What is SEO
A Practical Guide To Search Engine Optimization
Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is an important weapon in the modern business owner’s arsenal. Importantly, it is a discipline prone to constant change as search engines strive to deliver the best, most authoritative and relevant content to their users.
Understanding the evolution of SEO is important, as is an appreciation of its roots. Without knowing where search engine optimization started, and where it’s likely to go, it is difficult to achieve consistent results.
What is SEO?
In a nutshell, SEO is the creation of content that facilitates its inclusion in a search engine’s index in such a way that it can be easily retrieved in response to a specific query.
The study of SEO began in the late 1990’s as it became clear that in order to deliver results to search engine users a link had to be made between the content on offer and the queries that they were making.
Search engines would visit a web page, and then create an indexed representation of the content in such a way that when a search user wanted it, the engine could deliver it, alongside other relevant results.
Clearly, if more than one result was going to be returned, some kind of ranking had to be established to deliver the best results first. As a direct consequence, those pages that were returned higher in the list would usually get more visitors.
SEO was born out of the desire for webmasters to have their content ranked above others. The first way that emerged was ‘keyword stuffing’ in which the ratio of important keywords to regular content was increased in an attempt to fool the search engine into believing the content to be more relevant than other pages in the index.
These keywords (and the associated keyword density) were the very first example of on-page search engine optimization. Search engines were quick to react to so-called ‘black hat’ techniques designed to boost rankings by artificially inflating keyword presence and density.
However, there are still a number of important on-page factors to consider as part of the SEO strategy:
– titles & headings
– image tags
– URL naming conventions
The title tag is used by the browser as the de facto title for the page, and is indexed by search engines, and is therefore a good place to put precise, relevant, and useful keywords.
Likewise, headings split up the content and make it easier to digest, but also provide an important place to include keywords, as do image tags.
Finally, it is important that the URL conventions include keyword rich folder and page names. This is why many WordPress plug-ins for SEO use the tags and categories to create indexable links to the content.
They are also flexible enough to be controlled by a database, so that if the hierarchy changes to reflect new keywords, so can the URLs.
These are the main on-page factors affecting ranking, but there are also some other factors to include in a search engine optimization strategy.
As keywords became less reliable, thanks to keyword stuffing among other things, search engines began to look at other factors to help rank content. A few examples are:
– inbound links
– social aggregation
– directory inclusion
Search engines use these factors to help determine the authority of the information source. Sites that have been around a long time, are pointed to by other indexed pages with high authority, and have a history of being shared on social sites will rank more highly than those that have not.
To leverage this understanding of the mechanics of SEO, it is important to understand what all the effort is for.
What is SEO For?
Search engine optimization is fairly simple on the face of it – good content, a bit of social sharing, creating a network of related and interlinked content ought to do it – but getting it right requires having a target.
It’s about getting the right content in front of the right people. Sites that sell need to make sure that their SEO is targeting people who want to buy. Sites that exist to inform, amuse, and get people to spread the word (branding) need to make sure that their SEO efforts reflect that.
What is SEO’s Future?
As machines and their programmers get smarter, so will their ability to sift through data improve. Rather than returning all search results for a given query, they will effectively be able to apply semantic reasoning, draw data from multiple sources, and produce a list of results that are definitively authoritative.
Arguably, Google isn’t far off that today. After all, it uses semantic reasoning to take apart the query, match it with content, and then validate the content’s relevance while at the same time examining off page factors to confirm authority.
However, Google still makes mistakes. The system can still be gamed, thereby burying valid and useful content under a mountain of copycat material and almost valueless ‘spun’ material.
Legitimate SEO requires an appreciation of what the customers find useful and valuable, as well as an understanding of how search engines can easily find, and present that material.
Embracing these aspects of search engine optimization ought to bring traffic, conversions to sales, and above all, happy customers for both search engines and businesses.