Do You Know SEO?

As appeared in the Presence Pointers column of the September 2008 issue of “Business Watch” magazine.

While I’ve mentioned SEO, or search engine optimization, a number of times, I realize that it is probably a rather foreign concept to some. Actually, if my recent 20 year high school reunion has taught me anything, it’s more likely that the concept is quite foreign to most readers. Let’s change that.

Why SEO Matters

We’ll start with why it matters. Think about how you use search engines to find what you’re looking for. You type in a couple keywords and see what the engines come back with. Maybe you refine your initial search by removing or adding a word or two. But how many pages of results do you look through — 10, 5, 3, 2, 1? If you’re like most, maybe just one or two pages. In fact, maybe you only look at the first few results on the first page.

So let’s say that you have a Web site about thimbles. Hopefully you already have people who know about and visit your site already. But what about all those people who, sadly, don’t even know you exist? Don’t even know that your site is the ultimate site for thimbles. Will you have to wait until they hear about you from someone who already knows about you? How long will that take? And while thimbles may be pretty cool in your world, they aren’t exactly a hot topic to everyone else. They probably aren’t coming up during conversations at work, out to dinner, or at home.

For many Web sites, the exposure, traffic, and hopefully sales, if that is their goal, that comes from search engines is considerable. The vast majority of that traffic comes from being found on the first page, and especially the top, of results. That’s the goal of SEO.

So What is Search Engine Optimization?

Each search engine has their own “formula,” their algorithm, for doing what and how they gather and return information. How the search results are determined is based on how relevant the search engine feels each possible result could be. This is based on all of the information they’ve previously retrieved from the Web and indexed within their databases, along with hundreds of signals they use to determine the quality and authority of each Web page and site they’ve uncovered.

Optimization, as you can probably guess, consists of a number of techniques that improve a site or page’s ability and opportunity to be returned by search engines for relevant searches. Ideally, as close to the top of those results as possible. SEO isn’t just about the keywords used on a site though, that’s only part of it. SEO is also about the technical architecture and functioning of a Web site. Many sites are prohibitive to the search engine spiders, so the words used on a page don’t even matter since the spiders can’t get to the page to begin with.

So for our thimble site, you could be the greatest around with the best information, highest quality thimbles, lowest prices, you name it, but if the search engines can’t find you or you aren’t returned high within the search results, you could be missing out on a lot of business and site visitors. Google currently claims to have a little over 1 million results for thimbles. That’s a fair amount of competition for the first page of results.

You might be lucky though if you are only competing for thimbles. If your site is all about shoes, the competition just got even greater — Google claims over 380 million results for shoes.

Essence of SEO

  • Monitoring and staying on top of how the search engines work and the constant changes they make to their algorithms. And understanding which SEO techniques are considered acceptable by search engines and which ones are not.
  • Improving a site’s structure to improve search engine indexation.
  • Improving usage and positioning of relevant content within the pages of a site.
  • Building external links to a site (note that some may consider link building to be part of SEO, while others see it related but separate).