What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

New to SEO? Need to polish up your knowledge? My blogs related to SEO are crux from “The Beginner’s Guide to SEO” that has been read over 1 million times and provides comprehensive information you need to get on the road to professional quality SEO. Lets come back to some basics!

What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

SEO is the active practice of optimizing a web site by improving internal and external aspects in order to increase the traffic the site receives from search engines. Firms that practice SEO can vary; some have a highly specialized focus, while others take a more broad and general approach. Optimizing a web site for search engines can require looking at so many unique elements that many practitioners of SEO (SEOs) consider themselves to be in the broad field of website optimization (since so many of those elements intertwine).

This guide is designed to describe all areas of SEO – from discovery of the terms and phrases that will generate traffic, to making a site search engine friendly, to building the links and marketing the unique value of the site/organization’s offerings. Don’t worry, if you are confused about this stuff, you are not alone.

Search Engine Market Share

Why does my company/organization/website need SEO?

The majority of web traffic is driven by the major commercial search engines – GoogleBing andYahoo!. If your site cannot be found by search engines or your content cannot be put into their databases, you miss out on the incredible opportunities available to websites provided via search – people who want what you have visiting your site. Whether your site provides content, services, products, or information, search engines are a primary method of navigation for almost all Internet users. (See: Search Engine Market Share below)

Search queries, the words that users type into the search box which contain terms and phrases best suited to your site, carry extraordinary value. Experience has shown that search engine traffic can make (or break) an organization’s success. Targeted visitors to a website can provide publicity, revenue, and exposure like no other. Investing in SEO, whether through time or finances, can have an exceptional rate of return.

Search Engine Traffic

Why can’t the search engines figure out my site without SEO help?

Search engines are always working towards improving their technology to crawl the web more deeply and return increasingly relevant results to users. However, there is and will always be a limit to how search engines can operate. Whereas, the right moves can net you thousands of visitors and attention, the wrong moves can hide or bury your site deep in the search results where visibility is minimal. In addition to making content available to search engines, SEO can also help boost rankings so that content that has been found will be placed where searchers will more readily see it. The online environment is becoming increasingly competitive, and those companies who perform SEO will have a decided advantage in visitors and customers.

How much of this article do I need to read?

If you are serious about improving search traffic and are unfamiliar with SEO, I recommend reading articles i posted in my blog. There’s a printable PDF version for those who’d prefer, and dozens of linked-to resources on other sites and pages that are worthy of your attention. Although this guide is long, I am attempted to remain faithful to Mr. William Strunk’s famous quote:

A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.

Every section and topic in this report is critical to understanding the best known and most effective practices of search engine optimization.

Courtesy  of seomoz.org

Chap#2: How You Interact With Search Engines!

One of the most important elements to building an online marketing strategy around SEO and search rankings is feeling empathy for your audience. Once you grasp how the average searcher, and more specifically, your target market, uses search, you can more effectively reach and keep those users.

Search engine usage has evolved over the years but the primary principles of conducting a search remain largely unchanged. Listed here are the steps that comprise most search processes:

Experience the need for an answer, solution or piece of information.

Formulate that need in a string of words and phrases, also known as “the query.”

Execute the query at a search engine.

Browse through the results for a match.

Click on a result.

Scan for a solution, or a link to that solution.

If unsatisfied, return to the search results and browse for another link or…

Perform a new search with refinements to the query.

Robot Evolution

When this process results in the satisfactory completion of a task, a positive experience is created, both with the search engine and the site providing the information or result. Since the inception of web search, the activity has grown to heights of great popularity, such that in December of 2005, the Pew Internet & American Life Project (PDF Study in Conjunction with ComScore) found that 90% of online men and 91% of online women used search engines. Of these, 42% of the men and 39% of the women reported using search engines every day and more than 85% of both groups say they “found the information they were looking for.”

