The term SEO is a general technical term that is thrown around quite a bit. The letters stand for Search Engine Optimization. The term is often used in reference to specific practices, but what Search Engine Optimization is in reality is a process. It has many parts and often they are intertwined. In Part I of this series we covered preparing your SEO foundation by setting up analytics to evaluate your website’s performance on the web and starting the process of getting your site indexed by the major search engines. In this article I will quickly cover the concepts behind search engines and keywords.
First, a little bit about how search engines operate. When a user types something into the entry field of a search engine, the word or phrase that they type in and submit is called a search engine query. Think of it as a request to the search engine. The words or phrases that make up that query then become keywords.
Once the user has entered and submitted the query the search engine must look through literally billions of documents to return results. In doing so it filters results and returns them according to their “relevance” to the search query and ranks them according to “importance”. The goal of SEO is to influence both relevance and importance.
What relevance means to a search engine means more than simply having a page with the words searched for prominently displayed. The search engine engineers have worked hard over the years to produce mathematical formulas so that the search engine will return results that the users will appreciate and enjoy. Many factors influence relevance and we will discuss many of these as we move along.
Importance refers to the perceived value of the result. This usually boils down to popularity – the more popular a web destination is the more valuable the information it contains must be. This is not determined manually - it would be impossible to do this in a timely manner. Instead, the search engine engineers have written mathematical equations to sort through all the data in their index and filter them according to this importance. These formulas take in to account hundreds of factors which are referred to as Search Engine Ranking Factors. The good news is that in order to influence your ranking and results in search engines you will find success by focusing on a dozen or so of these factors. A focused, methodical approach adhering to best practice guidelines published on the web makes the job suddenly manageable.
This is starting to look like it might be a lot of work, it will be. You may ask yourself, “Is this going to be worth the effort?” I can’t really answer that question for you, but I can point out several key points:
- Search is very popular, reaching practically every online American, and billions of people around the world. Currently a majority of purchases begin with a web search.
- Being listed in the first few results is critical to visibility
- Being listed at the top of results not only provides the greatest amount of traffic, but instills trust in consumers as to the worthiness and relative importance of the company/website.
- A lot of offline economic activity is driven by searches on the web.
Once you have decided to do keyword optimization your first step is to find keywords that will work for you and produce the desired results. We will cover the basics of keyword research in Part 3.
If you decide to have a professional handle your SEO for you, you are now equipped with knowledge that will help you understand the concept and process. This will help you make decisions regarding who to hire and how to work with them. One thing I would recommend is having them show you the successful results of previous projects and provide references. Beware anyone trying to sell you a shortcut to make you #1 on Google overnight and such. Remember, good SEO is a process.