Understand what SEO means
December 3, 2017 • Glenn Murray
Before launching into an explanation of SEO, let’s talk a bit about search engines. I’ll assume you know what search engines are, and what they’re used for, and start, instead, with some facts that illustrate why they’re so important.
WHY IS A HIGH RANKING SO IMPORTANT?
Indeed, the first 5 results are really where you should be aiming. Two-thirds of all searchers click on one of them, and the next 5 get only 4.73% of clicks.
And Google’s responsible for about 74.54%% of all web traffic, so we’re talking a lot of potential customers here. There are just over 3.9 billion internet users, and everyone performs an average of 3-4 Google search every day. about 46% of users use it for product searches, 73.8% use it to look for jobs and over 76% young people use it for research.
Here are some other interesting statistics:
- 79% of online Americans have purchased a product online
- 97% of consumers use the internet to find local businesses
- 15% of people who search for a specific brand name end up on a competitor’s website
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ORGANIC SEARCH RESULTS AND PAID LISTINGS?
Most search engines, these days, return two types of results whenever you click Search:
- Natural/Organic – The ‘real’ search results (often called ‘SERPs’ for Search Engine Results Pages). The results that most users are looking for. When we talk about search engine ranking, these are the results we’re talking about. The order of these results is determined by how relevant each is to the searcher’s query. Important: You can’t pay a search engine to give you a high ranking in the natural results. You can only get a high ranking if your content is seen as relevant and important by the search engines.
- Paid – Pure advertising. This is how the search engines make their money. Advertisers pay the search engines to display their ad whenever someone searches for a word that is related to their product or service. These ads look similar to the natural search results, but are normally labeled “Ad”, and normally rank top on the page. The order of these results is determined mostly by how much each advertiser is prepared to pay. (We do not cover “Sponsored Links” in any detail.)
When people use search engines, they normally pay a lot more attention to the natural results than the paid results because they know these results are more relevant (and they know they are simply ads).
WHICH IS MORE EFFECTIVE?
For most industries, the organic results are significantly more effective:
- 94% of searchers click on an organic result, whereas only 6% click on a paid ad (Search Engine Watch)
- Organic results get clicked 8.5 times as often as paid listings – excluding search results that have no paid ads (Enquisite 2008)
HOW DO SEARCH ENGINES WORK?
Search engine companies like Google and Bing are all about finding content that will bring them more traffic (and thus more ad revenue). In other words, their results must be relevant and high quality. In the words of Nathan Buggia of Microsoft Live Search: “Our whole role in life is to find the best content on the web and bring it together with people who are looking for that content. And to do that, we’ve invented a couple of algorithms to figure out what people think is good content.” (SMX East Search Marketing Conference, New York City, October 2008)
Here’s a simplistic explanation of how search engines work:
- Crawl – They send out ‘bots’ (aka ‘spiders’ or ‘robots’) that crawl your pages and send back details for processing.
- Index – They then use really complex mathematical algorithms to deduce the subject matter of your site from frequently used words and the text on links to, from, and within your site. This tells them which searches your pages are relevant to.
- Rank – They consider some 200 factors when ranking, but the most important – of those that you can directly influence – is the number of external links pointing to your site, where those links come from, and what anchor text is used in those links. If there are lots of links pointing to your site, all from quality sites, and all with relevant words in their anchor text, you’re likely to rank well. The logic is that if all those webmasters are willing to link to you and they’ve used a variety of relevant words in their links (i.e. they’re not automated links), your site must be relevant and important.
Note that the age of your site and the consistency of your subject matter over time also impact your ranking; they build site authority. Obviously site age can’t be controlled, and I’m assuming your subject matter will remain consistent, so I don’t focus on either in this book.
SOME OTHER FACTORS THAT ARE BECOMING MORE IMPORTANT
- How long your visitors stay
- How often they come back
- How many pages they visit
- What pages they spend the longest on
- Whether they comment
- Whether they convert (e.g. buy or subscribe to your blog)
- What pages they share
- What keywords they use when they share
- Who they share with
- How fast your pages load
- Whether your site is optimized for mobile devices (responsive)
- Whether your site displays appropriately on different devices (i.e. it’s mobile-friendly)
- The relevance and importance (popularity and level of engagement) of your Google+ profile
SO WHAT IS SEO?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It’s the art of increasing your site’s natural search engine ranking, so that you rank high in the right searches. And remember, being ranked number 1 when you search for your company name or web address doesn’t count. You need to rank for the words your target customers use at search engines. So you need to:
- Tell the search engines what your site is about, so they know what searches it’s relevant to. This is called ‘on-page optimization’. You make your site search-friendly so the bots can crawl it, and you use the right keywords in your content and code (e.g. HTML). By itself, this usually won’t increase your ranking much, but it’s a necessary first step.
