If you’re new to doing business online, you’re probably asking yourself, “What is search engine optimization? Is it something I need for my website?”
The answer to the second question is an indisputable yes. Whether you write a blog celebrating the daily adventures of your Persian cat or you’re the webmaster for a multinational corporation, you want people to visit your website. The more visitors you get, the more success you’ll have with your website. But, with over 1.5 billion sites on the web, how will anyone find yours?
Search engines, such as Google Search, Bing, and Yahoo!, will almost certainly be a major source of traffic to your site. Since very few people click past the first page of search results, you need to make sure your site gets listed on the first page of results, as close to the top as possible. This is where search engine optimization can help. Now, let’s get back to the first question.
What is search engine optimization?
The answer to that first question takes a little more explanation. Let’s start by looking at how search engines work.
Search engines use a complex series of algorithms. They crawl through the web gathering information about the content of websites. When they find a page where certain words or phrases—keywords—are repeated often in the text, the search engines get an idea of what that site is about.
For example, if the search engine encounters the phrase “what is search engine optimization” several times in a single article, it can conclude that the page is about search engine optimization. The search engine stores that information, and the next time someone types the search term “what is search engine optimization,” the search engine will include that article in the results.
But if thousands, even millions, of web pages cover the same topic, how can you make sure your page is one of the first results the search engine shows?
How can you use search engine optimization?
Keywords are extremely important for search engine optimization. The more a keyword appears on the page, the easier it is for a search engine to categorize that page.
But be careful!
It can be tempting to write for the search engines and forget that your intended audience is human. People will be put off when they read a page where a keyword is constantly repeated and that appears in odd places within a sentence.
Even worse is when you try to trick the search engine by including a popular keyword that is not relevant to your content. Visitors will quickly see that your website doesn’t actually contain the information they’re looking for and will quickly leave, unlikely to ever return.
It’s always useful to do some research to find out what search terms people usually type when searching for your kind of content. Choose appropriate keywords that are relevant to your website, and include them often but naturally within your text. Overdoing it will get your site penalized for “keyword stuffing.”
Search engines also categorize the content depending on where the keywords appear in the text. Include the keywords in the page title and in subheadings to help the search engine recognize that these words are important to the content. It also helps if the keywords appear often at the beginning of the text.
Freshness and dwell time
Another aspect of search engine optimization is how often you add new content to your website. Search engines assume that sites that are updated frequently are more likely to have relevant and useful information. So it is important to keep your site “fresh” by adding new material regularly. You can do this by having a blog or articles section on your site.
The content must be useful however, and one of the ways search engines measure this is by the average “dwell time” of users on your website. If a web surfer comes to your site and finds poorly written material or nothing of use, he/she will likely exit the site quickly. If, on the other hand, they see compelling material, and stick around for a while to read it, you’ve clearly provided something of value. How do search engines measure this? By calculating how long it takes users to come back from your site to the search engine results page for the same term.
There are many other factors involved in search engine optimization, of course; SEO experts have estimated that there are anywhere from 80-200 critical factors. No one knows for sure, because search engines don’t want to reveal the secret sauce to their indexing process. But there is one special factor to rule them all, and it’s one that search engine representatives have stressed over and over again: provide value and quality on your website. Then again, that should come as no surprise, because customers want that from your products and services too.