A Broad Picture with Fascinating Data

When looking at the broad picture of search engine usage, fascinating data is available from a multitude of sources. I’ve extracted those that are recent, relevant, and valuable, not only for understanding how users search, but in presenting a compelling argument about the power of search (which I suspect many readers of this guide may need to do for their managers):

A Broad Picture

An April 2010 study by comScore found:

  • Google Sites led the U.S. core search market in April with 64.4 percent of the searches conducted, followed by Yahoo! Sites (up 0.8 percentage points to 17.7 percent), and Microsoft Sites (up 0.1 percentage points to 11.8 percent).
  • Americans conducted 15.5 billion searches in April, up slightly from March. Google Sites accounted for 10 billion searches, followed by Yahoo! Sites (2.8 billion), Microsoft Sites (1.8 billion), Ask Network (574 million) and AOL LLC (371 million).
  • In the April analysis of the top properties where search activity is observed, Google Sites led the search market with 14.0 billion search queries, followed by Yahoo! Sites with 2.8 billion queries and Microsoft Sites with 1.9 billion. Amazon Sites experienced sizeable growth during the month with an 8-percent increase to 245 million searches, rounding off the top 10 ranking.

View Online

An August 2008 PEW Internet Study revealed:

  • The percentage of Internet users who use search engines on a typical day has been steadily rising from about one-third of all users in 2002, to a new high of just under one-half (49 percent).
  • With this increase, the number of those using a search engine on a typical day is pulling ever closer to the 60 percent of Internet users who use e-mail, arguably the Internet’s all-time killer app, on a typical day.

A EightFoldLogic (formally Enquisite) report from 2009 on click-through traffic in the US showed:

  • Google sends 78.43% of traffic.
  • Yahoo! sends 9.73% of traffic.
  • Bing sends 7.86% of traffic.

A July 2009 Forrester report remarked:

  • Interactive marketing will near $55 billion in 2014.
  • This spend will represent 21% of all marketing budgets.

A Yahoo! study from 2007 showed:

  • Online advertising drives in-store sales at a 6:1 ratio to online sales.
  • Consumers in the study spent $16 offline (in stores) to every $1 spent online.

Webvisible & Nielsen produced a 2007 report on local search that noted:

  • 74% of respondents used search engines to find local business information vs. 65% who turned to print yellow pages, 50% who used Internet yellow pages, and 44% who used traditional newspapers.
  • 86% surveyed said they have used the Internet to find a local business, a rise from the 70% figure reported last year (2006.)
  • 80% reported researching a product or service online, then making that purchase offline from a local business.

A study on data leaked from AOL’s search query logs reveals:

  • The first ranking position in the search results receives 42.25% of all click-through traffic
  • The second position receives 11.94%, the third 8.47%, the fourth 6.05%, and all others are under 5%
  • The first ten results received 89.71% of all click-through traffic, the next 10 results (normally listed on the second page of results) received 4.37%, the third page – 2.42%, and the fifth – 1.07%. All other pages of results received less than 1% of total search traffic clicks.

That's Some Spicey Data You Got There

All of this impressive research data leads us to some important conclusions about web search and marketing through search engines. In particular, we’re able to make the following assumptions with relative surety:

  • Search is very, very popular. It reaches nearly every online American, and billions of people around the world.
  • Being listed in the first few results is critical to visibility.
  • Being listed at the top of the results not only provides the greatest amount of traffic, but instills trust in consumers as to the worthiness and relative importance of the company/website.
  • An incredible amount of offline economic activity is driven by searches on the web

As marketers, the Internet as a whole and search, specifically, are undoubtedly one of the best and most important ways to reach consumers and build a business, no matter the size, reach, or focus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chap#1: How Search Engines Work? (Google, Yahoo, Bing)

Search engines have four functions – crawling, building an index, calculating relevancy & rankings and serving results

Crawling and Indexing

Crawling and Indexing

Imagine the World Wide Web as a network of stops in a big city subway system.

Each stop is its own unique document (usually a web page, but sometimes a PDF, JPG or other file). The search engines need a way to “crawl” the entire city and find all the stops along the way, so they use the best path available – links.

“The link structure of the web serves to bind together all of the pages in existence.”

(Or, at least, all those that the engines can access.) Through links, search engines’ automated robots, called “crawlers,” or “spiders” can reach the many billions of interconnected documents.

