So you've come here for an introduction to Search Engine Optimization. According to wikipedia it is the process of affecting the visibility of a website in a search engine’s unpaid results - often referred to as “natural," "organic," or "earned" results.
A lot of people have heard of SEO. Most small businesses recognize the need for it. But what is SEO and how does it work?
SEO is the process of optimizing a website for a search engine’s organic results in order to increase where it ranks when a relevant search is performed. Recent studies have shown there are over 200 factors that search engines use to determine how a website will rank organically for relevant searches.
1. It all starts with a search
You have probably done it already today. According to Google, it will happen over 1 billion times by the end of the day on their search engine alone. What is “it”? People typing words into a search box and hitting the RETURN key in order view the results. From the average user’s perspective this is known as “a Google search” or “Googling it”. In the realm of SEO that search term is referred to as a keyword.
2. Keyword Research
Choosing the proper keyword strategy to optimize your website for is the foundation of any SEO campaign. Volumes have been written on keyword research. As a brief overview, it is important to determine the amount of times a search is performed each month and the user intent of the search. By actually performing the search yourself you can determine if the results on the first page are relevant to the products, service or information you are providing. (Hint: While trying to find the right keywords if you are seeing your competitors on the first page results you are heading in the right direction)
Once your keyword strategy has been chosen it is time to begin the ongoing process of optimizing your website. As I mentioned before, there are over 200 rank determining factors that Google uses in calculating which websites show up in the top positions. While the exact number of ranking factors is unknown, it is agreed that there are two types of optimization: On-Page and Off-Page. While on-page refers to the adjustments made to the website, off-page SEO encompasses all of the factors from other websites that help increase your website’s rankings.
3. On Page SEO
There is a good deal of information available regarding on page optimization. As an overview I recommend reading Google’s SEO Starter Guide on the best practices for website structure, content layout, page titles and descriptions. At the foundation of On Page optimization lies a content strategy. A successful SEO content strategy will be based on your keyword research. The content of your website is the main factor that search engines use in determining relevancy to user queries. The search engines use a program called a spider that scans the content of your website to determine what a website or page is about. Clearly describing your service or product is one of the best ways you can increase your page’s performance in the search engines. As well as clear and concise content, it is important that each of the following aspects of your website are filled in accurately, completely and uniquely for each page:
- Title Tags
- Meta Description
- H1 Tags
- Image Alt Tags
While these are the foundation to a properly optimized website, the items listed are only a few of the many things that need to be addressed when optimizing a website’s on-page factors.
4. Off Page SEO
One of the ways search engines determine a website’s authority and “worthiness” to rank for keywords is by analyzing the quality and quantity of other websites on the internet that link to it. As the SEO industry began to learn the importance of backlinks, an entire industry formed inside of SEO and is commonly referred to as link building. To this day it is one of the most misunderstood parts of SEO. To understand why having other websites linking to your is important, it helps to understand how the largest search engine began. Larry Page, a student at Stanford University was encouraged to write a dissertation focused on finding out which web pages linked to a specific page. As more information was uncovered the idea that a website with the most backlinks, or votes, must be a more important website than one that didn’t have any backlinks.
Here is a quote from Wikipedia on the founding of Google:
“Convinced that the pages with the most links to them from other highly relevant Web pages must be the most relevant pages associated with the search, (Larry) Page and (Sergey) Brin tested their thesis as part of their studies, and laid the foundation for their search engine” - Source Wikipedia.
In order to maintain the quality of the search results Google has made (and continues to make) many changes to their Algorithms. Since 2012, they have been updating the way their program views backlinks specifically to try to combat the tremendous amount of SPAM links that have arisen out of the link building industry.
Trying to describe the components and give a solid introduction to SEO in a few paragraphs is no small feat, but hopefully this has brought some clarity on the different aspects that are involved in increasing a website’s ranking in the search engines. SEO is a constantly changing industry as each search engine is regularly making changes to help increase relevancy and user experience.