Category Archives: simply put posts

Posts explaining search engine technologies in plain, simple English. These posts are written concisely.

Why do search engines give different results?

Different results for Bing and Google

Numerous factors explain why Bing gives different results than Google. Two of the main reasons are covered on this post.

Search engine specific bots and indexes
Bing and Google, two popular, crawler-based search engines have unique bots which ‘crawl’ and store keywords within their own index. Each index is therefore a search engine’s representation of how they see the web. So search engines “see” the web differently.
Unique algorithms place different weight on different things. Most search engines are different because they have unique bots and indexes which rank websites in their own way.
Bing powers Yahoo but their results are different. This is because each search engine uses different algorithms, ranking queries uniquely, so a search for “belfast” on Yahoo will be different from “belfast” using Bing.
Personalisation adapts a system to a specific computer. Calculations predict likes and dislikes to contextualise search results. So a political searcher who searches for “brown” are more likely to get results on Gordon Brown whereas a landscape artist who searches for “brown” are more likely to get information on art products and paint colours.
Although you might be using a global search engine, for example Google, your results are tailored to your geographic location. IP addresses play the largest role in doing this. Each IP address is similar to a house address. Search engines can find out where these IP addresses are located and personalise results based on this location. Results are therefore different for people who are in different countries.

Since personalised search can lead to relevant information, a feature of quality information, personalisation is not necessarily a negative feature.

SERP of different search engines.

SERP of different search engines. Source.

Search engines give different results because bots crawl and have different representations of the web. Search engine specific algorithms rank keywords differently so the same search is presented differently.

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  1. Ostrow, A. (2010) Bing Now Powers Yahoo Search. [Online] [Accessed on 18th August 2013]

Why is Wikipedia popular on Google?

Wikipedia is a free collaborative editing, in which individuals collectively create and edit articles, encyclopedia which is available in multiple languages. Some sources, for example academics, do not think Wikipedia is a reliable or an authoritative source because anyone can create and edit an article. But why does Google and Bing give preference to Wikipedia in their results?

Photo of Google and Wikipedia. From SparkPlugDigital.

Photo of Google and Wikipedia’s logos. From SparkPlugDigital.

Why does Wikipedia feature on most search engines?

The following list outlines the main reasons why Wikipedia features for many search engines, for example, Google, Bing, Yahoo and Duck Duck Go:

  • A lot of backlinks are obtained because average users reference Wikipedia’s articles
  • Wikipedia gives a good source for information (i.e. well written articles)
  • It is updated regularly*
  • Includes multiple formats (photographs, text, headings…)
  • It attracts ‘experts’ so it is a quality source

*I recently looked at several random Wikipedia articles and noticed that most of them have been updated within the past three months. Search engines like freshness because it shows that a webpage is up-to-date which adds to the overall search experience.

Wikipedia’s rankings and SEO

It is clear that search engines like Wikipedia as a source but by understanding why Wikipedia gets high rankings reveals some of the more important elements of search engine rankings. So a website that has lots of backlinks, well-written articles, contains a blog for fresh content and makes use of multiple formats (Does age matter when searching?) will rank high on most search engines.

Posted by Gerald Murphy


  1. BBC. (2013) Jimmy Wales: Boring university lectures ‘are doomed’.
  2. Wikipedia

Simply put: Electronic / computer cookies

What are internet cookies? What types are there?

In their simplest form cookies are text files that are sent from a web server to a users browser. This text can be altered to store unique information which can only be read by the sender.

