SEO: Part 1- What is SEO? and How do Search Engines Work?
Search Engine Optimization is Also Known As SEO
This is the first part of a three part series on search engine optimization or SEO.
In this section, we'll discuss how search engines work and why search engine optimization is important.
In the second section, we'll discuss basic techniques and important factors in SEO and search rankings.
And, in the final section of this guide we'll discuss how to maintain and continually improve SEO long term.
What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is optimizing your content to drive search engine traffic to your work.
It involves gaining a thorough understanding of how search engines work and then reflecting that knowledge in your writing and webpage design to maximize traffic to and user experience on your page.
SEO is important because search engines like Google, YAHOO!, and Bing drive the majority of web traffic. Shares on social media can cause short term spikes in stats, but real, long term success comes from maximizing search engines ability to drive traffic to your page.
Not only will good SEO improve search rankings and increase traffic for the author, but it helps people interested in your topic find your page and improves the viewer's experience as well.
SEO involves strategically using appropriate keywords, building links to your work and making your pages search engine friendly. Although it is important to understand what SEO is, it is also important to understand what SEO isn't. While SEO can make a big difference in stats, it cannot fix bad writing or poor content. SEO can make good writing into a great, high performing webpage, but it cannot turn poor content into good writing.
The Importance of the Crawler in SEO
How Search Engines Work
Search Engines use "spiders" or "crawlers" to build an index of the webpages available, the words on each page, and where on the page those words were located.These program robots begin on popular webpages and add important words found on the page to the search engine's index. From there, they follow every link on the page and index the corresponding pages before using the links on those pages to go to the next set of pages, and so on and so forth. This process is known as crawling.
Once this information is gathered by the spiders, it is encoded and stored for indexing. In order to even out the difference between the time needed to search a term beginning with a popular letter like 't' and a search term beginning with a less popular letter like 'q,' a numerical value is applied to each word. This process is known as hashing. Not only does hashing even out problems related to letter frequency, but it condenses the index. Only the numerical value and a link to the actual information is stored in the index. This increases index and search speed, especially with more complicated searches that involve multiple words.
When a user performs a search, he or she types a query into the search box. Boolean operators can be used to define specific relationships between the terms in a query. Some of the most common operators are:
- AND-requires that both terms are on the page
- OR-requires that one term or the other is on the page
- NOT-excludes pages that include the following term
- NEAR-requires that two terms be near each other on the page
- "quotation marks"-requires the query be treated as a phrase, instead of each significant word in the query being considered an individual keyword
- FOLLOWED BY-requires that one term be followed by another
These searches are defined as literal searches. Research is currently underway on concept based searching which uses statistics statistical analysis of webpages containing your query to recommend pages you might be interested in, as well as natural language searching which allows users to type a question into the search box using the simple language they would use to ask a friend their question instead of using Boolean operators.
Meta tags are keywords that describe the webpages content, but don't appear on the webpage itself. They can be used to clarify meanings of words used in the article, prevent unwanted traffic, and optimize search engine response to a page. On hubpages, hubbers don't control the meta tags. Hubpages uses meta tags to control which hubs are searchable and which hubs aren't.
There's More than One Search Engine
Each search engine uses different rules for determining which words are indexed and which words aren't. Some search engines index every word on the page. Others focus on the most common words, the words in titles and subtitles, meta tags and the first few lines of text.
If you've ever tried searching the same phrase on different search engines, you probably noticed that you got different results. This is because each engine uses different algorithms to weight and index keywords and determine search result rankings. Search engine ranking algorithms use website popularity, meta tags, number of back links (links to the page), keyword frequency and location and a wide variety of other factors to rank webpages and how well they correlate to viewer searches.
In addition to relevance, website popularity is taken into account in determining search rankings. As more interested users are directed to your page by your SEO techniques, not only will the techniques increase your relevancy scores, but the popularity component of the ranking algorithms will increase as well.
(For more concrete information on specific ranking factors and their relative weight please see this website.)
PBS Kids' Take on How Search Engines Work
Use SEO to Find the People Who Want to See Your Site!
Your Audience is Important in SEO
Now that you know how search engines function, we need to consider how users interact with search engines. To conduct a search, the user types a few keywords into the search box and clicks enter, browses the results and selects a page to visit. If the user is unsatisfied, he or she will return to the search and select another result or modify their query for a new result list.
People perform searches because they a) want to go somewhere specific on the web b) want to do something specific or c) learn a piece of information. In order to create a high performing webpage, you need to think like your user.
Ask yourself how many of your audience's needs can be met on your page. Add additional, relevant content that meets these needs to attract more viewers and happier views. Then ask yourself if your audience can find your page. What queries might your target audience put into the search engine? Are those keywords found in your titles, subtitles, alt text, summary and first few sentences?
Remember, building content for your users will lead to better results than trying to build pages for search engines.