SEO Questions Series, Part One: What is SEO?

According to Wikipedia SEO, or search engine optimization is:

the process of improving the visibility of a website or a web page in search engines via the “natural” or un-paid (“organic” or “algorithmic”) search results.

So how is online visibility improved? It requires an understanding of how search engines work without having access to the search engines’ secret algorithms that determine the results, and an understanding of the users that are searching.

Starting with understanding how search engines work; out of the over 200 factors that determine your site’s ranking on Google, they can mostly be categorized into four main buckets:

  1. Relevance
  2. Importance
  3. Personalization
  4. Localization

Depending on the nature of your site these factors may take on differing levels of importance however the order of the factors are generally in order of importance.

Relevance is the foundation of ranking. Your site needs content that is focused on the keywords that you want to rank for. If your site isn’t using the keywords in the title tags, body copy, anchor text and alt attributes, your site will not be associated with the desired keyword.

Importance is the vote of confidence from your ‘peers’. Search engines have millions of ‘relevant’ content associated with keywords, yet they still need to order the results by importance. Importance is influenced by the age of the site, the quality and diversity of your backlinks, and how much the content is shared socially. The best kind of links you can get are links in the body copy of another site with surrounding content that is relevant to your site content.

Personalization is based on users’ search history. Google’s algorithm is aware of your search history and will adjust it’s results based on past searches. This is a very tricky factor, as it’s pretty much impossible to know how you rank in personalized results, because the results may be unique to each user based on their search history.

Localization is incredibly important to small business. For those businesses that rely on local customers, localization can make or break your business. Your site needs to be associated with a physical address from a search perspective. Also, many other sites should include your physical address as Google will see other listings of that address associated with your company name as votes of confidence that your address is correct.

With the basic understanding of how search engines rank sites, it is imperative to know how users are finding your site. If your website is ranking for a keyword that nobody searches for such as “appendix transplant” it doesn’t matter. The purpose of the SEO process is to drive high quality traffic to your site that will result in the desired engagement.

Understanding the vocabulary of your users and the intent implied by the words used should drive your keyword strategy. Establishing your keyword strategy is the backbone of any legitimate SEO campaign, which is the subject of the next post in this series.

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