Any brief exploration into ways to find success online is bound to put you in touch with the term “search engine optimization.” Search engine optimization (SEO) is one of the key ways that a business or individual can tune their efforts to get more visibility on the internet and bring success to their project.
A lot of SEO articles don’t go into depth about the different ways to find success, though. It can be frustrating to get introduced to the ideas without any practical ideas on how to move forward with them. We’re going to take a deep dive into optimization today, giving you some insight into all the fundamentals you’ll need to get started.
Hopefully, the information below can provide you with a solid framework to use as you move forward.
Let’s get started!
What is Search Engine Optimization?
Search engine optimization is the process of creating a website that looks good in the eyes of the search engine algorithm. You can also optimize for the algorithms of other platforms and social media sites, but search engines tend to be the platforms that provide the broadest scope of exposure.
A great optimization campaign requires that the individual understands the search engine algorithm deeply and takes the necessary steps to manage their sites in ways that match up with search engine best practices. In most cases, this means following Google’s algorithm.
There are some merits to working to optimize for other search engines, but most users make searches on Google, so that’s where businesses should be directing their efforts. Before we dig into the practices you can use to optimize your site, it’s important that cover the essentials of how a search engine works.
Before We Get Started
As you work through the ins and outs of SEO in this article, you might find that there are things you’re not able to do, or that you simply don’t have time to fit into your busy schedule.
Keep in mind that working with a professional is always an option. We offer services in all of the areas below and can help you sculpt your customer journey, digital marketing campaign, website design, and much more!
Understanding the Search Engine
It’s easy to imagine that search engines like Google are simply one and the same with “the internet.” It makes sense, considering most of the information that the average person needs online exists within the archives that Google has. Google indexes billions of websites and archives more every day.
The internet is a lot broader than what search engines contain, though. Google’s artificial intelligence works to index as many sites as possible so that its users are able to access whatever information they need. If users start to find that Google doesn’t have as much relevant information as other websites, those people might start switching to Bing or Yahoo, for example.
Search engines are independent companies that compete with one another for users. The better the service, the more users. Google has effectively dominated the market for almost the entirety of the internet’s existence.
The reason that Google is so effective is that its search algorithm works really well at taking a user search, referencing it against all of the sites in its index, and providing the most relevant pages in the search results. That process starts with Google gathering relevant information from websites and indexing them, so let’s start there:
How Does Google Index Sites?
It would be impossible to hire enough employees to peruse the internet full-time and document all of the new information that comes up. Each time a site updates or a new page pops up, Google uses artificial intelligence called “crawlers” or “bots” to document them.
You can think of these things as little spiders, robots, ghosts, or whatever you like. Think of them as little vacuums that sweep around the internet and travel through links, taking in all of the information that’s relevant to user searches. In reality, bots aren’t entities or anything like it.
They’re just forms of artificial intelligence that Google employs to travel through the internet and gather this information. They do, however, find their way through the web by traveling from link-to-link.
Crawlers document the text, link quality, page speed, and a whole lot more that we’ll cover. There are somewhere around 200 factors that get examined and documented in the archive. Those factors are what the algorithm uses to determine which pages are relevant to keyword searches and which are not.
What Is the Algorithm?
Google uses a number of algorithms that work together to produce the most useful information for user searches. So, instead of one algorithm that gets used, there are a few formulas that weigh various factors of the search.
Let’s take a look at the various algorithmic weights that Google uses.
1. Determining Meaning
The first thing to figure out is what the user means in their search. This seems like a simple thing to determine, but there’s a lot more to a query than is clear at first glance.
For example, it’s important to know just how specific the request is. You might be looking for broad groups of information or trying to find a very specific answer to a question. Further, there are a lot of terms in all languages that get used incorrectly or interchangeably.
Someone might search how to exchange a tire. That could lead the search engine to websites that discuss tire exchanges and different ways to get value for old tires that a person is no longer using.
In reality, though, that person was probably trying to figure out how to replace a flat tire when one blows out on the road. That’s a simple thing for a human being to determine when they’re talking to someone, but keep in mind that Google is working with all possible information on the internet and trying to come up with the most accurate results.
You can also determine how fresh the content needs to be to satisfy the search. Freshness refers to how recent the webpage is. Some reliable content is very old and gets brought up in searches.
On the other hand, a lot of subject matter needs to be fresh to be relevant. These are all things that search engine algorithms work to determine.
2. Zoning in on Relevance
The next piece is honing into the pages that are relevant to whatever the keyword search means. Common keywords are the most direct correlation that gets made between searches and content. This is where a good SEO agency can apply research and software to expedite the process.
To go with our example from before, how to exchange a tire could be the entire keyword. You could also piece out a tire and how to change.
Google runs through the archive to determine all of the pages with that keyword in the most important locations. Also, the volume of that keyword in a piece of content is relevant to finding the right match. A piece of content with how to change a tire fifteen times is probably about, well, how to change your tires.
There’s a vast amount of keyword searching on the internet, though, and there are a lot more nuanced searches out there. To further zone in on the right content, Google scans for different pieces of media like videos, images, audio clips, and more.
Additionally, context clues are used to sift through meaning and get closer to the intended meaning.
3. Reliability and Quality
Next, it’s time to sift through the relevant pages to determine which ones offer the highest quality. Google ranks for things like expertise, authority, trustworthiness, and other factors that indicate how reliable a page’s content will be.
Those factors are hard to optimize for, but we’ll discuss ways that you can consistently improve your domain authority and perceived quality.
Note that there are ways to rise up the ranks without focusing on quality and strictly trying to optimize. We call these methods “Black Hat SEO,” and Google frowns upon them.
For example, a person could stuff their page with invisible keywords that are encoded to make the page more relevant to one topic. Practices like this, although they do work for a short time, are bound to be noticed by Google and penalties may follow.
Those penalties can be severe, going all the way up to getting unlisted from Google entirely. The best move for your long-term success is to produce quality content over time and generate organic authority.
It’s also important to note that black hat tactics get pushed by cheap SEO companies. If you see that a company offers excellent results at prices that are too good to be true, it’s probably because they are using black hat methods. We have an article that explains how you can audit bad marketing companies for red flags and keep your business safe.
4. User Experience for SEO
The other end of Google’s algorithm addresses how well your site functions for the user. There are a number of indicators that tell the algorithm of how easy it will be for individuals to use your page.
First, it checks that the page viewable on the particular browser they’re using. Mobile and desktop are the two key distinctions to make as you start to optimize for user experience.
It’s essential that your pages are accessible on mobile phones, tablets, and desktops. Beyond that, Google inspects for things that we’ll discuss later like site architecture, page speed, dead links, and more.5. Location and Personal Settings
Finally, the algorithm has to account for what it knows about the individual searching. The main thing is the location and what that location says about the terms that are in the keyword search.
An easy example to understand is the term football. If you’re in Minnesota and you search professional football, your results are geared toward the Minnesota Vikings and other content related to American Football.
Someone who searches the same thing in Spain will get an entirely different set of results. In fact, the sport in question is entirely different even though the search terms are the same.
There are also search factors that the user can adjust on their own, and the results will shift according to those. Why These Algorithmic Factors Matter to You
All of the things above work together in fractions of a second to produce search results. It’s a formula that operates in a predictable way, and it’s the job of the site owner to understand the various pieces of that formula in order to fit well into it.
Digging into the specifics of this process allows us to know where to invest our time and energy and know that the investment will be worth our time. If you can cover all the bases of the algorithm you will absolutely see improved search rankings.
That means more people will see your products and services and you’ll have a better chance of getting more business.