- Prove to the search engines that your site will likely be helpful to searchers. Ensure your site is user-friendly and fast, then embark on an ongoing campaign to increase the number of quality links pointing to your site (aka “backlinks” or “inbound links”). Of course, not all links are equal; see ‘Create great web content’ for more information on the best kinds of links.
For more information…
- on choosing keywords, see ‘Choose your keywords’.
- on optimizing your web development, see ‘Develop your website right – 1’ and ‘Develop your website right – 2‘.
- on optimizing your web content, see ‘Optimize your web content’.
- on building backlinks, see ‘Generate ‘buzz’ about your content with Social Media’.
HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE FOR SEO TO INCREASE MY RANKING?
There are no guarantees in SEO. It all takes time. If your site is new, it’ll probably take some time for the search bots to even get there to crawl it. (You can speed this process up by getting a link from a high ranked site.) In fact, because they don’t crawl it all at once, it can actually take some time for them to get through the whole thing. And even once they’ve crawled a page, it can take a while before it’s indexed. And then it has to be ranked, which takes yet more time.
To avoid disappointment, expect everything to take months. Not days and not weeks. It typically takes months for a new site to make it into the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs), and months for any site to see any increase in rankings. It can happen faster, but it usually doesn’t.
SEO is an ongoing (often tedious) task. You need to be dedicated and systematic. In other words, you need a strategy. Take a look at the advice offered in this book, to see what suits you best. Then put your thinking cap on and get creative. It’s a new and very exciting field; there are undoubtedly many undiscovered ways to build links.
A WORD ON PERSONALIZATION, AND LOCAL, MOBILE AND UNIVERSAL SEARCH
Personalized search is simply when Google ‘learns’ from your search and surf habits, and tailors search results accordingly. It doesn’t really change how you should be optimizing, it just reinforces the importance of:
- Optimization – because you’ll have fewer chances to get your site in front of target customers. Once personalization kicks in around your target keywords, their results will be determined more by what they do than by what you do.
- Quality content – you want your visitors to really engage with your site so it becomes a part of their personalized search experience.
Google already shows different search results to different people, based on where they’re searching from. It also displays different types of results depending on what they actually search for.
If you search for “plumber central coast”, for instance, it assumes you want to see local plumbers, so that’s who it shows you. This is called Google’s local search results:
Google decides whether your site will be included in a local search by looking at things like:
- Whether your offering is the sort of thing that is specific to a particular location (e.g. if you’re a cafe, local searchers will be most relevant to you, but if you’re a copywriter, you’ll have clients all around the world).
- The location of your web host.
- The keywords, business name, phone number and address on your site.
- Where inbound links are coming from (i.e. the geographic location of the business or person linking to you). If you have lots of backlinks from websites in a particular town, it’s likely that your site is relevant to that town.
- Your listing in Google My Business and the reviews your business has there.
Universal Search is a fancy term for the way Google now crawls online videos, audio, images, maps, products and news items, and includes them in the regular search results. (Previously, you had to search on these things separately.)
Why is this important? Because when a video or maps result appears on a SERPs page, it really stands out, and may well attract more click-thrus.
So if it makes sense for your business to create videos, etc., you might want to consider putting a fair bit of effort into it. Make them good, optimize them well, and try to get people to share them, because they stand out in the search results.
For the most part, when someone Googles something on their mobile, they’ll see much the same sorts of results as if they did it on their computer. With some exceptions:
Local businesses, fast-loading websites and mobile-friendly websites (e.g. a responsive site or a dedicated mobile version of a site) may feature more prominently in the results.
- People pay more attention to the natural results than the paid listings in search engines.
- You can’t pay for a high search ranking.
- Search engines try to make their results as useful as possible. This is how they keep users coming back (and how they make their revenue).
- To a search engine, a site is considered useful if a lot of other sites link to it. This implies it is well regarded in its field.
- Some links are better than others.
- The best links come from relevant, important sites, they include your keywords, they come from pages with few links, and they point to pages deep within your site structure.
- If you have a search engine-friendly site with a lot of the right keywords, used in real sentences, distributed realistically throughout, and a lot of the right sort of backlinks, you stand a good chance of being ranked highly.
- Some other factors are becoming important, like how visitors behave when they’re on your site, and whether your site is mobile-friendly.
- It takes quite a while to increase your ranking. And there are no time guarantees.