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specific the words are, the better the chance will be that your web site is targeted. Just remember that
words such as “a,” “an,” “the,” “and,” “or,” and “but” are called stop words. These words are so com-
mon they are of no use as keywords.
Understanding Heuristics
If you’re going to maintain a web site with the best search engine optimization possible, you will
have to be familiar with “heuristics.” This is simply a term for recognizing a pattern and being able
to solve a problem or come to a conclusion quickly and efficiently by consulting what you already
know about that particular pattern.
In other words, using heuristics is a way to solve a problem, although it’s not always the most accu-
rate way. Heuristics are important in search engine optimization because they allow for variations
in the way that users search for a particular keyword or keyphrase. Because a combination of fac-
tors must come together to create a ranking for your web site, heuristics make it possible for some,
but not all, of those factors to be present.
The Greeks had a word for it. The root of the adjective “heuristic” comes from their
term for “invent” or “discover.” “Heuristics” has come to mean a way of education or
computer programming that proceeds by experiment or observation, rather than theory, and some-
times employs “rules of thumb” to find solutions or answers. We all act “heuristically” every day.
An example: Let’s say you run a travel-planning web site. If a web user is searching for “springtime
vacations,” a search engine crawler will visit many sites, with varying keywords, keyword placement,
and keyword density. In effect, it will give each a score, calculated on a baseline for relevance. It may
find one site with the phrase “some writers get their best ideas in springtime or while on vacation.”
But it won’t score that site high, because it doesn’t meet baseline criteria very well. The keywords are
separated and the context is wrong. Also, links from that site are unlikely to support the idea of plan-
ning a springtime vacation. The search engine likes your travel-planning web site better, because it
has a lot to say about “springtime vacations.”
But the crawler doesn’t stop with your site, and it doesn’t look just at the words in your links,
although it helps if those say “springtime” and “vacation,” not something vague like “trips.” But the
crawler will actually go to your links to see if they’re really helpful for the user who wants something
about “springtime vacations.” If your links are irrelevant to that, the crawler may decide you’re run-
ning a “link farm,” designed to catch its attention without really delivering. But if a high percentage
of your links really are related to springtime vacationing — travel information, garden shows, trips to
tulip festivals — then the crawler may score you high and put your site high on the list it compiles
for the user. That user, after all, is the crawler’s customer — and also, you hope, yours.
The crawler has operated “heuristically,” making its best judgments at each stage of the process.
Keywords apply to heuristics because they provide the pattern by which a problem (that is, the
search) is solved. Why do you need to know all of this? Because understanding the pattern by
which your site is ranked will help you to understand just how important it is to properly choose
and place keywords that will improve your search engine ranking.
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Keywords and Your Web Site
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