If you’re getting started in SEO (search engine optimization) then it might seem like an impossible amount to learn.
Optimization is certainly a complex and multifaceted discipline and getting your head around it can mean fighting through a wall of misinformation and jargon.
What doesn’t help much is the fact that SEO is constantly changing, meaning that what you learned a week ago won’t necessarily be true anymore.
If this is the position you find yourself in, then what you need is a simple-to-understand and complete introduction that covers all the major themes and helps you to understand the process.
The good news is that you’ve found it!
The Very Basics – How do Search Engines Work
The idea of SEO is of course to make your website more search engine friendly so that it will show at the top of the relevant search pages (known as SERPs). To do this you need to understand how search engines work which means you need to understand crawling and indexing.
Essentially indexing is simply the term used to describe what happens when Google adds a website to their database so that people can then search for them. Once you’ve been indexed it’s possible for your site to come up in search results so this is your first major aim. To do this, Google uses a number of ‘signals’ and software code which are basically tools that crawl the web in search of new readable content to add to the index. Sometimes these programs are called ‘spiders’ and sometimes they’re called ‘robots’.
The crucial point to understand though, is that these spiders find their way around the web by following links. The more links there are pointing to your site, the more likely spiders and bots are to find your new pages and index them, assuming your have not blocked them.
How to Rank – Then and Now
But of course Google also needs to be able to sort through all this content to make sure that it shows the relevant links for people’s searches – which is where ‘ranking’ comes in.
Early in the days of SEO, ranking boiled down to little more than looking at which site had the most inbound links which Google saw as testimonials from other sites. The content (keywords) in the links and on the page would indicate the topic of the article, while the number of links would indicate how popular that page was and how prominently it should show when users searched for relevant phrases.
Then came changes known as Penguin, Panda and most recently ‘Hummingbird‘. These changes altered the code (or algorithms) that operate the robots and changed the weighting so that they would now look more for quality links and quality content to decide which pages to rank most highly.
So helping Google to find your pages is still very important – which you can do with various forms of promotion – but now it’s also crucial to create positive associations with other good sites and to deliver high quality content on a regular basis…
Keywords and Search Terms
So the quality and quantity of links now helps Google to identify how highly a page should rank – what denotes the topic?
Well, classically robots and spiders would work this out by looking at ‘keywords’ peppered throughout a page’s content, as well as throughout the actual code. For a while the common practice was to stuff an article with the same phrase repeated over and over until Google wised up. These days the process is much more subtle and intelligent and Google now tries to answer search terms as questions looking at sentence structure and context rather than just trying to match short phrases. These days the best content uses a good vocabulary, lots of informative links and facts and writes broadly around the keyphrase.
Of course it does get a little more complicated than that. The Google algorithms are incredibly complex and they look for countless different things to work out which sites should gain the most prominence and when they should be brought up – even how quickly a site loads and how efficiently it adapts to smaller screens gets taken into account. However, understanding these basic rules and the functioning of SEO will give you the best starting point and from there it’s just a matter of reading everything you can and learning by doing!
Guest Author Bio:
Matt Goulart is the founder of Ignite Digital, a Canadian Digital Marketing Agency. He has been featured in Forbes Magazine, Washington Times and several other publications. Through Ignite Digital, Matt works with Fortune 500 companies, advertising agencies from around the world and has helped in launching digital marketing initiatives for his clients.
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