Posted January 16, 2012
What is SEO, anyway?
SEO stands for search engine optimization, and it represents the game that website owners play with Google, attempting to land higher on the first page of search results.
There's a more technical definition than that, but trying to rank higher in Google searches is basically what it comes down to.
So is that possible to do? And if yes, how do you do it?
The basic premise with SEO is that search engines operate based on text. They search for words on web pages that match the words that people use in searches. So whether or not Google ever finds you depends on the words on your site and the terms that people search for.
Have you ever realized that Google and all of the other search engines can only find your site based on the words that you use?
It's mind blowing once you think about it. If you want to be found by Google, the single most important item on your website is text.
It's not flashy images or slick design. What matters the most are the words you use.
If you were in the business of selling knives online, you probably would want to capitalize on people searching for knives. To do that, you need to use the same phrases that people are searching with.
For example, potential customers would likely use the term “pocket knives.” To benefit from that, you'd want to use “pocket knives” frequently on your site.
Some people make the mistake of using industry terms that customers are not searching for. A knife company could use “folding knives” instead of “pocket knives” for page descriptions. They'll still rank for the word “knives,” but they won't rank as well for “pocket knives.”
Can you see how important that is? It's a subtle difference, but slight variations make a difference with SEO.
Search engines find websites based on the words on web pages and the terms that people are searching; if you're not optimized for the right words, Google may never find you.
Since using the right keywords is so important, when should you optimize? This seems like a simple question, but it's one that stirs up a lot of debate.
One group says that everything should be optimized because you'll rank higher in Google if you do so. Since Google is the king of all things internet, they believe that your website will suffer a slow and painful death without Google's blessing.
The problem with this approach is that you end up writing for computers, instead of readers. It's important to rank for keywords, but it's also important to rank in the mind of the people reading your site. If your site is written entirely for search engine bots, it likely will be less appealing to readers.
Since people buy products and computers don't, shouldn't a website be written for people and not Google?
And actually, writing that resonates with readers will ultimately help SEO.
Google bases their search algorithm off of a number of factors such as: links to your site, pages you link to, keyword usage, page titles, site traffic, how often the site has new content, etc. (The next post in this series will talk about these in detail.)
Of these factors, links to your site are one of the most important. When a website links to you, Google counts that as a vote of confidence. The more well known the site is, the more Google juice you'll get. As an example, you'll get more Google juice from CNN.com linking to your site than a less important site (for the time being anyway).
The more quality links your site has, the more Google juice your site will get. Since that's the case, what's the best way to get more links?
One of the best ways is to create content that people want to link to and/or share. To get that to happen, your content needs to be optimized for people first, not computers. It needs to be written with the reader in mind, and not merely stuffed with keywords that will help search engine rankings.
What you really need to know is that SEO is important as an optimization strategy, but not a full fledged web strategy. There's a reason it has an ‘O' at the end—it's used to optimize a website for search rankings, not build its foundation.
Yes, it's very important to optimize for search engines because organic search traffic is much cheaper than paying for Google ads (that's because organic traffic is free).
It's also important to optimize for readers because, if you do, your search engine rankings will benefit as a result.
So first, write posts and content that will resonate with readers, get shared on Facebook and Twitter, and get links from other sites. After doing that, take some time to optimize for Google (he's just a computer anyway).
Always remember to take care of readers and customers first. They're more important, and in the end, they'll give you an SEO boost as well.
In case you'd still like to know how to optimize for search engines, come back to read the next post in this series that will discuss specific ways to optimize for search.
This post is also the eighth in a series of ten posts on the best way to start a blog. If you liked it, give it a tweet to share it with others!