What is search engine optimization? How does SEO work? How can I help my business get found? Depending on who you talk to, you’ll get very different answers to these excellent questions. We’ll share how we think about SEO as it relates to our clients.
Editor's Note: This blog was originally published in December 2012 and has since been updated for accuracy.
At its core, search engine optimization (SEO) is what goes on under the hood of a website that determines where it appears among users' search results. Brightedge reported that 51% of all traffic is from organic searches, and 40% of revenue comes from organic traffic. The idea is that the higher a page appears in search results, the more traffic it’s likely to generate, and the more likely those users will convert. However, best optimization practices are constantly evolving. As a result, proper optimization requires regular maintenance as subtle search engine algorithm changes roll out and competitors jockey for higher rankings.
First, the crawl.
While every search engine has subtle differences, Google is by far the most well-known and valuable when considering SEO best practices. So, let’s focus on how they do it to introduce the topic.
When someone performs a search on Google, an algorithm determines what websites are most relevant to the terms (keywords) used and lists them out in order of “authority” on what are known as search engine results pages (SERPs). Google determines each webpage's placement in this hierarchy by using software known as a "spider/bot" to "crawl" the content that makes up the website.
Then, the technical assessment.
When Google crawls your website, their spider looks at hundreds of technical aspects of the site, as well as the relationship between pages. Since software can’t look at a website the way a human does, the spiders are programmed to look for small snippets of code tucked away throughout every page and use those develop an understanding of each page. Right-click this very blog post page and click on “View Page Source” to get a glimpse of what this spider is searching. Elements in the pages HTML important to SEO include meta-descriptions, page titles, and alt tags. The spider also looks at the site’s architecture, or, the way the pages are interrelated through their URL structure and internal links. Google also inspects what websites your website points to (outbound links), and what websites point to your website (inbound links or backlinks). Learn more about maximizing link juice here.
Next, the copy assessment.
Page copy is a whole different ball game. Spiders parse out every sentence on every page of your website, looking for keywords, keyword context, and even things like “geo-qualifiers” that help determine if your website is more important depending on your proximity to the searcher. Other relevant factors include how much copy is on a page, the relationship between keywords, and even the segmentation of topics as their own pages.
Effective content optimization is one of the places where SEO reveals itself as equal parts art and science, as it requires being able to seamlessly weave keyword optimization techniques with interesting, educational information that captures the reader. Gone are the days of keyword stuffing. Now, SEO is a delicate balance between crafting a narrative and strategic optimization, and achieving this ensures your website attracts traffic and drives searchers deeper down the funnel.
Finally, the scoring.
Once the Google bot has finished crawling your site, it gives you an authority score for each of your relevant keywords. The authority score is what Google uses to decide whether to surface your website or not when someone searches for something related to your business.
If you’re looking to drive more traffic to your website, your site must be optimized for search engines. For context, in 2016 Google reported having over 130 trillion pages indexed in their database. That’s an awful lot of other fish in the sea all trying to get attention from searchers and many opportunities for your website to pale in comparison to the competition.
Where do I start?
So, how do you get a page to go from the dark depths of Google’s infinite index to shining at the top of the search results? Check out Northtown Volkswagen’s story here or reach out to us today to discuss how one of our veteran SEO specialists can help. Improving SEO takes time but is only becoming more valuable as the volume of the Internet grows. Make sure your business does not get left behind.