What Is Search Results Relevance Ranking And How Can You Use It To Your Advantage?

Understand how search results use relevance in their rankings so you can improve your site's ranking and optimize it for the commonly used search engines.

Search engines display the results of their searches based on a variety of factors, including relevance. What is relevance? Very simply, it is how useful the search results are likely to be to you, based on the search terms you initially entered. Since the goal of a search engine is to help you find what you are seeking, the results strive to display the results most "relevant" to your search - or most useful to you - first. Understanding relevance in search results rankings will help you to optimize your web site for better search rankings and will help you improve your own searches.

Relevance is complex because it can take into account a large number of variables. In addition, different search engines calculate relevance differently, so relevance is a function of the engine using it. There are, however, some commonalities in how relevance is determined by a search engine.

Key factors in determining relevance include:

Is there a match for all of the search terms you entered?

If you entered the terms: "purple" "grape" "jelly" and "toast", the most relevant search results would have all of those words. Pages that had the words "grape" and "jelly" but not "purple" and "toast" would be less relevant.

Do multiple search terms appear near one another in the document?

If multiple search terms were entered, the proximity of the words to one another in the document affect the search ranking. For example, in our "purple" "grape" "jelly" "toast" search, a document with the phrase "purple grape jelly on toast" should be higher in relevance than a document that discusses "purple eggplants", "grape-flavored soda", "jelly-fish" and "toasted marshmallows".

Where and how many times is the text located on the web site?

Some search engines look at where the text is located on a web site as well as the number of times the terms are repeated. If the terms are in the meta words, in page headings and referenced in the text, the page is considered more relevant than if the text simply appears in a text block on the page and nowhere else.

How popular is the web page?

Several of the most commonly used search engines factor a page's popularity into relevance. In other words, a page that receives a lot of hits will appear higher in rankings than a page with few visits. Engines also take into account the number of links to and from a site.

So, how can you use relevance to help you?

1. When you are creating a web site, consider the following. What search terms do you think people seeking your site are most likely to enter? Make sure those terms are not only in your key (meta) words, but also in your page title, summary and in your page text. If a word is critical to searchers, make sure it appears at least five times on your page. Do not, however, give in to the urge to repeat your key words in big, bold letters on screen. It does not help and makes your web page look unprofessional.

2. Examine the key words you are using. If search engine ranking is critical to your business and your site, it may pay to subscribe to one of the services that indicates the most popular search words in your category. By tailoring your key words to what people are searching for, you can make sure more people locate you.

3. Many search engines limit pages to twenty-five key words. Make sure your most important key words appear first.

4. In addition to submitting your site to search engines, ensure that you are linked from other sites.

5. Use your alt tags. Each image on your site can have text associated with it, in a field known as an alt tag. By placing important key words in your alt tags, you can increase the instances those words are used.

6. Make sure every page on your site uses key words. A common mistake is to just place key words on the home page, but search engines look at every page on your site and often look for trends and themes on the site. The more your site has content on a single topic or category of topics, the more relevant it will be.

Search engine optimization is an ongoing task and there is no magic way to make your site rocket to the top of the search results. However, careful page and keyword design can improve your results and make your site one of the most relevant on the web.

© High Speed Ventures 2011