How Does SEO Work? (Search Engine Optimization)
In this article, we want to return to the roots and explain the basics of SEO. Currently, there’s a lot of activity in the online marketing world regarding Google and the changes planned for the way we do search. This does not come as a surprise to the industry as search technology and the algorithm used continue to advance, however, one needs to understand how SEO worked in the past and how it’s working now, to determine and grasp how it should work in the future.
To understand how SEO works, one needs to first learn how a Google Search Query is executed. The below image is directly taken from the Google.com corporate site.
As you can see, everything goes through the Google servers as Google finds the most relevant indexed content based on the search term (query) and then displays it to the user. Here’s the first step;
1) How do you get Google to index your site?
This is very simple. Regardless of the type of site (html, flash, CMS or PHP), you want Google to index your pages because that’s the only way you can be visible for a search query on Google. The best way to do this is submitting a sitemap to Google through Google Webmaster Central. http://www.google.com/webmasters/ You can read a detailed article about “How to Create a Sitemap” here.
2) Page Title and Meta Description
”Page Title” being the most important factor, these 2 elements used to be the backbone of SEO in the late 90s, and they still have a lot of weight on the Google Algorithm. You can see the title of a page on top of a browser (IE or Firefox) as seen in the image below.
The title on this page is “Internet Marketing Articles and Resources”. It defines what the contents of the page are about. Pay extra attention to the fact that the title does not begin with our company name “Optimum7”. A lot of websites and companies make this mistake of placing their names at the beginning of a page title on every single page on their sites. This is incorrect. The page title should begin with what that specific page is about. (The term or keyword you are targeting)
In the late 90s and early 2000s, if you only changed and optimized these elements on a website, it used to be enough. That’s not the case anymore, here’s the next most important factor.
3) Inbound Links (Backlinks)
These are “text links” from one website to another. Let’s assume that you have a really cool website about “NASCAR” and it’s about “NASCAR Events in Florida”. I happen to be a NASCAR fan and I want to link to your site from my site. There are a couple of ways I could do this;
a. “Click here for NASCAR Events in Florida.”
As you can see, this would be an “inbound link” to your site and an “outbound link” from my site. However, pay attention to the hyperlinked text (anchor text); it is “Click here”. However, your site is not about “Click Here”, it is about “NASCAR Events in Florida”. Therefore this would not be a quality backlink to your site.
b. “Click here for NASCAR Events in Florida.”
This example is the correct way for a backlink because the hyperlinked text “anchor text” is exactly what your website is about. So, this is a very “relevant” and “high quality” link.
Once Google attempts to index all the pages in your site, it looks at these elements for relevance;
- Title of Page
- Meta Description
- Number of Quality Inbound Links
- Quality of Websites Linking to you
- Relevancy of Inbound Links
While there are many more factors in Google algorithm, which define how SEO works, the above are considered to be the most important basic factors. However, things are changing in the Google world. We will speak about these changes in the upcoming articles.
Update to “How Does SEO Work” on August 4th 2011
What is SEO?
No doubt you have, in one way or another, been informed that SEO is essential for improving website visibility, increasing your traffic and sales online.. SEO is short for Search Engine Optimization, which is the on-going process of improving the visibility and ranking of a website or web page in the organic search engine results presented in Google and the other major search engines. (Try our new SEO Pricing Tool)
SEO is not a service or process that can produce significant results in a few days, or even a few months, like web design or software programming. A complex algorithm determines how search engines list the results for any given search term or phrase. Though the exact algorithm is a very well guarded secret, many of the most important aspects and components of this algorithm are known ; these are the components SEO focuses on. Because of the complexity of Google,Yahoo, or Bing algorithms, and also because of the endless sea of websites and web content on the internet, SEO is a long term effort. How long the process takes to reach consistent visibility in search results is determined by the methods, strategies, priorities and ongoing efforts made in SEO. While it is a long term, ongoing effort, the benefits are huge providing visibility at the exact moment in time that the online searcher is actually looking for you.
The following provides an outline and explanation of the basic components and strategies essential in successful SEO.
From the outset, you must understand that SEO is somewhat of a moving target because search engine algorithms changes with varying degrees of frequency and significance.
Indexing and Site Maps
Google is the largest system of indexed content ever developed. To be included in the index, Google has to first know about and catalog your website, blog or other web pages. Designing and publishing a website does not mean it will automatically pop up on Google. Google has to index your site in order for it to be crawled and ranked in search results. It’s like adding a new song to your music library so it’s a permanent component; or adding a business to the yellow pages. In order for your website to be found in a search, it has to be included in the “listings.”
