Does Search Engine Optimization (SEO) seem complicated and mysterious? Like sending out smoke signals and hoping they get seen? In a recent article, Jill Whalen explained in simple terms how search engines work and how to get their attention.
Jill Whalen—CEO of High Rankings, a Boston SEO Consulting Agency—has been performing SEO services since 1995. Jill is also the host of the High Rankings Advisor newsletter and the High Rankings SEO forum.
I hear from many people who want to be told exactly what they need to do to get high rankings and bring more targeted search engine traffic to their websites. I wish I could provide them with a straight answer, but every site has its own needs when it comes to SEO. Which means there’s no exact rule that will work each and every time for any website.
One thing, however, that can help you figure out how to SEO your site is to learn the whys behind the specific techniques you always hear about. But to understand the whys, you first need to get the gist of how search engines work. Sounds scary, I know, but I’m going to make it as simple and painless as possible — so stick with me!
In very simplistic terms, there are 2 main components to the search engines: the crawler and the algorithm.
The crawler, which is sometimes referred to as a spider, a robot, or simply a bot, is what goes out on the web and fetches all the pages of information that it can get its virtual spidey legs on.
The algorithm (or algo) is basically the ranking formula that each search engine uses to determine the relevancy of any page that the crawler finds.
The search engines use this formula to decide — out of the pages that were previously fetched — which pages they should show for which keyword phrases that any searcher might type into the search box. Those keyword phrases are also sometimes referred to as a person’s “search query.”
While the algo is a formula, it’s so complicated that it’s not something you can simply reverse-engineer. The engines look at hundreds of factors and weigh them all differently. This is why you’ll find that automated SEO software doesn’t work well to increase your rankings.
Here’s an interesting point — those hundreds of factors that go into the relevancy algorithm boil down to two major things:
What you say about yourself, and what others say about you.
Really. It’s as simple (and as hard) as that!
“What you say about yourself” means the information you provide on your website, or the words that you write on your pages. The Internet is mostly a word-based medium. Every single web page has its own story to tell. Each page should be relevant to one or more search keywords or phrases. And each page’s story helps the search engines understand which search queries the page is relevant to.
So now let’s look at what others say about you. This aspect of how the search engines determine relevancy is known as the “off-page” criteria, and it’s typically done through links.
That is, another site owner likes what you say or offer on your site, and wants to tell their own site visitors about it. The way they do this is by linking to your site — or a specific page of your site. Search engines take these links into account because what others say about you provides an additional layer of trust beyond what you say about yourself.
Still with me?
These two major factors — how search engines work and what they’re looking for — help clarify what you need to do SEO-wise to keep them happy.
First, you need to steer clear of any technical issues that can impede the crawler from finding, reading and indexing the pages of your website. The easier you make it for them to do their job, the better chance your pages will have of showing up for relevant searches.
Which means you need to start on the SEO of your website from the very beginning. You’re going to need lots of up-front research on keywords and other elements. You’ll also need to make sure your content is written to appeal to both your users and to the search engines. While all of this *can* be done later, you’ll save yourself tons of time if you plan your SEO before you ever start developing your website.
Then, once you’ve got a crawler-friendly website, you’ll need to create pages that conform to the search engines’ algorithms by making sure they are not only relevant to what people are looking for, but interesting and unique enough for others to want to link to them. You’ve also got to spend time getting the word out about your website, because even the greatest content in the world won’t market itself!
I hope I’ve simplified the search engine process and SEO enough that you understand why you need to use the specific tactics that are involved. If you always keep the two major factors that search engines are looking for in mind — what you say about yourself and what others say about you — you’ll always be able to make the right decisions for your website.
It’s those two factors that drive the SEO process and fulfill its goal of helping your target audience find your website when they’re seeking out exactly what you offer.
Copyright © 2010 Jill Whalen, reprinted with permission.