By Jason Poulos
In my previous post, I highlighted a few reasons why SEO should be a part of your digital strategy. In case you missed it, Philadelphia SEO summed it up perfectly. Their response to my post was “Because it works!” Correct! SEO does work, and it should be a part of your digital strategy when building an online reputation.
Now that you’re on board the “SEO is awesome because it works” train, I wanted to explain some basic elements of SEO. Before we get too far down the road on how to optimize your site, let’s first understand how a search engine works.
Search Engine Basics
User browses to a search engine. User types in what they are looking for. User gets results. Simple right? But how does the search engine know what to place first and how to rank all those results? Here’s how they do it:
- Search engine crawls and indexes your site: Every search engine has a crawler. Google, Bing and Yahoo! all have some version of a web crawler (aka robot, bot or spider). This “crawler” is a piece of software that goes through your site (in a peaceful, non-disruptive manner), reads everything and then stores selected pieces of your site’s information in a data center. This stored information is then cataloged in a manner that the search engine can quickly return results when a user searches.
- Search engine delivers results: A user searches and upon hitting the submit button, the search engine goes through all that stored data and tries to serve up the most relevant info to the search query. A myriad of items go into ranking all those pages, but two of the biggest factors are relevancy and importance. Relevancy can be looked at this way; “is what was entered in the search box anywhere on your site?” If yes, (for this example) the search engine “stars” that page.
The engine then looks at all those “starred” pages and assess that pages importance, which can be interpreted as popularity. A popular page is one with high amounts of traffic and credible links to it. The engine evaluates the relevancy and popularity and then displays those pages for you in a list on your results page.
Both importance and relevancy have a ton of aspects associated with them and both get wrapped up in this giant algorithm that search engines use to evaluate and truly rank these pages.
No one truly knows the exact formula for getting those number one rankings, but over time search professionals have figured out the general elements that go into the ranking structure. Knowing what the search engine’s look for allows us to align a website’s structure and content with those ranking factors. As stated above, two of the most important factors to a strong ranking are keyword usage (what a search user types into the search engine) and links back to your site. Credible sites linking back to your content combined with a keyword rich site will yield strong results. For a full, in-depth and technical look at ranking, check out SEOmoz’s 2011 ranking factors.