The Search Revolution
Search engine technology on the web has created a world where people can obtain information in mere seconds that would have taken hours or days in the pre-internet era.
Web Search has been transformative for information seekers, so it follows that those that provide information, especially marketers, have increased their interest in being found easily for searches performed on search engines.
This opportunity explains the rise of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM), which work to connect the seeker with the information provider. Site owners use SEO tactics to “get ranked” for common search queries that relate to their content.
Definition of SEO
Search Engine Optimization is the practice of improving the visibility of a website in internet search engines via the “natural”, or unpaid search results. Natural or “organic” search refers to the main results, typically appearing as ten or more blue links on a typical search engine result page. Paid search is a different area of concern, and refers to advertising opportunities on search engines (Google AdWords and other Pay-per-click networks).
A site with ideal search engine optimization will generate traffic through the natural search results without the site owners having to pay for advertising, or subscribe to any listing services or directories.
SEO is the practice of improving the visibility of a website in search engines via the ‘natural’ or ‘un-paid’ search results.”
How Search Engines Work
Search engines like Google regularly “crawl” the web using software called “spiders” or “bots”, which visit a website and index its content. These spiders look for links on each page and follow them just like a web surfer would, finding new pages through the links, and indexing those as well. Currently Google has over a trillion pages in its index.
When a user asks Google to search for something, it looks for the most relevant pages out of all the pages in its index, then it ranks those pages based on which ones will provide the user with the most authoritative and relevant site to answer their query.
SEO Past and Present
In the early days of internet search, when many site owners had little competition on the web, getting ranked at the top of search results could be accomplished by having a few of the right words on the page.
For example, if you had a site related to dog training, and the phrase “dog training” appeared a few times on your site, or if your site happened to be called www.dogtraining.com, someone entering the phrase “dog training” in a search engine was likely to find your site at the very top.
Today, getting to the top of natural search results is much harder than just putting the relevant words on your site. In most categories, like dog training, there are now hundreds of sites promoting their services. In addition, Google and other search engines have developed a more complex algorithm to figure out which site is the best result.
200+ SEO Factors
The search engines look at MUCH more than just the words on the page. Google uses upwards of 200 or more different factors to evaluate your website, as well as any links on other websites that lead to your site, to determine whether your site is the best result to display to searchers.
The Art, Science, and Work of Search Engine Marketing
SEO now covers a huge variety of tactics designed to help search engines assign both relevancy and authority to your site. Some of these tactics are purely related to the content of the site, some of them are more technical in nature, having to do with the underlying HTML code of your site, and the way your site is setup to be navigated by visitors.
SEO today is a combination of “on-page” factors that can be optimized, as well as “off-page” factors such as the number of links to your site from other sites. Rankings can also be affected by whether your site is listed in certain directories, the age of the domain, and how often the engines come back to re-index your site, among many others.
A good SEO consultant will be able to provide you with an assessment of your site, and identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats from an SEO perspective. They will be able to diagnose technical issues that may be preventing your site from performing well, and can estimate the amount of work your site needs to achieve better search engine rankings.
Search Engine Optimization vs Search Engine Marketing
Many people use “SEO” and “SEM” interchangeably, but the fact is that SEO is really a subset of SEM. To understand how Search Engine Marketing works, one must be familiar with SEO and all of the optimization procedures that one can undertake on a website to make it “search-engine-friendly”, and this is primarily focused on getting ranked in the natural results on search engines like Google.
Taking a broader view, Search Engine Marketing is the practice of all forms of marketing that involve search, which includes SEO, paid advertising, contextual advertising, digital asset optimization, and paid inclusion. Often SEO is the first step a site owner should take before considering how to add additional SEM efforts and doing additional work.
How SEO Works: The Four “Pillars” of Good Search Engine Optimization
Any good SEO/SEM effort will touch upon each of these key areas. A good SEO consultant works through all of these functions and is able to develop an ideal strategy for each pillar:
1) Keyword research:
- Every site should have a “keyword profile”, meaning a group of key words and phrases that will be the focus of SEO efforts both on and off the site. These keywords have to be selected carefully so that they represent the ideal combination of relevancy, commercial potential, and competitive opportunity. This is usually the first step in a good SEO effort, so that your content strategy, linking strategy and PPC (if applicable) strategy is working around a well-researched, targeted group of words and phrases.
- Your site has to be ready to be indexed and treated with priority by the search engines, so it must have clean HTML code, a good ratio of content-to-code, and other factors (like loading speed) that result in making it accessible and readable to the engines. Many sites have technical issues that prevent them from being properly read and understood by the search engines, and often the site owner is completely unaware of these problems.
3) Architecture and Tagging:
- Your site should be designed so that search engines (and users) can easily understand what it’s about. The most relevant information should be higher up in the site hierarchy, meaning that a visitor to your homepage should not have to click too many times to get to it. Also, pages on your site should make use of structural elements – headings, paragraph, and other HTML tags such as title tags and other “meta-tags”. These elements, in addition to well-optimized content, give each page a clear focus.
4) Link Popularity:
- The search engines will look across the entire web for links pointing to your site, and will also evaluate the quality of the pages that contain those links, the relevancy of those pages, and the relevancy of the text in the actual link. These factors all affect your rankings to a great degree, so the ongoing process of “building links” is critical to SEO success.
How Google “Thinks”
The most important thing to consider when doing SEO to market your business is the mission of the search engines. The natural search results on Google are there to serve the user of the search engine, NOT the businesses and websites that pop up in the results.
The reason Google became the most popular search engine in the world is because they developed an algorithm that was better than everyone else’s at providing the most relevant results to the users who visited Google to look for something. Google makes their money from advertising, but they are really making it from the incredible volume of traffic that they bring as a result of their expertise at assigning RELEVANCY to web pages.
Many people think of SEO as trying to “game the system”, or manipulate the search engines into ranking their site. Many have succeeded in doing this, but as search engines get more sophisticated, they will weed out sites that are not truly relevant to a search query.
Google’s priority is to serve their users first, so a good SEO consultant will guide you towards the practices that keep you true to your customers… a good SEO effort will bring you the visitors who will actually benefit from arriving at your site.
If you think of Google as a system that needs to be gamed, then Google will eventually figure you out and treat you as SPAM, even possibly deleting your from their index completely. But if you think of your mission as being the SAME as Google’s, meaning to SERVE the end user by providing them with relevant content, then everybody wins… you win, the customer wins, and Google wins from having made a successful connection.
Want to Learn More?
To learn more about how to hire Boomient for SEO Consulting services, and to learn more about how Search Engine Marketing works, see this page: SEO Consulting or Contact Jim Magary here for an SEO assessment.