Search Engine Optimization - What is it?

Search engine optimization (or SEO), is “the practice of designing web pages so that they rank as high as possible in the organic (not paid) search results from search engines” . Well, that's the simple answer, there's obviously more going on behind the search engine optimization “green curtain”.

Keyword Phrases

The first step in search engine optimization is that we have to determine what search phrases a user is going to use in order to find companies like yours. Quite often I hear a business owner say “when I enter our company name in Google , it comes up on page 1”. And that's good! It should. But unless your company is as well known as Barnes and Noble, Apple, or Mercedes Benz, how is a user that doesn't know you find you? That's where we have to figure out what search terms a user might enter, we call these “keyword phrases”. Of course it helps to know just how search engines are used by people, but that my friend is the topic of another article . So let's say we have a professional lawn care service in Fort Collins, we might want to make sure that our site appeared in the search results when  a user enters “Fort Collins Lawn Care”, or maybe even “Fort Collins Landscaping”. This will take a bit of research to find out all of the different search terms that might be used, and which ones are the most popular, and unfortunately we can't optimize for all of them.

Content is King

So now that we have a couple of keyword phrases we have to make sure that the search engines understand that our site is an important resource for those keyword phrases. Now the work begins, because search engines don't employ people that visit every website and try to determine what that website is all about and then try to rank it against similar sites. They use a computer program (or algorithm) that relies on different factors to help rank a site. So we might have a great big picture on our home page of a well-maintained lawn, but search engines can't really “see” photographs (well not directly anyway, but there are other ways of letting them know about a picture). So one of the factors that they use is the page content. So we need to make sure that we use the words “Fort Collins Lawn Care” on our home page so that when a search engine “reads” our content they understand a little more of what our site is all about. And we should probably use those words more than once, because the search engines will use frequency of terms to get a better idea of what a page is about. Article content however, is just one factor, it is believed that Google alone has over 200 factors that are used to determine search engine results.

Backlinking

The previous example of article content is known as an “on-page factor”. This means that search engines are using something in your website pages directly to determine search results. There are also “off-page factors”; one of these is called backlinks, which is another way of saying other websites that link to your site. Currently it is believed that Google places as much as 50% importance on backlinks when it displays search results. To the search engines, quality of links is more important than quantity of links, and this is where it tends to get a little complicated. But for simplicity sake, let's say that the Coloradoan runs an article about lawn care practices and in the article they provide a link to our fictitious Fort Collins lawn care service. The search engines know what kind of site that the Coloradoan is and that the article is about lawn care so they will tend to look very favorably at our site because of the “quality” of that link, and that will help us get ranked better in the search results.

Words of Warning

Before we wrap this up I want to bring a couple of things to your attention. The first is in regard to “keyword stuffing”, I occasionally see websites that try to “game” the search engines, by putting in their keywords over and over again. The search engines are wise to this. While it may be working right now, the search engines are constantly updating their algorithms to catch things like this and if you practice this, you will eventually be penalized for it. The second is in regard to “link farms”, these are sites that allow you to post your own link for free (along with about 100,000 other websites). The search engines are wising up to these very fast as well.

In short the rule of thumb is - if it's good for your visitors, then it's probably good for the search engines. But if it's only good for the search engines, then your site will probably suffer in the long run. Don't try to “game” the search engines, you can get banned altogether, and it can take months to convince them that you will abide by the rules and “play nicely" so that they lift the ban on your site and include you back in the search results.

Tools and Tips

By the way here are a couple of tips that will help you in seeing what the search engines know about your site. To see how many pages of your site that a search engine has indexed, just go to the search bar and type “site:www.yourdomain.com”. If you don't see any results contact us immediately, as you either have a brand new site (this is okay as long as your site is only a couple of weeks old), a site that can't be indexed for some reason, or a site that has been banned by the search engines (you don't want this). The other is if you are interested in finding what other sites link to yours, type “link:www.yourdomaincom”. This will list all of the pages that link to your site that the search engines think are important, it probably won't list all of them.

Need Help?

Now that you understand a little more about search engine optimization, contact me so that I can help your site get more search engine traffic. And if you do contract with a firm to perform search engine optimization on your website, make sure that they adhere to this code of ethics .