What is SEO?
SEO (search engine optimization) is a process by which you construct the internal structure of your website so it can be found easier by search engines and site visitors.
The major search engines use an automated process to “read” your website. Google, for example, crawls your site with what they refer to as “Google Bots” to determine what your site is about. Using a complex algorithm, it identifies the keywords or phrases associated with the pages on your site. It then compares it to other sites that have similar content and ranks them by what they perceive is most relevant. When you type a search term into Google, thousands of search engine result pages (SERPs) come up. The websites listed on the first page are those that Google has determined to be the most important and relevant to your search term.
Research tells us that people rarely browse websites that appear in the search listings beyond the first page. This means that the tens-of-thousands of web pages listed in the SERPs go undiscovered for any given search term. Understanding the basic criteria the search engines, like Google, are using to rank sites allows webmasters the ability to make decisions about their site that increase the probability it will be ranked higher in the search engine listings. In short, the better job you do optimizing your site for search engines, the more people will find your site.
On the flip side, there are decisions you can make that will actually hurt your sites rankings, plummeting it down in the list or even dropping it off the index altogether.
The Search Engines
There are thousands of search engines out there. The most popular are Google, Yahoo and Bing. Each has its own proprietary method for ranking web pages on their site. Since Google is the most popular by an overwhelming margin, most webmasters and SEO consultants optimize websites for Google rankings specifically. They may optimize for the other popular search engines too, but this is usually secondary. When we are talking about SEO, we are often referring to optimization for Google rankings, unless specified otherwise.
What Google Wants
Google’s goal is to make sure they are providing the best search results for their users. When you go to Google and type in: “designer hand bags” you want to see the best pages about designer hand bags. If you got a lot of listings for “garbage bags”, you’d be pretty dissatisfied and you wouldn’t use Google anymore. With over 255 million websites on the internet today, Google really has their work cut out for them. They need to scour all those pages and determine which deserve the highest rank for a given keyword or phrase. Google’s ranking algorithm is constantly being refined and updated so they can continue being the number one search engine. Some of their ranking methods are public knowledge. According to Google, we know that content is the most important factor in page rank. This may seem obvious, but if you create a website about designer hand bags, it is not going to rank very well in a search for “auto repair.” It should, however, turn up somewhere in the search results when a query is conducted for designer hand bags. We also know that keyword selection is vital. Again, if you create a website about designer hand bags and you want people to find it when searching for that term specifically, you should not be referring to them on your site as “fashionable shoulder purses”. There are other factors that Google shares with the public regarding their search algorithm, however, there are a lot of aspects that are closely guarded secrets. If SEO Consultants and webmasters knew all the tricks, they would try and cheat the system. Google has to keep some information private in order to keep page rank fair and accurate.
What Website Owners and SEO Consultants Want
They want traffic to their websites that will convert to a sale. Those who practice SEO use a variety of strategies to get better placement in the SERPs. Credible SEO practitioners start with the basics by researching site competition and keywords, and writing good content. They also use analytical tools to track page placement progress (as well as other metrics). Since SERP placement is an organic process that ebbs and flows (if you are ranked number one on Google it doesn’t mean your site is going to stay there) it can take many months to see results and to determine which techniques are working. There is a lot of hypothesizing, trial and error, and experimenting involved. Fortunately, most SEO consultants are good about sharing their tactics and results with the SEO community. As long as search engines are constantly tweaking their ranking methods there will be a need for sites, like this one, that provide knowledge and helpful advice to webmasters and business owners.