The simplest way to have Google index your site is by manually submitting a site map to Google Webmaster Central. It will also instruct you in detail how to create a site map. The site map provides Google with the structure and organization of the content so it can properly categorize the component web pages. However, in order for Google to crawl and index your website faster, you should have SEO content already in place. SEO content includes the various codes, tags, descriptions and keywords that Google is looking for. This results in faster indexing of your pages, improving rankings. The following are the conditions you have control over to enhance this process.
- Ensure your website is crawl-able, with regular server response, and content that crawlers understand.
- Submit your website and web page URLs to Google Webmaster Central. This is not imperative for Google to index a website, but it quickens the indexing process.
- Verify your account with a Google Webmaster account. Verification is different from submitting your website.
Again, none of the above will guarantee overnight indexing by Google, but it will definitely help to decrease the time it takes. According to Google, websites can take anywhere from a couple days to a month to be searchable on Google, but more often than not, websites show up in search within a week.
The Elements of On-Site SEO
The consistent inclusion of meta tags and page titles of web pages used to have a huge impact on search results, and were considered the mainstay of SEO about 10 years ago. These SEO components are still important – but algorithms change to adapt to a constantly evolving internet. Meta tags, page titles, and search friendly URLs are a major part of on-site SEO. On-site SEO refers to optimizing the website from within, using the aforementioned components as well as content, targeted words that are written strategically plus other elements. Off-site SEO refers to the efforts made outside of the website, which will be discussed a little later.
- Page Titles
Page titles are found at the very top of a browser (in IE or Firefox), and depending upon what version or search browser, they can also be read in the window label or tab of an open web page. Another way to find out the title of a web page is to save it to favorites. Pages are saved according to their page titles. It is important to title all web pages consistently, using key terms that you want users to find your site with, and should match the key terms found in your written website content as well. A mistake often made by business websites is to put their business name, logo or other material on these page titles. However, that will not help users find your site. For example, if a costume rental business by the name of “Monster Deals” has a page with female witch costumes, and would like to be found in a search by a similar search phrase, then the page title should be something close to “Women’s Witch Costumes.” Think of these terms according to how you would search for them – not according to what sounds or looks best.
- Meta Tags and Meta Descriptions
Meta tags are done in the html code side of the website at the head of the page, although its easier and generally done with a Content Management System (CMS). The CMS you use is also important to SEO, (discussed below). Meta tags alert the search engine as to which terms on that particular web page are the most important. However, those terms must be identical to terms placed strategically throughout the text content. Meta tags for chosen keywords are only effective if they are reinforced by also being within the web page content. Google seeks relevance in ranking your pages and this is one of the basic methods of illustrating relevance.Conversely, should you load up your web page with your chosen targeted phrases or keywords, it will affect your search results negatively. Search engines have long been able to recognize “keyword stuffing,” and give those sites lower rankings in search results. Think of it this way: write your content for the reader or user, and use the meta tags and meta descriptions for the search engines.Meta descriptions are usually about 50 words or less, serving to reinforce the targeted terms of your content. Some search engines also use this text to describe your web page in a search result. However, some, including Google, generate their own descriptions. Nonetheless, for optimizing your search results, using targeted words or phrases in your content, when combined with both meta tags and meta descriptions, are the best way to optimize your web pages.
- Valuable, Worthwhile Content
Filling up your pages with fluff and self-promotional clichés may be the stuff of TV commercials and print advertisement but is not useful for search engine or human consumption. If your website content is unoriginal, auto-generated, “spun” (taking the same article and having it rewritten to basically say the same things with a few minor changes) or otherwise devoid of real value – not only does this affect bounce rates of traffic and visitors to your site, but it will not do well in search results either. Useful, original, well-written content is becoming more and more valuable as a component of a web page and websites as a whole.
There are several reasons for this.
- Original content, with chosen keywords used naturally and modestly, is given higher value in search results. As mentioned before, search engines give low rankings to sites that try to cheat with the overuse of keywords.
- Worthwhile, updated and regularly added content is also another SEO strategy. Websites that regularly update and add good content to their sites will rank higher in search results than old, stale content that has not been revisited or updated by the writer.
- The more informational, useful, well-written and otherwise valuable content a website has, the more opportunities to receive inbound links from other sites, which is an extremely important SEO factor.
