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Plain and simple, Search Engine Optimization is the process of making improvements on and off your website in order to gain more exposure in search engine results. And more exposure in search engine results will ultimately lead to more visitors finding you for the right reasons and going to your website. In order to understand what improvements will affect search engine results, let's take a step back and understand the goal of the search engines themselves. At the heart of it all, search engines are just trying to find and understand all the content out there on the Internet, and then quickly deliver relevant and authoritative results based on any phrase that a user might be searching for.
First, let's talk about relevance. When a user searches for something like California hotels, search engines want to show a list of results that are relevant to the topic of California hotels. Search engines will analyze all of the web pages that they've ever visited and pick out the pages that they believe are the most relevant to California hotels. They determine this by evaluating lots of different factors, including how your content is written and implemented in code, as well as how other websites around the Internet are linking to you.
And all of this stuffed into a very big, very complex, and very proprietary algorithm. At the end of the day, and in a fraction of a second, a search engine is then able to rank and display all of those web pages in order of relevance to that phrase that the user just typed in, California Hotels. This is very important to understand, because search engines make a very clear distinction between content that's about California Hotels versus content relevant for other phrases, like California resorts, or a phrase like beach getaway.
Search engines are able to understand quite a bit about semantic and thematic connections between words and concepts. Take another example: dog crates. A search engine knows that pages selling dog crates are extremely relevant to that search query, but it also knows that websites about pet carriers are also very relevant. It also knows that a website promoting things like pet food and dog toys might also be relevant to that search query, but perhaps less so. The other factor that influences search engine exposure is Authority.
In other words, out there on the largely lawless World Wide Web, where anyone can post anything, is your website a trusted place on the Internet that the search engines would want to show to their users? One very common way that search engines determine the authority of a web page or a domain is by evaluating what other websites think of you, and this can be measured through the links out there that are pointing to your website. You can think of a link as a vote on the Internet. A web page linking to your website is almost like saying, hey, I trust your content enough that I am wiling to reference your page and possibly even send traffic to your site.
It's a vote of trust, and the search engines pick up on this as they scour the web reading, evaluating, and storing all the data that they can find on all the pages of the Internet. But it's important to know right from the start that this not just a popularity contest where you try to accumulate the most votes on the Internet. Search engines have safeguards in place to prevent this kind of abuse, and instead place an emphasis on the quality of a link. For example, a search engine is more likely to trust a link if it comes from a well respected or industry-related site, like an industry leading blog or a nonprofit or government agency that's involved in your field of work.
A link coming from a one month-old site that has nothing to do with you or your industry, right above some text that says "I'll link to anything you want for five dollars" is not going to be valued nearly as much. From the search engines' perspective, some links are more effective than others in casting their vote to your website and determining your site's authority. So you might think of this whole system as a weighted democracy where some votes are worth more than others. Understanding how important both relevance and authority are to a search engine, will help us to both understand and improve these factors, and will ultimately lead to better search engine exposure and more visitors to the pages of our websites.
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