Search engine optimization, or SEO, has become a complex but necessary beast over the years. Back in the day, a company who wanted to be found easily was named something like AAA Cleaners or Aardvark Plumbing in order to be listed at the top of their category in the phone book. SEO is actually a lot like that. Businesses still want to be at the top of the listing, but in Google instead of the Yellow Pages.
How Search Engines Work
1. Search engines "crawl" pages using a spider.
2. Then they can build an index of links and keywords to determine the subject matter of the page.
3. Next, they calculate the relevancy of that information and rank the page against others.
4. Finally, the search engines serve the results to your potential visitors.
The Early Years of SEO
At one time a web developer had to submit a site’s URL to have it listed in a search engine. Once submitted, the search engine would then send a “spider” computer to find links to other pages within the site so that the information could be indexed in the engine. Meta tags also gave the spider insight into the site’s topic, but were submitted by the site’s webmaster who could easily provide inaccurate and irrelevant tags that resulted in page rank manipulation.
Over the years the algorithm used to determine page ranking has changed. Search engine submission is not mandatory, crawlers have much wider access than in the past, and meta tags are no longer as valuable. On-page SEO and link context grew in usage and relevance, while the importance of anchor text and domain authority is waning.
Check out this graph from Adam Bunn, SEO Director at Greenlight Digital. Adam has put together a very in-depth representation of SEO evolution that allows us to see how fast it's changing. We can also see that, like any tech-related practices, the latest SEO tactics will probably be obsolete within the next few years.
Why do I need SEO?
The objective of SEO is not simply to increase traffic if there is no point of conversion. It’s easy enough to throw in unrelated keywords that maintain high Google searches or low competition, but your content will not be relevant to the needs of your traffic. The keywords you choose must be accurate and your content enticing. Site with rich content have better chances with Google anyway.
Think of appealing to Google crawlers as Barney Stinson trying to appeal to women at McLaren's Pub in How I Met Your Mother. You can approach the crawler and your potential visitors with audacity and get their attention with irrelevant and sleazy phrases, but in the end substance and heart would have gotten you to the top of the list. The latter are also what make visitors stick.
Once you get the visitors in the door you have to hook them. Remember that episode of The Simpsons, "The Computer Wore Menace Shoes"? Homer finally learns how to use his brand new computer and makes a website, Homer's Web Page. (Just a fair warning, this is a noisy site taken directly from the TV show. I recommend lowering your speakers before clicking). Needless to say, it's awful. When Homer's site isn't receiving visitors, Lisa explains "A web page is supposed to be a personal thing. You've just stolen copyrighted material from everyone else. They could sue you for that! You have to offer people something...a joke, an opinion, an idea". Homer's redesign, Mr. X: All The Muck That's Fit to Rake, subsequently explodes in popularity because it offers interesting content.
Of course, if you want to be valued in your online community, your information should be cited back to your resources. You also want other highly regarded sites to link to you. When you practice good link building, your site's credibility and ranking should increase. Visitors are also more likely to cite you in return and click through multiple pages.
A few tips to get started with SEO:
1. To test the value of your site’s keywords, you can use the Google Adwords Keyword Tool.
2. Make sure your images have text links or keywords attached for spiders to follow. Crawlers cannot scan for text that is a part of an image rather than a part of the site's code.
3. Keep adding content consistently. "Content is king", they say, and a constant flow of fresh content keeps your site up to date and higher in the rankings.
4. Focus on long-tail keywords rather than short-tail keywords. It's easier to take advantage of a search term if it is two or three words.
5. Take advantage of localism if you run a small business. Add your city and surrounding cities or neighborhoods into your optimized search terms to appeal to your nearest customers.
For more information on search engine optimization, check out this extensive, free beginner's guide by SEOMOZ. If you run a Drupal site or are looking to build one, the SEO Tools module is easy to install and helps to make optimization easy.
What else would you like to know about search engine optimization? Have you used SEO successfully? Let us know!
Photo Credit: Pratanti