SEO is one of those terms you hear getting thrown around all the time when dealing with web design, development, and marketing, but what does it actually mean? This blog post is the first part in an ongoing series that will explain what SEO is, why it is important, and introduce you to the basic techniques and practices that make up the bulk of SEO work. This introductory article in particular is intended as a very broad and basic overview of search engine optimization for folks with little or no expertise or understanding of SEO, but later in the series I’ll be covering some more technical SEO topics.
What is SEO?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and refers to a broad set of techniques and practices that are designed to improve the visibility of a website in search engine results. SEO practices take advantage of the way search engines like Google and Yahoo index websites and rank search results in order to improve the ranking of a particular website in search results relative to other similar sites.
This encompasses everything from general practices like steady new content, good code that is easy for search engine crawlers to read and strategic targeting of various important keywords related to the website’s topic to more nuanced technical applications such as URL canonization and 301 redirects. There is also a distinction between on-page (or on-site) SEO and off-page SEO – the former concerns techniques to improve your website itself and the latter deals with off-site techniques to increase visibility such as backlinking and competitive analysis. We’ll get more into the specifics later in the series.
Why is Good SEO Practice Important?
This one is a bit of a no-brainer: good SEO means you will reach more people, which is the primary goal of just about every website out there, whether it is a business, non-profit, personal blog or anything else. Strong SEO means that you are maximizing your organic traffic – people who arrive at your website “naturally”, e.g. arriving via search engines or external links rather than getting there via advertising, email newsletter, or other web marketing techniques. The better your SEO practices are, the higher your ranking in search engine results will be, and consequently you will receive a lot more organic traffic than you would otherwise.
How Do Search Engines Work?
Major search engines like Google have a complex (and sometimes esoteric) methodology for how they find, index, and rank websites on the internet to use in returning search results. Search engines use automated bots known as spiders that traverse the web indexing websites and their content in a process known as crawling. Crawling never ends – once a spider has indexed the current version of your website it will note its existence and return again later. The frequency with which a particular website gets crawled is dependent on a lot of factors like page rank, external links, and the frequency at which the website publishes new content.
Spiders build an index of keywords and phrases that is used to rapidly execute search queries. However things are far from that simple – there are innumerable other factors that determine how a website is ranked in search engine results besides pure keywords. Google’s PageRank is a good example – a value assigned to each website Google crawls based on a complex algorithm that takes into account all sorts of things like external links, the rate at which the site outputs new content, the length of time the site has been around, and many others. Google makes changes and improvements to its search and pagerank algorithms hundreds of times a year!
Good SEO principles and practices attempt to take advantage of this system by providing content, metadata, and keywords in a way that maximizes the benefits of these search and ranking algorithms for your website.
You should now have a pretty good understanding of the concept of search engine optimization and why it is important to website owners, and a solid foundation for learning some of the specific practices and techniques encompassed by the SEO umbrella. Later articles in this series will specifically address good and bad SEO practices and provide a more detailed glimpse at some of the most important do’s and don’ts in the realm of search engine optimization.