What is SEO? Search Engine Optimization Explained and How SEO Works
Search engine optimization is the process of improving the quality and quantity of website traffic to a website or a web page from search engines. SEO targets unpaid traffic rather than direct traffic or paid traffic.
What is SEO?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, which is the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results.
What goes into SEO?
To understand the true meaning of SEO, let’s break that definition down and look at the parts:
- Quality of traffic. You can attract all the visitors in the world, but if they’re coming to your site because Google tells them you’re a resource for Apple computers when really you’re a farmer selling apples, that is not quality traffic. Instead you want to attract visitors who are genuinely interested in products that you offer.
- Quantity of traffic. Once you have the right people clicking through from those search engine results pages (SERPs), more traffic is better.
- Organic results. Ads make up a significant portion of many SERPs. Organic traffic is any traffic that you don’t have to pay for.
How SEO works
You might think of a search engine as a website you visit to type (or speak) a question into a box and Google, Yahoo!, Bing, or whatever search engine you’re using magically replies with a long list of links to webpages that could potentially answer your question.
That’s true. But have you ever stopped to consider what’s behind those magical lists of links?
Here’s how it works: Google (or any search engine you’re using) has a crawler that goes out and gathers information about all the content they can find on the Internet. The crawlers bring all those 1s and 0s back to the search engine to build an index. That index is then fed through an algorithm that tries to match all that data with your query.
How to optimize for Google
Google famously uses more than 200 ranking factors. There was even talk way back in 2010 that there could be up to 10,000. Nobody knows what all of these ranking factors are, but we do know some of them. How? Because Google told us, and many people—including us—have studied the correlations between various factors and Google rankings.
We’ll discuss some of those shortly. But first, an important point: Google ranks web pages, not web sites.
Just because your business makes stained glass windows doesn’t mean that every page on your site should rank for the query, “stained glass windows.” You can rank for different keywords and topics with different pages.
Now let’s talk about some of the things that affect rankings and search engine visibility.
Before Google can even consider ranking your content, it first needs to know that it exists. Google uses several ways to discover new content on the web, but the primary method is crawling. To put it simply, crawling is where Google follows links on the pages they already know about to those they haven’t seen before. To do this, they use a computer program called a spider. Let’s say that your homepage has a backlink from a website that’s already in Google’s index. Next time they crawl that site, they’ll follow that link to discover your website’s homepage and likely add it to their index. From there, they’ll crawl the links on your homepage to find other pages on your site.
That said, some things can block Google’s crawlers:
- Poor internal linking: Google relies on internal links to crawl all the pages on your site. Pages without internal links often won’t get crawled.
- Nofollowed internal links: Internal links with nofollow tags won’t get crawled by Google.
- Noindexed pages: You can exclude pages from Google’s index using a noindex meta tag or HTTP header. If other pages on your site only have internal links from noindexed pages, there’s a chance that Google won’t find them.
- Blocks in robots.txt: Robots.txt is a text file that tells Google where it can and can’t go on your website. If pages are blocked here, it won’t crawl them.