Join David Booth for an in-depth discussion in this video What is search engine optimization (SEO)?, part of SEO Foundations.
- 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. 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 the 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 webpages they have 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 is stuffed into a very big, very complex, and very proprietary index. At the end of the day, and in a fraction of a second, the search engine is then able to use complex algorithms to rank and display all of those webpages 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 search query, 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 very relevant, too. And it knows that a website promoting things like pet food or dog toys might also be relevant to the search query, but perhaps to a lesser extent. 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 webpage or a domain is by evaluating what other websites link to you, and this can be measured through not only links out there that are pointing to your website, but also, and this is especially important if you're a local business or selling a product, reviews and what people are saying about you on the internet, a category collectively referred to as sentiment.
You can think of links as a vote on the internet. A webpage linking to your website is almost like saying, hey, I trust your content enough that I'm willing to reference your page and possibly even send my 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 they can find on all the pages of the internet. But it's important to know right from the start that this is not just a popularity contest where you try to accumulate the most votes or links on the internet.
Search engines have safeguards in place to prevent this kind of abuse, and instead place an emphasis on the quality and relevance 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 non-profit or a government agency involved in your field of work. If you were the owner of that California hotel, you may have links from travel review sites, local chambers of commerce, or things like local travel bureaus.
All that is pretty relevant. 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 $5 is not going to be valued nearly as much. In fact, that could get your site tossed from the results pages altogether. From the search engine's 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.
- What is SEO?
- Reading search engine result pages
- Researching keywords
- Optimizing pages for keywords
- Optimizing code and site structure
- Optimizing nontext components of a webpage
- Analyzing content quality
- Defining your audience, topics, angle, and style
- Building links to your content
- Promoting your content via social media
- Measuring SEO effectiveness
- Optimizing ecommerce sites for search
- Leveraging local SEO
- Configuring sites for mobile