Google handles more than half the world's internet searches, and more than double that of its nearest competitor. So it's unsurprising that we're keen for our websites to rank prominently in its search results: from the personal vanity project, where a high ranking impresses your mates, to an e-commerce site, where a slip down the list can equal a big revenue slump.
For the latter, huge resources are devoted to "search engine optimisation", where the code, structure and presentation of the site are altered in order to convince the Google engine that a webpage is more relevant than it actually is. This isn't always helpful to users, as Anna Michaels points out in an email: "It's virtually impossible to find a website of an actual hotel, as opposed to a website offering you a 'great deal' at that hotel." Google, whose success is down to providing relevant results, works constantly against over-zealous optimisers. But there are a few general guidelines that anyone can use to improve their ranking.
Search engines use automated web "crawlers" that should, in theory, pick up your pages as they appear on the net, but it helps to give them a kickstart; the page for submitting to the Googlebot is www.google.com/addurl. "Ranking is boosted if your site is well-linked to by others," writes Jim Carstairs, "although faking it will probably work against you." Submitting to directory-based sites such as Yahoo! have a positive knock-on effect, and, when putting pages together, well thought-out text is the key. Crawlers can't recognise text within images, so any page titles and so on should be in text form, and relevant to the site's subject.
Google doesn't consider keywords within page headers as important as it once did - as they've been abused by pornographers and financial scammers - but having a few that are concise and relevant will do no harm. Reader Stephen Fisk believes in the Yellow Pages method: "Choosing titles and domain names nearer to the beginning of the alphabet can certainly help."
But whatever your efforts, you will always be at the mercy of Google's algorithm. Myself, the harpist Rhodri Davies and Rhodri The Great (820-878 AD) seem to be locked in battle to determine which one of us is the most relevant Rhodri on the internet - although none of us, I imagine, bother too much with search engine optimisation issues, as there's not that much money in being a Rhodri.
Next week's questioner prefers to remain anonymous: "I'm worried that my daughter is putting too much information on the internet about herself - am I right to be concerned?" Any comments, and new questions for the Cyberclinic, should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.orgReuse content