How do websites decide which sites to show in search results? Crawling, indexing and ranking are the steps that dictate where your page shows up organically in search results. To the average business owner, these terms can feel like a foreign language. Let me define them in layman’s terms and explain how they affect your search engine optimization.
Crawling is the search engine’s action to “read” the content on each page of your website. Let’s think of this as the search engine “discovering” your web pages instead. To make sure your content can be discovered, you want to make sure your XML sitemap is properly set up on your site and has been submitted to search engines. An XML sitemap alerts search engines to which pages of your website are most important. Usually, the home page is #1.
The sitemap submission is typically done when your site first goes live or again manually if significant recent changes have been made. Submitting a sitemap involves working with the HTML code on your site or a plugin for WordPress sites. If you are not familiar with this then it is best to talk to your website designer (Or us!). The search engines will eventually find your site on their own but it may take some time for it to happen. They do have billions of pages to crawl!
Crawling is the first step in the process that determines how your site will rank in search results. Search engines must be able to see your pages.
Indexing is how search engines decide how relevant the information on your site is to search queries. Indexing is the process by which search engines sort and categorize your content. How do they do this? By analyzing the keywords that you have set in place. To make the most of indexing, you want to make sure each page of your site has relevant keywords describing those pages. You may have seen an option when you are building the content on your pages to add a keyword or phrase. Leaving this blank makes it difficult to index your website pages.
Keywords are either a single word or a short phrase that will signify what the content of that page is all about. Ideally, you want your keywords to be very similar to words that people are searching for online. For example, if my business was Beth’s Landscaping Company, some keywords that I would be likely to use are Beth’s Landscaping Company, Beth’s Landscaping, landscaping in Montgomery, Alabama, yard maintenance, sod, shrubs, perennials, etc. I would use the keyword on the page that includes content about that subject.
Yes, I know that ranking seems pretty straightforward, but there is more to it than just putting your site on a list. To search engines, ranking is heavily dictated by “authority.” By “authority” I mean your credibility online. How trusted is your site online? Trustworthiness is not just based on having an up-to-date security certificate. It is based on how many other websites link to your content. Backlinks, or sites that link your website to theirs, are critical in establishing credibility. Backlinks answer the question “Are you trusted and respected in the online world?” You can create fantastic, relevant content on your site but if there is no credibility, then your organic search rankings will be negatively affected.
So how do you create more credibility with your website? Are there business or association websites that your site could be linked to? Are there other sites where you could be a guest blogger? Could you be a source for a news site or other online journal? These are a few ideas to create quality backlinks and improve your credibility and therefore your ranking.
Crawling, Indexing and Ranking are Dependent on Each Other
Hopefully, you have realized the connection between crawling, indexing, and ranking. Crawling is the language search engines need to be able to read your content. Indexing is the use of keywords to tell them what your content is about and if your content is relevant to the search query. Ranking tells them that your page is a trusted and credible source and should be shown higher in search results. All three are dependent on one another.
When crawling, indexing and ranking all come together, it is a beautiful thing! Your page is managed well, contains quality content, and is shared by other sites. It does take time for all of these parts to come together. Remember that search engine optimization is the long game for ranking higher in search results. With a little bit of work and attention to detail, you can implement a successful SEO strategy with your website.