The beginning of 2004 has seen a massive upheaval in the search engine world, all of which directly affect you as a potential website owner.
Whereas previously Google dominated most of the market, powering AOL, Yahoo, as well as providing the advanced search features of several other major sites, this situation has changed completeley.
In March, Yahoo launched its own search engine, ending a long relationship with Google. Early results have been very good, in some cases better than Google's, mainly due to Google's wave of result degrading 'updates'.
MSN is also finally bringing their own search engine online. Early results from that also look quite promising, and seem to indicate that Microsoft is serious about creating a good quality search engine.
You no longer can focus on only one search engine when creating your search engine strategy, but have to consider at least 3 major ones: Google, Yahoo, and MSN.
Ask Jeeves/Teoma currently is used for 5% or so of searches, Google around 50% (counting their main account, AOL, which is 15% of current US searches), while Yahoo and MSN split the remainder (30/15%) (read more).
The other major players have fallen by the wayside, Altavista, Hotbot, and Lycos are now either absorbed by their competitors or have gone out of business.
Google itself has been modifying its main search engine steadily since the end of 2003. This has resulted in wildly swinging site positioning, as well as a marked decrease in the quality of their results (as of early 2004).
We look forward to Google finally settling down somewhat towards the middle of 2004, although early indications are that they are not doing well.
Yahoo's departure leaves Google with only AOL as a major client, and, more importantly, opens up the search engine market from the near monopoly position Google has enjoyed since it rose to dominate the search engine world.
In early 2004 the world of search engines started to change radically. One result of this is that solid, high quality web pages, with good content, will be rewarded even more highly than ever was the case in the past.
While there are people out there who claim to be able to give you top ten rankings (so called Search Engine Optimizers), they almost always employ tricks which, if discovered, could end up getting your site banned from the major search engines.
We do not employ such tricks, since the basics tend to serve very well in achieving high rankings. And remember, if you do employ tricks, your competitors can fairly easily find those, then might turn your site in to the major search engines, and then you are stuck, and are probably better off starting all over again.
The best way to get good placement is to make sure your pages are made with correct coding techniques. Do not use images, especially in navigation links. Create the pages always with this rule in mind: search engines only read text files.
One of the most important elements in getting good placement is still in having meaningful link phrases connecting the various parts of your site.
Getting good results is also a direct consequence of having little extra HTML to clutter up your pages, and making your content easily accessible to any search engine that might try to index your site. Don't make it harder on them than it needs to be.
Our pages are written to get rid of as much superfluous code on your pages as possible. Extensive use of CSS helps this goal to be reached, as does minimimal use of tables in the construction of your site's pages.
Having people link to your site is very important. This does not mean link exchanges. Reciprocated links do not count for nearly as much as one way links to your site.
And links from major websites in their areas (ideally also related to your site's subject matter) count for much more than links from small, irrelevant sites. But all incoming links are invaluable.
So how do you get links to you? Content, of course. Quality content will make other sites link to you. It's that simple.
This is not to discount the value of any link to your site, even a link exchange. The more links to your site, the better.
It's impossible to emphasize this point enough. Good content is more important than anything else. Quality content that changes and is added to routinely is extremely important when you are looking to increase your websites' visitor numbers through search engines.
The true secret to long lasting search engine success is in always creating and updating your content. The more you do this, the more search engines will tend to revisit your site, and reindex your pages.
Ideally, you should be adding pages on a regular basis. This is where having a site that is made to be expandable from the beginning really can pay off in the long run.
The wave of changes has left the entire search engine optimization industry fairly unsteady. But the basic rules have not changed. Our sites still get the same rankings they did before, only now they get them on 3 search engines, not just one.
So for SEOs, many of their tricks are no longer as effective as they used to be. But solid site construction and good quality content can still be counted on to deliver users to you over the long run.
We have found that, except for the massive fluctuations in Google's results, the basic techniques we have used over the last years need little modification, since they were based on solid research in the first place.