What is SEO?

Whenever you enter a query in a search engine and hit ‘enter’ you get a list of web results that contain those query terms. Users normally tend to visit websites that are at the top of this list as they perceive those to be more relevant to the query. If you have ever wondered why some of these websites rank better than the others then you must know that it is because of a powerful web marketing technique called Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).

In a nutshell, SEO is a technique which helps search engines find and rank your site higher than the millions of other sites in response to a search query. SEO thus helps you get traffic from search engines. It’s about making your site easy to read and attractive to the search engine spiders. If the spiders can move easily through your site and get a good idea of what it’s about without getting stuck, due to broken links or dead ends, they’ll remember you as a good source. When someone searches for topics you talk about, hopefully, the search engines remember to recommend your site as a source. However, none of this means anything if you do not know how exactly SEO works or what it is.

How search engines work

The first basic truth you need to know is that search engines are not humans. The differences between how humans and search engines view web pages are drastically different. Unlike humans, search engines are text-driven. Search engines crawl the web, looking at particular site items to get an idea what a site is about. They perform several activities in order to deliver search results, such as crawling, indexing, processing, calculating relevancy, and retrieving.

Search engines crawl the web to see what is there. This task is performed by a piece of software, called a crawler or a spider. Spiders follow links from one page to another and index everything they find on their way. Having in mind the number of pages on the web, it is impossible for a spider to visit a site daily just to see if a new page has appeared or if an existing page has been modified. In order to truly get into the minds of these spiders, you need to see what they see, by using a spider simulator. You will be able to see the most prominent or inaccessible page elements of your website. If certain things on your website are not visible, they will be non-existent for search engines.

After a page is crawled, the next step is to index its content. The indexed page is stored in a giant database, where it can later be retrieved. Essentially, the process of indexing is identifying the words and expressions that best describe the page and assigning the page to particular keywords. Sometimes they might not get the meaning of a page right but if you help them by optimising it, it will be easier for them to classify your pages correctly and for you to get higher rankings.

How a search result is processed

When a search request comes, the search engine processes it. It compares the search string in the search request with the indexed pages in the database. Since it is likely that more than one page contains the search string, the search engine starts calculating the relevancy of each of the pages in its index with the search string. There are various algorithms to calculate relevancy. Each of these algorithms has different relative weights for common factors like keyword density, links, or metatags.

That is why different search engines give different search results pages for the same search string. All major search engines, like Yahoo!, Google, Bing, etc. consistently change their algorithms and if you want to keep at the top, you also need to adapt your pages to the latest changes. This is one reason to devote constant energy into maximising your SEO efforts.

The last step in the search engines’ activity is retrieving the results. Basically, it is nothing more than simply displaying them in the browser, such as the endless pages of search results that are sorted from the most relevant to the least relevant sites. The amount of time you have spent on SEO and the amount of SEO knowledge you possess will drastically have an impact on the relevancy of your website versus your closest competitors.

Differences between the major search engines

Although the basic principle of operation of all search engines is the same, the minor differences between them lead to major changes. For different search engines, different factors are important. The major search engines like different aspects of a website and if you plan to conquer more than one of them, you need to optimise carefully. To start off with, rather familiarise yourself with one of the major search engines that both you and your target audience use the most. As you build confidence, you can try your hand at conquering one or two more of the other search engines. You will need to refocus certain areas of your website for specific search engines, but if you remember to get the core principles of SEO right, you’re good to go.

There are many examples of the differences between search engines. For instance, for Yahoo! and Bing, on-page keyword factors are of primary importance, while for Google, links are essential and critical for SEO. Also, for Google sites, they prefer matured websites that have been on the web for a long period of time. On the other hand, Yahoo! generally has no expressed preference towards sites and domains with tradition. Thus, you might need more time till your site gets mature to be admitted to the top in Google, than in Yahoo!.

What does this mean for bloggers and website owners?

SEO has taken the online marketing world by storm. 70% of the links that users click after searching for a keyword are organic. 93% of internet users are constantly using a search network to find new businesses and information. SEO spending has seen a steady increase over the last ten years and will continue to climb. A search engine like Google is important because when a web page on a site shows up on the first page of the search results for a particular search, it is very valuable.

Not many searchers click over to the second page of the search results. If your site appears on the first page for a particular search, you can be sure that the searchers will more than likely click on your result. It means more traffic for you and possibly more sales. Essentially, bloggers and website owners around the world are constantly trying to make their site more SEO-friendly so that the search engines will show their site’s pages on that front page.

Naturally, getting that first page spot won’t happen at all if the search engines don’t know your site exists in the first place. This is the winning formula that gets your website known and heard:

  • Bots (spiders) found your site
  • The bots crawled through it
  • They figured out what your blog/website is about by reading your content
  • Your website has been organised, filed, and stored in their gigantic collection of indexed webpages
  • They determine how your page ranks among similar pages on the internet
  • Your page is ranked according to various formulas and algorithms
  • Searchers find your website and you gain more sales

Spread the word

The number of people using the internet continues to grow as there are more outlets to search online. More than 90% of internet users are using search networks to find new products and services. As you can see, SEO is a useful tool. In turn, this presents an opportunity to all website owners that are willing to go the extra mile to practice effective SEO methods as a means of improving their page rankings. The end goal is to ultimately drive more traffic to your website so that your web visitors will spread the word about your brand. So, fittingly, you need to be equipped with the right knowledge and tools in order to successfully practice SEO.

However, when in doubt, it is always beneficial to consult SEO experts directly. They have tried-and-tested SEO methods that can fast track your website to first page ranking. Our website SEO strategies are designed to analyse your website for its weak points in order to replace it with the right information that will drive the results you want.

Further reading