SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. The main idea behind SEO is making it easier for search engines such as Google to find your web site, and helping them to know what to do with it once they find it.
There is a lot of talk out there about SEO, and a lot of it is less than truthful. Search engines change how they index web sites (and they don’t explain how they do it), and older articles are generally not updated to reflect this. Many people also claim to be SEO experts and they are more than happy to take your money in exchange for “secret” SEO strategies that basically boil down to common sense.
The first thing you need to consider is whether or not you even need to worry about optimizing your site. If you are running a personal web site, and your audience will be mostly friends and family, you don’t need to optimize your site because most people who come to your site will be people you send the link to.
There are a lot of people who will guarantee that, for a price, they can make your website appear at the top of Google’s search results. No one can guarantee this, and you should be cautious of anyone who promises this. If you look through their fine print, they will usually mention that they will only make this guarantee based on certain search keywords. Of course, those keywords usually have nothing whatsoever to do with your website.
How Search Engines Actually Work
Search engines use complicated formulas called algorithms to determine how a website ranks in its search results. For the purposes of SEO, there are only two important things to keep in mind:
- Search engines regularly change their ranking algorithms.
- Search engines never reveal what their actual algorithms are.
That may not seem fair to you, since your goal is to get your site to the top of the rankings. However, think of this from a search engine’s point of view. Their “job”—the way they make money—is by delivering good results. “Good results” means that if you search for “cat psoriasis remedy”, for example, you get pages that will help you cure your cat’s psoriasis. If they deliver up pages that have nothing to do with curing your cat’s psoriasis, you will quit using that particular search engine. A search engine is only as good as the results it delivers.
Therefore, anyone who claims to have found a secret method to increase your page ranking is either lying or they may have found a loophole in the search engine’s algorithm that actually works. In the latter case, the search engine will eventually discover this, and tweak their algorithm to close that loophole. (This is one of the reasons they regularly update their algorithms.)
A Logical Approach to SEO
Given all that, how is it possible to optimize a website for search engines?
The solution is simple. While Google and other search engines don’t give away their exact algorithms, they do tell us which characteristics of a website will help increase its page rank. Seen in this light, SEO is actually fairly simple: do more of those things that increase your page rank, and don’t do those things that decrease it.
Yes, it’s that simple.
The problem with this approach is that SEO is no longer something you do once and then forget about. (It never really has been, actually.) Rather, it’s a broad and often complex ongoing process that you have to concern yourself with each and every day. Fortunately, most of these concepts are just common sense. Even more fortunately, we have a number of tools to help you with this.
The most important thing to remember about SEO (and the one that most SEO experts fail to tell you) is that search engine optimization is only one of many steps you can take to promote your website. Too many beginning webmasters fall into the trap of believing that if you optimize a site properly, the world will beat a path to your door. In reality, the number of people who visit your website and then actually do something once they get there (buy a product, make a reservation, request a quote) has much more to do with how you promote your business and your website than with SEO.
It makes sense to begin with what the search engines tell you about what makes your site rank higher:
This is the first in a series of tutorials about SEO that will teach you how to properly optimize your site and also tell you which things you don’t need to waste time with. We will also have a series of tutorials on site design and promotion.