introduction to search engine optimization

SEO Guide – Part 1 : Introduction to Search Engine Optimization

Part 1 of a five part SEO guide.

What is SEO ?

Search engine optimization is a collective term for the research and actions needed to boost a website page (or other digital property) to appear higher in organic (non paid) search engine results pages (SERP’s). Visits resulting from search queries are the largest source of visitors for many, or most, websites. The other websites coming: via referral from other websites; via social media; via your newsletters; or via paid advertising.

There are Over 50 page-ranking factors that Google use to define the “authority” or “rank” of a domain and it’s pages. This rank then determines at what position a web page appears in the SERP’s for the search term typed. The algorithm of Google is sophisticated and top secret. Some SEO pros run experiments to try and define it a little bit better. The other search engines have their own algorithms also. I keep mentioning Google because their search volume is far greater than any of their rivals. We mustn’t forget the others though, Bing still handles a significant amount of search traffic as do Yahoo, and in the USA there are also AOL, Ask, Baidu, DuckDuckGo and numerous others.

The Components of SEO Work

A simplified overview of SEO is to see it as having three main areas of research and activity :

  • Structural
  • Content
  • Back-Links

I have written this SEO guide as a series of posts. Some of the posts in the series are in the form of a long checklist with each point expanded with some explanation. This brief introduction is Part 1, and the three areas listed above form Parts 2, 3 & 4. The additional area below forms Part 5.

If your business has a geographic location that you would want the public to discover then there is another area of SEO work :

  • Local Search Optimization

Google and the other search engines know where your computer´s IP is located and prioritize local businesses in the SERP´s (Search Engine Results Pages). When searching from mobile devices, again the search engines know your location of your Smartphone via data from the telephone network service provider, and prioritize local search results. Your business can benefit from this. You can register multiple addresses for multi-location businesses and enhance your listing with opening hours and other business information.

SEO is a diverse topic as this SEO guide series outlines, but it is still only an expanded list and each of the items would warrant an article of its own, or even several articles. There could be additional sections added, all highlighted with a color:  for Localization and websites with locations or audiences in different countries;  for E-Commerce and product optimization; and for Optimizing Social Media profiles and video channels and keyword focused post content. Social media has risen in importance as a ranking factor over the lat year with the online popularity of a business also being gauged by social indicators.

There is little point in reaching the top of the search results just to have people stay only a short time on your site, to not understand what you do and how to navigate between the topical sections, and to not fulfill the business necessity of making you money (unless you’re one of the rare organizations that has another motive for a website). Top SEO’s advise all the time to place the experience of the user before SEO goals if that worsening the quality of the page in order to fulfill them. Other important areas that come under a separate banner but also fall under the the focus of SEO work are UX Design (User Experience Design), which focuses on improving the visitor’s experience. Commercial entities often hire specialists that have focused on Conversion Optimization, which is how to increase the ratio of sales conversions per visitor. Perhaps I’m sure that I will add more sections in the future.

Integration with Digital Marketing

Good SEO’s need to be good data analysts. It is necessary to know Google Analytics (or other analytics platforms) very well to cut through the sea of data to the poignant detail. The SEO worker needs to know his/her way around the reports in Google Webmaster Tools, now known as Search Console, where there is further important data on keywords, as well as vital information about error pages and indexing problems. The SEO worker needs to know his/her way around Google Adwords reports in order to gather the valuable data on visitor behavior and niche keyword popularity. The same keyword research used to build a content strategy is also very useful when constructing Google Adwords Campaigns or Bing Ads campaigns, so it makes sense that the same person is carrying out both of these activities, or at least overseeing them.

The majority of digital properties on the internet have their content indexed by the search engines. A central keyword content strategy for a business is not only for the website but is used to coordinate the use of keywords in all digital publications – social media channels and posts, social media comments, video channels, press releases, guest posts and more. There needs to be good communication between the SEO and the writers and community managers of an organization.

Many of the digital marketing platforms integrate directly with your website. Many of the social media channels need verifying so that the search engines recognize that a website and external digital properties are linked and owned by the same business.

Words of Caution

The term SEO is not understood by many business owners with websites. Unfortunately, because of the nature of the work – it happens largely behind the scenes and does not impact the visual page all that much – it is easy for charlatans to claim expertise that they do not have. Not all of these are intent on making a fast buck, many are blissfully unaware of their lack of knowledge and think that a little keyword research and injecting them into the pages is all that is involved. The latter is lazy negligence. Badly done SEO work can cause more harm than good. I advise learning a little about SEO yourself, you will learn quite a bit by reading this series, and by checking that those who claim expertise in SEO know more than just the basics.

There is also what is refereed to as “white hat SEO” and “black hat SEO”. White hat SEO is doing everything by the book, and nothing that will contravene the guidelines of the search engines to webmasters. Here is a link to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, and another to the Google SEO Starter Guide [pdf]. Black hat SEO is the use of practices that go against these guidelines and would have the site penalized if caught. Black hat methods often include the production of numerous low quality websites around topics that attract large numbers of visitors, and then passing authority via hyperlinks to your site that makes you money.

Google and the other search engines will eventually uncover and penalize all forms of underhand tactics for quick growth. If you have a long term business plan then don’t engage in any of these malpractices, and be diligent to make sure that your site is not crossing the guidelines. Google and the others are doing what they can to keep the internet a place to find quality information in a world where commercial entities will go to extraordinary lengths to have you see their material first. High quality informative content will never go out of fashion and that should be your primary goal.