What is SEO?: A Beginner’s Guide
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of marketing your website to search engines. Why do you care what search engines think of your website? You care because search engines are the matchmakers of the Internet, pairing every person who enters a search into Google, Bing, Yahoo!, or the many other search engines, with a custom list of every website that pertains to the keywords used in their search. You care because you want to be visible on that list. So how do Google and its counterparts know which websites to show us when we do a search? Search engines are built upon complex mathematical algorithms that analyze the quality, popularity, and relevance of a website. First, they deploy robots (also called spiders), to visit your site and gather all kinds of information about it. These spiders are the minions to the search engines. Your site is then indexed, meaning that the information the robots gathered is analyzed, categorized, and stored for future reference. Then the magic happens. A user performs a search; the search engine scans its index for the best, most relevant sites. Boom: search results.
Complex SEO and the Elusive “#1 Ranking”
Since the early days of search, business owners have dreamed of being “#1 in the search engines.” This goal has never been as simplistic as many imagine (#1 for what? Every conceivable keyword?), and it’s even less straightforward today. As you’d expect, search engine algorithms have grown more complex over time. This is good because it means we get much better information when we perform searches. However, greater complexity means that achieving strong visibility in the results can be that much harder for business owners. This is where SEO gets tricky. Here are just a few reasons:
- There are no hard and fast “do this now” rules that the search engines provide to rank higher in their results. (Insert many hours of data collection and research here.)
- Search engines have evolved to provide searchers with more uniquely tailored results. The list of results that you see for a given search is probably different than what your friends or coworkers would see. (This limits the ability to definitively and accurately measure a website’s ranking.)
- Search engines are sharing less keyword data than ever. In the old days of SEO, web analytics tools like Google Analytics provided data on the keywords people used on search engines to reach your website. Today, with Google’s stepped-up privacy measures, different data must be used in order to shed light on page traffic.
How We Do It: Tackling SEO
For the reasons above, Internet Marketers dutifully and continuously stay informed of search engine updates and collect site-specific data to find out what search engines like and don’t like. We use this information to better enhance websites so they can show up well in the search results, get traffic, and generate leads. From there, a myriad of SEO strategies are implemented. Most of these strategies fall into one of two overarching categories:
- Content Optimization: Includes “optimizing” HTML tags and text on your website by making sure each page includes commonly used “keywords” or search phrases that are descriptive of and highly relevant to the content themes presented on the page. If your website lacks good, optimized content, you’re not giving it a full opportunity to rank well in the search results or to capture prospective clients.
- Link Building: Process of getting “inbound links” pointing to your website from other websites. Search engines analyze the popularity of a website and its pages based on the volume, quality, and relevance of pages linking to them. If you have other strongly relevant, high quality web pages pointing their visitors to your website, the search engines will take notice. Note that it’s the quality of inbound links that will positively affect your traffic and reputation with search engines- not just the quantity.
Building and optimizing your content and gaining links from other sites will keep your website optimized for search engines. But don’t expect overnight success. SEO is a long-term process that takes many hours of implementation and, as trends change, many hours of upkeep. Luckily, the payoff is worth it. 90% of home buyers search online during their home buying process (http://realtormag.realtor.org). SEO helps those home buyers find your site, engage with it, and choose your business for their real estate needs.