Session / Transient Cookie
Removed from a computer once the user closes the browser (Rouse 2005: online) and can last on a person’s computer for: a few minutes; several hours; several days if a browser is left open and the computer is in sleep mode.
Performance Cookie
Analytical purpose-based cookies find out the number of keywords or volume of visitors; they do not track users nor invade privacy.
Functionality Cookie
Personalise elements of a website, such as the language (Eijk et al. 2012:60) or the “remember me” function which allows a website to remember a username and/or password.
Targeting / Marketing Cookie
Allow advertisements to become relevant by storing users’ keywords and behaviours.
Persistent / Permanent / Stored Cookie
Useful for speeding up, enhancing user experience, or remembering details of a return visitor by staying in a subfolder until they are manually deleted (All About Cookies 2013: online): Persistent cookies can remain on a computer for several months or over ten years (Cole 1997:60).
HTTP, Flash / Local Shared Object, First & Third Party Cookies

Researchers have identified other types of, and terms for, cookies:

HTTP cookies is the collective term referring to all of the above (session, performance, functionality and targeting cookies).
Flash cookies, or Local Shared Objects, are used by websites that run Adobe Flash.
First party cookies are used to identify the relationship a user has with a specific website.
Third party cookies identify a relationship a user has with a website they have not directly visited.

Photo of cookies getting sent

Photo of cookies getting sent.

Photo from Computing Verticals.

A list of the different types of cookies

So this post has identified all the different types of electronic, computer, cookies which will allow you to decide whether or not you want to delete them, deny their use via cookie banners, or allow them to be used.

If you want to find out more you can read:

Posted by: Gerald Murphy
(Twitter) @GeraldMurphySEO
(WordPress) A blog about search engines. Search “gerald murphy seo”


  1. All About Cookies (2013) About Cookies. [Online] [Accessed on 26st January 2013]
  2. Rouse, M. (2005) Transient cookie (session cookie). [Online] [Accessed on 21st December 2012]
  3. Eijk, N. Helberger, L. Kool, A. van der Plas, B. van der Sloot,, (2012) ‘Online tracking: questioning the power of informed consent.’ Info. 14(5) pp.57 – 73
  4. Peng, W. and Cisna, J. (2000) HTTP cookies – a promising technology. Online Information Review. 24(2) pp. 150 – 153

Simply put: Keyword searching

What is keyword searching?

Keyword searching can be summarised by (Rowley 2001:359):

  • The searcher is presented with a form that contains a text entry box
  • Keywords may be typed into the text entry box and the “search” button can be pressed
  • A HTTP request is triggered once the searcher presses the “search” button which copies the text box keywords into the URL of the search service’s web server
  • Once the server processes these keywords the results are displayed in place of the text entry box
  • Results are usually ranked by relevance and are presented ten at a time
  • Each record has a hyperlink which can be clicked on by the searcher
Picture of Google's search box.

Picture of Google’s search box.
Tom’s Guide.

SEO’s relationship with keyword searching

Having an understanding of how search works allows an SEO to develop an understanding of why we search for information.

Why is it useful to know about keyword searching?

(i) shows the importance of keywords in search even though keywords are not used as a SEO ranking factor, (ii) gains an understanding of how we search for information, and, (iii) explains to a client how keyword searching actually works when they type and hit the “search” button.

Would you like me to write a post on a specific search engine topic?

Posted by: Gerald Murphy
(Twitter) @GeraldMurphySEO
(WordPress) A blog about search engines. Search “gerald murphy seo”


  1. Rowley, J. (2001) ‘Knowledge organisation in a Web-based environment.’ Management Decision. 39(5) pp. 355 – 361.

Simply put: Title tag and seo

A title tag, strictly speaking not a type of meta data, basically allows the searcher to find out what a document is about.

Title tag and search engine optimisation (SEO)

Keep the 70 character title tag relevant, taking note of what order words appear and write it to include important keywords first, followed by the least important words at the end of the title tag.

Symbols and the title tag

There has been no evidence to suggest that a specific symbol works best in a title tag. Any symbol works well (e.g. | / : ; ~ ).

Expanding old title tags

Wheeler (2011) did a few experiments to find out the impact of a good title tag. He found that expanding an old title tag boosted hits 136 per cent (Wheeler 2011: online). Expanding a title tag allows you to add a new keyword into the title. Try to create a title tag which uses important keywords within the first few words of the title tag.