Once the engines find these pages, their next job is to parse the code from them and store selected pieces of the pages in massive hard drives, to be recalled when needed in a query. To accomplish the monumental task of holding billions of pages that can be accessed in a fraction of a second, the search engines have constructed massive data centers in cities all over the world.

These monstrous storage facilities hold thousands of machines processing unimaginably large quantities of information. After all, when a person performs a search at any of the major engines, they demand results instantaneously – even a 3 or 4 second delay can cause dissatisfaction, so the engines work hard to provide answers as fast as possible.

Providing Answers

Providing Answers

When a person searches for something online, it requires the search engines to scour their corpus of billions of documents and do two things – first, return only those results that are relevant or useful to the searcher’s query, and second, rank those results in order of perceived value (or importance). It is both “relevance” and “importance” that the process of search engine optimization is meant to influence.

To the search engines, relevance means more than simply having a page with the words you searched for prominently displayed. In the early days of the web, search engines didn’t go much further than this simplistic step, and found that their results suffered as a consequence. Thus, through iterative evolution, smart engineers at the various engines devised better ways to find valuable results that searchers would appreciate and enjoy. Today, hundreds of factors influence relevance, many of which we’ll discuss throughout this guide or you can find out our daily tips on our Facebook Page  or twitter account.

Importance is an equally tough concept to quantify, but search engines must do their best.

Currently, the major engines typically interpret importance as popularity – the more popular a site, page or document, the more valuable the information contained therein must be. This assumption has proven fairly successful in practice, as the engines have continued to increase users’ satisfaction by using metrics that interpret popularity.

Popularity and relevance aren’t determined manually (and thank goodness, because those trillions of man-hours would require earth’s entire population as a workforce). Instead, the engines craft careful, mathematical equations – algorithms – to sort the wheat from the chaff and to then rank the wheat in order of tastiness (or however it is that farmers determine wheat’s value). These algorithms are often comprised of hundreds of components. In the search marketing field, we often refer to them as “ranking factors” For those who are particularly interested, we crafted a resource specifically on this subject – Search Engine Ranking Factors.

Search Engine Results

You can surmise that search engines believe that Ohio State is the most relevant and popular page for the query “Universities” while the result, Harvard, is less relevant/popular.

So How Do I Get Some Success Rolling in?

How Online Marketers Study & Learn How to Succeed in Engines

The complicated algorithms of search engines may appear at first glance to be impenetrable, and the engines themselves provide little insight into how to achieve better results or garner more traffic. What little information on optimization and best practices that the engines themselves do provide is listed below:

Google

SEO information from Google (webmaster guidelines)

Googlers recommend the following to get better rankings in their search engine:

  • Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines. Don’t deceive your users or present different content to search engines than you display to users, which is commonly referred to as cloaking.
  • Make a site with a clear hierarchy and text links. Every page should be reachable from at least one static text link.
  • Create a useful, information-rich site, and write pages that clearly and accurately describe your content. Make sure that your <title> elements and ALT attributes are descriptive and accurate.
  • Keep the links on a given page to a reasonable number (fewer than 100).

Yahoo!

SEO information from Yahoo (webmaster guidelines)

Many factors influence whether a particular web site appears in Web Search results and where it falls in the ranking.

These factors can include:

  • The number of other sites linking to it
  • The content of the pages
  • The updates made to indices
  • The testing of new product versions
  • The discovery of additional sites
  • Changes to the search algorithm – and other factors
Bing

SEO information from Bing (webmaster guidelines)

Bing engineers at Microsoft recommend the following to get better rankings in their search engine:

  • In the visible page text, include words users might choose as search query terms to find the information on your site.
  • Limit all pages to a reasonable size. We recommend one topic per page. An HTML page with no pictures should be under 150 kb.
  • Make sure that each page is accessible by at least one static text link.
  • Don’t put the text that you want indexed inside images. For example, if you want your company name or address to be indexed, make sure it is not displayed inside a company logo.

An article by Seomoz.org. (Courtesy of Pludu Inc.)