Processing for search engines

The number of visitors to a website is a highly important measure of business success. To a considerable degree, site access is initiated through search engines (Google in particular). It is therefore critical for a site to appear as high as possible in their results lists. Only in this way do sites have a realistic chance of being accessed; more than 90% of all clicks from Google are made on sites listed on the first page of results, with those near the top claiming more than 30% (cf. Chitika Insights 2013: 5).

Amongst other things, Google’s complex algorithms - the details of which remain secret - respond to links from other, ideally reputable sites (Larry Page’s “PageRank” principle that made Google great), the topicality, scope and frequency of content updates, the range of media employed and, more recently, responsive web design. Henze (2013) lists more than 200 factors that can influence ranking, many language- related - as stands to reason since search queries are couched in language. Taken together, the criteria applied by Google and their weightings embody how the search engine defines relevance for its visitors - although its own interests also likely play a role. At the same time, companies are invariably keen to figure high in hit lists, and therefore make use of search engine optimization (SEO) to make their websites responsive to known and presumed factors used in search algorithms.

Strategic areas where the emphasis is on language include, for example, everything written in the HTML code

to . These are the tags that create the hierarchical structure of text, from the text heading and lead paragraph to the subtitles and subheadings (up to six levels in total). The linguistic material contained in these levels - and in (page title) and - is one of the preferred targets of search robots. The more clearly it expresses a site’s content and its components, the more accurate the hits. The first 50 to 60 characters of become the first line of entries of Google search results lists and recur in the top line of the browser frame, while the first 150 characters of provide the description that largely determines whether or not the user clicks on the result concerned. Google is also geared towards tags, towards any language associated with images (from the file name itself to alternative text in and to captions) and towards highly expressive URLs. Effectiveness is thus enhanced by distributing keywords characteristic of the site throughout these locations. Running text must be reasonably long (at least 200 words) to ensure that search engines can comprehend content properly; responsiveness is further improved if it includes key terms (several times if possible, but not too often). From an SEO perspective, Andrieu (2014:113116) recommends creating a separate page for every relevant concept, with keywords placed at the locations mentioned above. In view of reports that Google algorithms increasingly incorporate semantic aspects, it also seems advisable to include a sprinkling of semantically-linked words (synonyms, hyponyms and hypernyms). Since there are so many intricacies to be considered, SEO is becoming a specialist area and occupation in its own right. Attempts are also being made to circumvent web robots. In the internet’s “Stone Age”, when search engines simply counted keywords, large numbers of these would be “hidden” in sites as white text on a white background (invisible to users but identifiable by web crawlers). Such simple deceits are uncovered immediately these days; both the strategies used to fool search engines and the means of defeating them have become much more complex. Generally, it should be remembered that SEO should serve rather than undermine a site’s communicative purposes. Hence McGrane’s advice (2012: 118): “Write two different versions of your headline. One that’s designed for human readers, who appreciate style, humor, and even the occasional pun. Write a different headline that’s crammed full of SEO-friendly keywords, and let Google [. . .] chew it up and spit it back out.” Yet a Google algorithm may already exist to deal with this approach!

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