Write for humans, not search engines

Once you have wrote a title tag, read it. Does the title make complete sense? Is the title clear? Are important keywords included in the title?

Good title tags vary

If this was not a blog, I would have the following title for this page: How to write a good title tag? The following reasons make this a good title tag:

  • It is under 70 characters
  • It is clear that this post is about how to write a good title tag
  • It contains important keywords, such as, “write”, “good” and “title”.
  • These keywords could be used in a variety of ways by a human searcher (e.g. writing a good title, how to write a title…).

You must remember that ‘good’ varies, so what is good for someone might be ‘bad’ to someone else. It is important, therefore, to get into the head of your visitors. What would people search for? What are the most important words to attract your visitors?

Sullivan (2010: online) states that you know what is best for your visitors. The guidelines in this post, however, have been designed to allow you to maximise what is better for your visitors and the search engine.

Don’t cover everything in the title

Search engines will stem words, so “write” will also return “writing”, they may also find similar words (i.e. “write” and “create”). It is important, therefore, not to write for the search engine (e.g. “how to create and write a title tag”) because they will stem and find similar words. This post is aimed at those who want to “write” a title tag: A plain English post would suit a person who uses the word “write”, as supposed to “create”.

A good title tag thinks about what the user is likely to type.


  1. Schachinger, K. (2012) How to Write Title Tags For Search Engine Optimization. [Online] [Accessed on 29th March 2013]
  2. Sullivan, D. (2010) Writing HTML Title Tags For Humans, Google & Bing. [Online] [Accessed on 29th March 2013]
  3. Wheeler, A. (2011) Title Tags – Is 70 Characters the Best Practice? – Whiteboard Friday. [Online] [Accessed on 29th March 2013]

Simply put: What is a search engine?

A search engine is a utility program used to locate information on the web. Search engines, however, give different results. An post later this week will clarify/explain why search engines give different results.

You do not search the web using a search engine

A search engine finds information by using a self-created bot: Bots are unique to every search engine. Bots create an inverted index with all the information they find. Thus, you search the bot’s representation of the web, not the actual web. This explains why you cannot carry out a lot of real time search.

  • Bots need to read a blog first (crawl it)
  • Store its content by identifying keywords (creating an inverted index)
  • which can be searched by the searcher (thus searching the bots representation of the web)

Search engine factors when searching

IP addresses determine locational searches. Cookies, internet browsers and user accounts, on the other hand, lead to personalisation of results on the web. This means that you are not searching the bot’s representation of the web, you are searching a smaller section that the search engine has created for you, your likes, interests and past searches.

Simply put: What is PageRank?

Derived from Larry Pages’ name, co-founder of Google, PageRank underpins a key feature for Google web search. PageRank, in a nutshell, is an algorithm which ranks websites by relevancy and importance.

Interesting PageRank information

  • PageRank is a score out of 10 (e.g. 5/10) [1]
  • It is a trademark filed under US Patent 6,285,999. It was filed in 1998. The original assignee is Stanford University [2]
  • You can check your PageRank for free
  • A PageRank of 3 or 4 is the average given to the majority of websites [3]
  • PageRank is updated on a regular basis (see the paragraph below)

Obsession and PageRank

Although PageRank is updated twice a year; some reports claimed that it used to be updated every month [4]. Do not get obsessed with your PageRank. If you want to improve it, work on building some quality links (do this slowly because your site could be scored as spam). People usually link to your site because it has good quality content; therefore, getting a website full of excellent quality information is a priority.


  1. Sullivan, D. (2007) What is Google’s PageRank? A guide for searchers and webmasters. [Online] [Accessed on 02.03.2013]
  2. Page, L. (no date) Method for node ranking in a linked database. [Online] [Accessed on 02.03.2013]
  3. Feltin, L. (2011) What does your Google PageRank mean? And how does it matter? [Online] [Accessed on 02.03.2013]
  4. Schwartz, B. (2011) Obligatory Google PageRank Update Notification.