In Part I of our article series on search engines, we discussed the spidering and assessment processes used by search engines to locate, analyse and categorise pages based on content, content treatment (keyword in bold, headings, etc.) and linkages. This initial deconstruction process allows the search engine to disassemble web pages into component parts so that the content can be matched to a search query, using keywords. The second part of the search engine process encompasses the way that the software organises the page content by relevance to the search terms used. This process, known as page ranking, is a critical measure of how often your web page will be seen by users searching on keyword related to your products.


The term page rank comes from Google's proprietary program, PageRank, which uses a set of algorithms (or rules that work together) to determine the usefulness of the content on a Web page. The driving principle for establishing a page's ranking within this system is the pattern of links coming into the page. Essentially, Google's software uses the theory that, if a high ranking or highly viewed page links to your webpage, it is essentially casting a vote of approval for your content. Therefore, the more in-links your web page has from strong web pages, the better its page ranking will be.

Page Rank Meter

How can you tell which pages are 'good' pages to seek links from, in Google's opinion? The easiest way to determine page rank, which in Google's case is rated from 0 (bad) to 10 (best), is to turn on the page rank meter on Google's toolbar. If you look at your Google toolbar and do not see a green meter graphic, go to the Settings menu item in the Google toolbar, then choose Options, then the More tab, then in the 'Even more buttons' area, tick the 'PageRank and Page Info' button. Now the meter is enabled. You can either read the meter or hover over it and get a numerical reading of the page rank.

Search Rank

Now that you have the page rank meter and you can see the page rank of all the web pages displayed for your search term, you may find that lower ranking pages are displayed above higher ranking pages in your search results. That's because page rank is not the only determining factor in displaying search results. The second important factor has to do with keyword usage. It's particularly important to add keywords to the anchoring link so that the relevance of your pages scores as highly as the quality of links displayed on your pages. For example, if you sell writing pens, you would be thrilled to have an incoming link from the Mont Blanc website, a high quality link. However, that link will get you better search engine ranking if it reads, 'Mont Blanc writing pens' because many people searching for writing pens will be using those terms rather than the specific brand name or will be using both terms, leading straight to your page with both a high quality link and a keyword in the anchoring text.

How about other search engines?

We use Google as the primary example because Google is the leading search engine on the Internet, accounting for 80% of all searches in the UK, versus 10% for Yahoo and 8% for MSN. Moreover, Yahoo and MSN search engines basically work in a similar ways. Below is Yahoo's description of its search engine function:

'Search ranks results according to their relevance to a particular query by analysing the web page text, title and description accuracy as well as its source, associated links, and other unique document characteristics.'

MSN also operates in a similar way, though reacts more quickly to new pages but has less ability to differentiate commercial pages from informational pages.

Bottom Line

Search engines favor high quality links, well-handled keywords and strong content. Analyse your site against these criteria, make changes where necessary, attract more viewers, and you will make more sales. Read our next articles, Latent Semantic Indexing, to learn more about grouping key words for higher ranking.