Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is one of the most important things to know about driving more traffic to your website, and has become an integral part of many branding strategies over the past few years. It’s no secret that a website and its brand rely on visibility to succeed, and in order to properly get this visibility, organizations aim for their website or web pages to appear on the first page of the search engine results. There are many different ways to optimize a website/ web page in order to achieve these results, and with billions of web pages vying for the first page spots, it’s not an easy task.
To help you tackle this issue, this SEO guide is intended to provide you with everything you need to know, written in plain English. It’s important to note however that the context of this eBook will be speaking primarily about Google search engines since this is by far the most widely used search engine in the world. While the lessons learnt in this post can be broadly applied to any search engine, it is important for you to know the ins-and-outs of the Google search engine since this is where most of your customers will be conducting their queries.
SEO: Covering the Basics
This chapter will cover all the basics of search engine optimization (SEO) for Google search, since it is by far the most used search engine in the world. This chapter will explore what exactly SEO is and the types of techniques that are applied to website/ web pages to do it effectively. Central to optimizing search engine practices is knowing how pages rank on the search engine results page. This has everything to do with the ranking algorithm that Google uses to determine which pages best suit the search query and are likely to be high quality. The Google search algorithm is just one part of the search engine process, however it is this aspect of the process that determines what web pages show up on the first page of the search engine page results, which are composed of both paid search results and organic search results. By the end of this chapter, you will have a good understanding of SEO basics.
KEY TERMS DISCUSSED: Search Engine Optimization, Ranking Algorithm, Search Engine Results Page, Search Engine Optimization, Organic Search, Paid Search.
When you want to find out some credible and accurate information about a topic, what do you do, and who do you turn to for answers?
Well, you most likely fit into the 75% of internet users that turn to our familiar friend Google as their go-to search engine to get trusted answers. Your search would be part of a whopping 3.5 billion searches that Google had received just that day.
Google is now a household name and provides billions of people with access to quick and accurate results to any and all queries – but how does Google deliver these results and rank the most relevant content?
Statistics show that 75% of Google users will never leave the first page of the search results. Given these statistics, we can determine that:
- Users have found what they are looking for on the first page, or;
- Users haven’t found what they are looking for, and re-phrase their query in another search
In either case, this shows that users trust Google to rank the web pages with the most relevant content to their search. This leads to the question of how Google actually does this; how do they rank, say the top 10 web pages in a sea of an estimated 4.45 billion web pages?
This is where SEO comes into play.
SEO is the practice of optimizing websites or web pages to get positioned in a higher rank on the search engine results page (SERP) for increased visibility, which leads to more organic traffic on your website. It’s about designing your web page so that it ranks well in search results.
It should also be reiterated that due to the overwhelming majority of users who choose Google as their primary search provider, this eBook will focus exclusively on the Google search engine and how to optimize your SEO practices to fit Google’s algorithm.
Organic versus Paid Search
When we talk about SEO, we are referring to optimizing your organic search visibility. Now, you might be wondering what is meant by “organic.” If so, you are not alone.
Let’s take a look at the SERP for say, a query on “best laptops for gaming”. You will find two types of results here; paid and organic.
The paid results (almost) always show at the top of the SERP, and are labeled with “Ad” beside the website URL. Image 1 identifies the paid search results with a pink label, and the organic results with a blue label. As you can see, Dell and XoticPC have opted for a paid search and appear at the top as “Ads.”
Paid search results are a result of businesses paying Google to have their website featured above the organic search results. Paid ads are essentially the easiest and fastest way to bypass all the other search results on a page – if you have the money.
There is however a catch 22; roughly 70-80% of users ignore the paid ads, and instead focus on the organic results. So while you may be able to bypass others by paying for your ad to be shown at the top of the search results, this isn’t always the most effective way to drive traffic to your website.
In contrast, the organic search results are found beneath the paid searches. Organic search results are unpaid and are determined by Google to be the most relevant to your search.
The goal of many organizations is to rank on the first page of the SERP since we know that statistically, it’s unlikely that users will move beyond the first page. As famously quoted by Dharmesh Shah:
The organic search results that appear on the first page have everything to do with SEO. You see, Google ranks pages based an algorithm that crawls through all web pages and determines which ones have the most relevant content. The web pages that have the most relevant content that fit the users keyword search is one of the factors that contributes to the rank in which they appear.
While in a nutshell, that’s how Google ranks web pages, it’s really much more complicated than that and there are a ton of other factors that need to be considered. Let’s start with taking a look at the ranking algorithm that Google uses.
Google Ranking Algorithm
When searching a query on Google, there are likely billions (if not, millions) of web pages that not only include your keywords, but are also on topic and relevant. To determine which web pages will appear on the front page of the SERP, Google analyzes and sorts all pages in their search index using their ranking algorithm.