- The more content a website has, the more opportunity for deep links – which are widely accepted as the most important factor in SEO. Deep links are backlinks that link to internal sections, subsections of your website. It serves to prove to Google et al that specific and targeted information has been found, read and linked to by another site that finds this content valuable.
If you own a business, or are monetizing a blog, then obviously you have expert information about a particular topic or subject. The more valuable content you provide your visitors or readers, the better it is for your website. Essentially, you must put your audience ahead of conversion rates, sales, or other typical business priorities. Your sales and other business goals must result from offering expertise, valuable information and insight; not from “salesy” kinds of content. This really works both for the search engines and your targeted audience.
- Content Management Systems
The CMS you use to create and upload content definitely matters to SEO. Aspects to look out for include clean, search engine friendly URLs, ease of content creation and caching, meta data forms, and whether the CMS is optimized for your particular kind of website. For example, WordPress is a great SEO friendly CMS, but it is not ideal for ecommerce sites, or sites that sell a lot of products. However, an SEO-friendly CMS such as Magento is. ModX is also very highly rated as a good CMS for SEO.
Off-Site SEO and how it Works
The biggest difference between on-site SEO and off-site SEO is that the former can be completely controlled by the webmaster and/or content manager of a website and the latter cannot be totally controlled. However, there are well defined strategies and techniques in Offsite SEO that can make a big difference and maximizes the opportunity for online success. Most importantly, the success of any offsite technique or process is driven by the quality of the content, whether it be an article, press release blog post, video etc.
- Two-way Links and Link Exchange
One of the more important factors that search engines use to determine the ranking of a website in search results is how many inbound links a website has. This is why link exchanges exist. When websites are still new, they can go to online link exchange marketplaces, where webmasters can “trade” inbound links, providing an equal advantage for each site. Link exchanges – or two-way links- do not carry the kind of value a one-way inbound link (backlink) does. However, every new website has to start somewhere, and some two-way links are better than no links at all.
- One-way Inbound Links from High Quality Sites
It takes time to build visibility with inbound links. Just like webmasters can find link exchanges, they can also find one-way inbound links from various directories and such. But, not just any inbound link will significantly boost ranking in search results. Not all inbound links are created equal. Inbound links to your homepage, landing page, or other major website page that are linked from high quality, high ranking websites with very heavy traffic provide the most value and the more of these you can earn, the greater affect it will have on your rankings, visibility and traffic. When a website is first published, still fairly new, or simply has less visibility than is desired, this kind of inbound link is difficult to get. Websites that have established audiences, great Google ranking, and show up within the first 10 listings of Google,do not risk their reputation and search engine rankings to link to brand new, unknown websites. As your site builds an online presence, the inbound links will get a bit easier.When you have valuable, informative content, it is much more likely you will receive inbound links from sites who also find that information to be of value.
- Deep Links
Deep links are one-way inbound links from websites with decent quality, with one small but extremely important difference. Deep links are linked to an inner content page within your website, rather than the homepage, landing page, or other front page of a website, which is much more common. Deep links are thus named, because they link “deeply” into a website.Think of a deep link as a broadcasted letter of recommendation by another webmaster, for another website. This recommendation works in a few ways. It’s not only a recommendation to that webmaster’s own audience, but to the search engines as well, behind the scene. It has a huge impact on SEO and search engine rankings of a website, because another webmaster has taken the time to point to a piece of content inside a website, use it as a tool for providing his own audience with something valuable, and in general signaled that the website content being linked to is a worthwhile place to go online. Deep links cannot really be falsified or faked. No one wants to recommend something worthless to their established audience or customers. Deep links are only going to occur when and if a content manager, website author or webmaster truly believes in the value of the content. This is why deep inbound links are so valuable in SEO.If a site doesn’t have great content that is relevant and consistently updated, chances are it will not receive deep links from respected websites. Content is extremely important in SEO, both in the short and long run.
Is There A Way to Increase or Hasten SEO Results?
Here, we have reviewed several of the backbone elements of SEO. Doing them yourself takes a great deal of time with a huge learning curve. It requires a consistent, ongoing, never-ending effort along with acquired techniques and tricks-of-the-trade that can only come from actually doing SEO long enough to become an expert.
Getting results in the fastest and most efficient way is where we generally come in. We have mastered all of these backbone elements; we know where and how to get valuable inbound links and deep links.
Our SEO Services consistently result in increased visibility, traffic, conversions rates. Contact us today to get started and be on your way to improved website results and online success.