This is part 1 of a mini series of posts designed to introduce newcomers to the world of SEO. Chances are you’ve heard of SEO but may not be familiar with how it works. In this post I will outline the basic definition of SEO and give you an overview of how it works and why it’s important. In future posts I will further expand on and go into more detail about the specifics of each discussion point.
What is SEO?
SEO is an abbreviation for Search Engine Optimization. It is a process that affects the position of your website in a search engine. SEO plays a big role in helping you rank your site for specific terms that people type into Google. SEO extends beyond Google and also affects how you rank in less popular search engines (Bing, AOL, Yahoo etc…) but because Google is the biggest search engine it is generally the focal point of SEO.
One of the most common questions I get asked is “how do I get my website on the first page of Google?” The short answer is you have to optimize it for search engines and build links (more on this later). It is not enough that your website looks nice or that you have an amazing product. These are important too, but they alone are not what determines your ranking.
Ok, so how does SEO work?
In order to optimize a website to rank well in a search engine you have to understand what a search engine looks for when deciding where your site ends up within the results of any given search. It is important to note that every search engine has slightly different ways of determining your rank; however there are certain best practices that essentially apply to all search engines. I will focus most of my points around Google as it has roughly 85% of the market share and it is the most beneficial search engine in providing traffic to your website.
One way to look at a search engine is to think of it like a machine. This machine has certain programmed parameters (commonly referred to as algorithms) that determine the quality of your website. Think of it these parameters like a check list. The more things you have on the check list the better you rank.
SEO is always changing and search engines do not reveal their exact formulas for ranking websites, that being said, certain constants remain and from these constants the SEO community has derived a list of best practices. Keeping up with the different changes is key to having long term success. Because SEO has so many moving parts many find that hiring an expert is the best way to go. All though this can sometimes be costly it can save you from headaches and potential disasters in the long run.
There are two different forms of SEO that need to be distinguished, on-page, and off-page SEO. On-page refers to things you have direct control over such as the content and off page refers to factors outside of the website such as link building. I will dive into more detail about specifics of on-page and off-page in later posts but for now I just want to stress that link building is extremely important. In fact, it is as important as gasoline to a car, without it you’re not going to get very far.
What is link building?
For the sake of simplicity you can think of links like votes. If site A has a link to site B then site B has 1 vote but unlike votes not all links are made equal. Some links are a lot more powerful than others. If an authoritative site that’s been around for a long time posts a link to your site it could be worth as many as 10 “votes” or even 100 “votes”. To further this analogy you can think of each vote as having a certain amount of points. The site with the most points from it’s total votes (links) is likely to also be the one with the highest search engine ranking.
This is a very simplified version of how links work and there are many more factors that are outside the scope of this article. Do not rush into link building as this is the most important part of any successful SEO campaign and if done incorrectly it can also be the most damaging.
Why is SEO important?
With search engines being the most popular way to use the internet it is critical to understand how they work and how to take advantage of what they offer. One good ranking in a search engine like Google could mean millions of dollars of revenue each year. Even a small presence can make an impactful difference. Although SEO is a long term investment the benefits can be tremendous. Having an SEO strategy is vital to any business looking to grow and expand.
A word of caution…
When first starting out with SEO it’s important to not rush and do as much research as possible. A poorly implemented SEO strategy can have devastating effects and in some cases can penalize your website beyond repair. If you do decide to hire someone make sure they know what they are doing and that they have some credentials. Today there are thousands of people offering “SEO” services but all too often these services are more harmful than helpful and will leave you with a lighter wallet and little to show for it.
What Is SEO & How Does It Work? (Part 1)
How You Build Your Website Matters (Part 2)
On-Page SEO Factors & Best Practices (Part 3)
Search Engine Algorithms (Part 4)
Link Building Explained – Off Page SEO (Part 5)