Search Engine Optimization Basics
In this article, you’ll find all the basic information concerning SEO or Search Engine Optimization. If you are new to this subject, you might have noticed that there is a huge wealth of information of SEO available online and it can be quite overwhelming. In this article, I explain only the most essential, bare-bones factors for optimizing web-pages. In other words: Everything you need to know to start out and nothing more.
What’s All The Fuss About?
SEO is such a hot topic for one simple reason: More visitors means more money for almost every online business. And many, many visitors find online businesses and websites in general via search engines. This is why everyone who is selling something (even if it’s just ad-space on a blog) is scrambling to rank well in search engine results. If you have ads on a website, being on the first page of results for a popular search term or being on the second page can mean the difference between making good money and making nothing at all. [Google Dilemma, link coming soon]
Search engine optimization is the term used to describe all methods that you can use for your website to make sure it gets better rankings in SERP (search engine results pages).
How Does Google Decide What Websites to List First?
Google, and every other search engine for that matter, works with a complex algorithm to determine what sites to show and in which order. The exact algorithm is kept under wraps to minimize abuse, but many important factors in search engine ranking are known.
When reading about SEO, just make sure you don’t lose sight of the most fundamental principle underlying every search-engine: The goal of every search engine is to serve up the most relevant and interesting results, matching what the user is looking for as perfectly as possible.
For this reason, SEO lesson number one is: Real content always has the best chances with search engines. If you have a hollow shell of a site, offering nothing of interest, you can SEO the crap out of it, but you’ll never get many visitors and the visitors you do get won’t stay.
With that out of the way, here are the most important SEO factors to consider:
If your site contains text that matches the search term entered by the user, then that’s a good basis for getting listed in the results. You can optimize your site for this factor by using descriptive titles and clearly stating what each page or article is about. For example, on a movie review blog, call your new post “Citizen Kane Movie Review” instead of just “Citizen Kane” and title the summary within the article “Citizen Kane – Summary” rather than just “Summary”. You get the idea. You want to give the search engine something to clearly recognize what the article is about. Obviously, neither should you overdo it. Don’t write “Citizen Kane review” twice in every sentence, this will be noticed as keyword spamming by the search engines and readers will leave your site in a hurry because it’s unreadable.
One of the most important SEO factors is the amount of links pointing to your domain and each of the individual websites. If your content is interesting and relevant, many people will link to it, recommending it to others via social bookmarking sites, on forums, on their own blogs etc. If your content is original, it might be mentioned (and linked to) as a reference by others. Many incoming links indicate good content and search engines pay attention to that.
You can optimize for this by submitting your pages to social bookmarking sites yourself, linking to your pages from fora etc. In other words, you can try to do all the link-building by yourself. If your content is any good, it will soon be picked up by others and they will add to your backlink count by recommending your site.
- Page Title and Meta Description
What you see in the SERP are the page title and the meta description. A good content management system should always make it easy for you to add a title and meta description for each of your pages, so that you can make sure what shows up in the SERP is interesting, descriptive and representative of your page contents.
- Domain Age
Another important factor, one that is often overlooked, is the age of your website. It’s reasonable to assume that a website that has been around for years must be offering something or other of value. For this reason, search engines prefer pages from websites that have been online for several years over pages from websites that were created yesterday.
There’s nothing you can do to actively optimize for this, other than build a good website and stick with it for years.
Where To Learn More
Admittedly, the above list is barely scratching the surface of all the SEO possibilities open to you. There are many more factors playing into search engine ranking and there is much more to learn. However, the four factors listed are, broadly, the most important that you need to consider if you want to give your website a chance to get listed near the front of any results-page.
I will be addressing many of the further details of SEO in future posts. Until then, check out these useful resources on SEO:
SEObook – The classic. Check out their Firefox toolbar.
Matt Cutts – Google info straight from the horse’s mouth.
SEO 2.0 – Lot’s of SEO info from all angles. Entertaining read, too.
Wolf-Howl – My other favourite, next to SEO 2.0.