Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of working to improve the position of a website in search engine results pages. The desired outcome is that your website will be found by more people, thereby attracting an increased number of visitors who go on to become customers, clients, or users of your product or service.
SEO isn’t something that your website either has or doesn’t have.
Search engine optimizing a website is an ongoing process that requires constant attention. SEO isn’t something that your website either has or doesn’t have. There are many factors that are used to determine how optimized a website is at any give time, with the SEO rating of a website falling somewhere on a sliding scale.
In this article we will give you an overview of SEO to familiarize yourself with the main concepts, as well as a breakdown of what you can do to improve the visibility of your website in the search engines using SEO.
How Search Engines Evaluate Websites
To first understand SEO, you must first understand how search engines like Google evaluate websites in order to determine where to list them in their results pages.
While the exact details of the algorithms used by search engines like Google aren’t made public, from their published guidelines and advice given at conferences, as well as research conducted by SEO professionals, we know the following:
SEO can be divided into two main categories: on-site and off-site.
The steps you can take to increase your site’s visibility in the search engines can be divided into two main categories: on-site and off-site SEO.
Search engines look at how visitors interact with your content.
On-site SEO activities include things such as the way your website is set up; how your content is written, presented, and organized; and other factors such as how quickly your site’s pages load. Search engines also look at how visitors interact with your content and measure user engagement metrics such as time on site and number of pages viewed to help determine the quality and usefulness of your content.
More links don’t always equal a better search engine position.
The main off-site factor that can help improve the rank and visibility of your website is the number of times other websites link to your pages. However, how this metric is more complicated than simply “more links = a better position,” with many more factors involved in evaluating the links pointing back to your website.
To summarize, the following are the main characteristics search engines look at to determine where to rank your site in their listings:
- Quality of your content
- User engagement with your website
- Site loading times
- Links from other websites to yours (backlinks)
Two main factors have remained a constant: quality content and backlinks.
Google and the other search engines look at the above factors (plus many more) and then use them to decide where to list your website for many individual search terms or keywords.
While the search engine algorithms are constantly being refined and updated, with many hundreds of factors being taken into account, two main factors have remained a constant: the quality of your content and the links leading back to your site.
What You Can Do to Improve to Your Website’s SEO
The most effective use of your time is to write high quality content.
In terms of on-site SEO—the things you can do to your website to improve its visibility in the search engines—the most effective use of your time is to write high quality content that is easy to read, informative, and well-presented.
Focusing on creating quality content has many benefits, including:
- Making it easy for the search engines to determine what your website is about and therefore which search terms or keywords to list it for
- Improving user engagement, which increases the time on site and number of pages viewed, signalling to search engines that your content is worthy of being highly ranked
- Enhancing your off-site SEO by increasing the number of backlinks (as readers link to your content from elsewhere)
Each backlink represents a vote of approval in the eyes of the search engines.
This is the best way to increase the number of links to your website, with each link representing a vote of approval in the eyes of the search engines, and is a natural way to acquire backlinks for your site
Backlinks: A Word of Warning
Why not manually create hundreds of backlinks pointing to your site?
If search engines like Google use the number of backlinks, or links published on other websites pointing to your website, then why not manually create hundreds of backlinks pointing to your site, using tactics such as comment spam, paying for links, or other unnatural methods, in order to improve a site’s ranking in the results?
In fact, if you do any research into SEO, or if you are approached by SEO firms and consultants offering their services, you may well see link building services on offer.
Artificial or low-quality links can negatively affect a site’s ranking.
The truth is that mass-creating backlinks for a website did help in the past, back when the search engine algorithms were less sophisticated.
However, as these algorithms’ abilities have advanced, this practice has become less effective, up to the point where now artificial or low quality links can even negatively affect a site’s ranking in the search engines.
The legacy of this is that unscrupulous SEO agencies are still offering this kind of back-linking service, despite the fact that the search engines are getting better and better at detecting these activities, and then penalizing sites that try to utilize them.
The best and lowest risk way to get backlinks is to write high quality content.
The best and lowest-risk way to get backlinks is to write high quality content that provides real value to your readers, and then share that content with your peers and target audience on social networks or in any way you can.
This helps increase the chances of others publishing a link back to that piece of content on your site, earning your site a natural and relevant backlink from another quality website: the best type of backlink there is.
Misinformation abounds in the world of SEO.
SEO is a tricky subject. As the search engines understandably keep their ranking factors secret in order to prevent them from being exploited, misinformation abounds in the world of SEO.
Advice is often based on outdated experiences, poor understanding, or is published in order to help generate business for SEO consultants making wild claims in their marketing.
With so many SEO service providers making amazing claims regarding how they can rank your site for any keyword or search term, as well as all the advice that is published online, it can be hard to know where to start and what opportunities you might potentially be missing out on by not taking up these offers of assistance.
Stick to the basics: publishing great content and telling people about it.
However, by sticking to the basics: publishing great content and telling people about it, you can lay the foundations of successfully optimizing your website for the search engines, without risking its position by carrying out questionable SEO activities.
In the next articles in our series on SEO, we will be covering the following topics to help you improve the visibility of your website in the search engines and get more visitors:
- What results you can expect from SEO
- Introduction to SEO keywords and how to use them to increase the visitors to your website
- What to expect from working with an SEO professional
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