This algorithm, in short, determines what web pages will show up on the first page.
Before we get into the tenants of Google’s ranking algorithm, let’s take a moment to discuss what exactly an algorithm is (in plain English).
An algorithm is most commonly used in the context of computer science, but algorithms can be used to describe a whole bunch of things that you do on a daily basis. An algorithm, simply put, is just a list of rules/ instructions on how to accomplish a task. A simple example could be baking cookies using a recipe. For instance:
- Put the ingredients in a bowl
- Stir them
- Put on a baking sheet
- Bake for 10 minutes
- Check the Cookies:
- If they are light brown, you’re done.
- Otherwise, put them back in for 2 mintues and return to step 5.
- Taje out and put on cooling rack
(I don’t know how to bake cookies, by the way.)
So, the “algorithm” here is just the list of rules for baking cookies. The same logic applies to computer programs. The algorithm is a set of rules that tells the computer what to do, what steps need to be taken to finish the task, and in what order.
According to Google itself, the search algorithm involves five key steps, with the purpose of returning the most useful and relevant information to users:
- Analyze the key words used.
- Match your search
- Rank Useful pages
- Consider the context
- Return the best results
While it may seem like a lot of steps are involved in pulling a search from Google, the algorithm itself is actually the third step in the search engine process. The three steps involved in the search engine process are, (1) web crawling, (2) indexing, and (3) the Google ranking algorithm. So it’s not only important to know how the Google algorithm works, but it’s also important to understand the entire process in order to optimize your SEO practices. We will take a closer look at the search engine process in the next blog post.
In order to appear favorably in web searches (hopefully as a first pager!) you need to ensure that your SEO practices are optimized to conform to the Google search algorithm. You ultimately need to give Google a reason to choose your web page. That’s why optimizing your keywords is so important; it can literally make or break your website.
The Importance of Keywords for SEO
The first thing that Google does, to no nobody’s surprise, is analyze the keywords used in the search. Google interprets what type of information users are looking for based on the words that are being used in the query.
Essentially, what this means for you is that you need to know your market. You need to know what your potential customers are searching when trying to find the products or services that your organization offers. What are the words that they are using the most and what phrases are the most common?
For example, let’s take a look at the search query we used previously, “best laptops for gaming.” Using a keyword explorer tool, you can find other relevant phrases that are more commonly used by your market.
There are other phrases that are relevant to the original, but have a significantly higher volume of searches. If you were basing your web page on the keywords, “best laptops for gaming,” you might want to adjust your keywords using this information, since your market is more likely to search “best gaming laptop under 1000.”
It stems to reason that the more suiting your keywords are to the ones that your market is using, the more likely your web page will pulled by Google’s algorithm. Time to do some research, eh?
There are a number of tools that you can use to help you to discover the best keywords to use for your market. I’d recommend Moz, however if you are looking for a free tool, check out Google Keyword Planner.
There is much more to be said about keywords, as it’s a huge contributor to SEO. We will touch on this subject more in Chapter 3.
White Hat and Black Hat SEO
There are a number of different things that you can do in order to optimize your website/ web page to help it rank higher on the SERP. This extends beyond using keywords; there are, broadly speaking, factors that you can optimize that are seen to be either on-page or off-page factors.
While these terms will be touched on in Chapter 3 and Chapter 4 respectively, it should be noted that these SEO techniques can also be seen as “playing by the rules” or “not playing by the rules.” This is where SEO practices are either deemed to be “white hat” or “black hat;” these are essentially techniques that are found in the Google playbook, and techniques that aren’t (and are seen, in a way, to be “cheating.”)
White hat SEO practices aim to optimize a web page for the human viewer, which is how Google intended web pages to be; useful, relevant, and of quality for users.
Black hat SEO includes techniques used to trick the algorithm into thinking that it’s valuable. These practices are usually used to get a quick turn around for a better rank, however they usually don’t last too long
When a web page is caught using black hat techniques, the web page risks being banned. Some of these practices include keyword stuffing (using hidden texts) link spamming and blog content spamming
To ensure that the pages that rank high comply with the rulebook and are actually quality pages, Google employes Page Quality Rankers.
This will be discussed further in Chapter 7. Nonetheless, it is clear that there are things that can be done to optimize your page ranking (and things you shouldn’t do!)
Before we touch on what these techniques are, we need to go over how the entire search engine process works since it plays a significant role in providing the algorithm with pages to rank.
SEO is all about applying techniques to a website/ web page in order to increase its rank on the SERP. The techniques that are applied should play by the Google rulebooks and should include keywords that your target market tend to use. The Google ranking algorithm works to assess various aspects of a web page to determine what it’s about and whether it can provide users with what they are looking for. The algorithm however only determines the rank on the SERP and is only one part of the search engine process. The next chapter will discuss the other two steps in the process as a whole and how they impact the ranking algorithm.