SEO Series #1: What is Search Engine Optimization and Why Should you Care?

by Sian Simon on October 11, 2011







Ever wondered why certain web sites get listed first in the results on search engines like Google, Yahoo! and Bing? And why other sites are listed on page 97 of the main results, or not at all? It isn’t because employees at Google include the websites they like, or websites that belong to someone they know…It’s because the owners of websites at the top of the list have taken care to make sure their listings are relevant to things that people might search for and easy for search engines to find and understand. This process is known as Search Engine Optimization or SEO.

If it’s important for your website to appear in high in the results on search engines, then you will need to take steps to ensure that search engines can find it, and that they will find content on it that is useful to people. If you sell products and services, or have a passion that you want to share, chances are that a large number of the people you are trying to reach will be using search engines to find information on that topic.

To understand Search Engine Optimization, you’ll first need to understand how search engines work. For a search engine to find your website you will either need to submit it (for example, click here to submit a website to Bing) or the search engine will need to follow a link from another website to yours. After this happens, the search engine will visit your site using an automated website crawler, often known as a “spider” or “bot”. The spider will crawl around your website following all the links it can find and collecting information about your site (which is one reason to make sure that any pages you want to show up in search results have a link from somewhere else on your site). Once it has collected all of the information, it categorizes the content based on the HTML code of the site along with the words and images it found in the pages. It then stores that information in an “index”.

When someone goes to a search engine and types in some words, the search engine will look in its index to try to find the websites with the most relevant content for those words. If it thinks your website is the most relevant and useful, it will show your site at the top of the non-sponsored results. (If you want to get your website listed in the Sponsored Search Results, that is a whole different activity known as Pay Per Click Advertising.)

So, at its simplest, you’ll need to understand two things about Search Engine Optimization:

  1. How to make your website easy to find and easy to categorize into a search engine index.
  2. How to make it relevant and useful to people searching for the particular things you have to offer.

 While there are specific things you can, and should, do to make it easy for a search engine to find and understand your site, the most important thing to remember is that the search engine’s purpose is to provide the most relevant results possible for humans. Don’t try to create a website just to attract search engines, because you can be sure there is someone out there who has a site that is easy for search engines to understand AND has relevant and interesting information for people – and that is always the site that will come out on top of the results.

To help you get started optimizing your own website for search engines, I’ll be posting a series of posts containing tips that you can work through. Alternatively, if you don’t have the time or inclination to work through these, try our SEO Optimizer service free for 7 days and it will guide you through the tasks you’ll need to do to improve your rankings.

Image via Flickr (creative commons) by seoz87 



This entry is part of 6 in the series All About SEO

Series NavigationSEO Series #2: Audit what you have and plan for success.

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