keyword placement throughout the content is critical to telling the crawler what the page is about.

Image/Alt Attribute Usage: When you choose to incorporate images into your content, make sure to use keywords to describe the image in the alt attribute. This element tells the crawlers what the image is and how it related to the surrounding content.

Keyword Usage

As I’ve mentioned multiple times during this post, keyword usage is critical to helping the search engines know what your web page content is about. It is important to understand that over usage of keywords in your title, headings, content, or image alt attributes is considered spammy and could bring a penalty to your site. Use your keywords sparingly and use variations to help associate all of the keywords in your set with the page. I like to believe that if you know your business and write naturally, you will naturally use a lot of them in your content creation.

External & Internal Links

Links from external web pages in addition to other pages on your website will also tell a search engine what the linking page is about. Remember when we wrote about the different types of anchor text? Building links externally and internally with the keywords related to the linking page will help a search engine anticipate what the page they are going to is about.

Social Signals

Very similar to links, social signals can also help a search engine associate keywords with a web page. When you are sharing a link on twitter and use the title of the post (remember, use your keywords in the title :) ) in your description, the engines will assume that is what the content is about.

When it’s all said and done, the search engines will have a pretty good idea of what a web page is about after they look at each of the components that we discussed. I hope that this has been a helpful to you in understanding how the search engines associate your web pages with keyword sets and themes.

If you have any questions, please feel free to continue the discussion in the comments section below.

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