What Is SEO and How Does It Work?

If you are involved in your business’s web presence, you have probably heard the term search engine optimization or SEO. And you may be wondering how you can make the most if it. In this series on SEO basics, we will share some ways to do that. But, before you can “do” SEO, you first need to know what it is and how it works.

Moz.com, a leading SEO software company, defines SEO as “the practice of increasing both the quality and the quantity of website traffic, as well as exposure of your brand, through non-paid (organic) search engine results.

SEO helps us answer these questions:

-What are people searching for online?

-What answers are people seeking?

-What words are people using?

-What content do they wish to consume?

Moz puts it simply: “SEO connects you with the people who are searching for the solutions you offer.”

These solutions are found through search engines, specifically Google. Google is used for 90 percent of searches and is responsible for 94 percent of organic traffic. So, while SEO consists of many factors, a simple way to understand how it works is to look at the way Google algorithms determine search results.

According to Google, these five key factors are used to determine which results are returned for a query:

1. Meaning, or intent, of the query.

When a search is typed into Google, it goes through a multi-step process before the results show up on the screen. Google’s algorithms need to understand the meaning of the intent– what information is the user hoping to find? The algorithms need to understand language nuances, interpret spelling mistakes, and figure out exactly what someone is looking for – especially if they are using a synonym word. Google also wants to understand the category of information in the search – did the search include additional words like “review,” “image,” or “video?” This helps Google return relevant search results based on what it interprets the user’s intent to be.

2. Relevance of webpages

Once Google algorithms determine the meaning, or intent, of the search, the content of pages is analyzed for relevance to the search. The most basic signal that a page contains relevant information is keywords. Of course, having keywords in content is great, but also having keywords in headings and page titles makes a page seem more relevant to Google. Then, the algorithms assess whether the page has more relevant content other than just the keywords. For instance, if a user searches the word, “baseball,” they probably don’t want a page with the word “baseball” on it a million times. Instead, they are probably looking for something more relevant like pictures of baseballs, places to shop for baseballs, or history of baseballs.

3. Quality of content

At this point, Google’s algorithms want to return the most reliable sources of results, so they look for symbols to help them decide which pages have expertise, authority, and trustworthiness on a topic. The algorithms look for sites that many users seem to value. Is the author an expert? How would Google know this? Expertise must be communicated in a way that engages people. (This is SEO!) This is where it’s important to know the content your audience wants and how to best deliver that content. The best way to do this is through keyword research. Look up pages that are ranking the highest for your subject matter and then do it ten times better! When others cite your content as a source, your name or brand becomes synonymous with the topic – and you become the authority. So, how do you get authority? A few ways are with links to your pages from relevant and authoritative sites (backlinks), being mentioned in the news or on authoritative sites, having your content consistently widely shared across social media, and branded search volume- lots of people searching for your brand. Finally, trust is developed on your website in a few ways including clear contact information, a physical location, a terms and conditions page, a secure domain, privacy policy, and author biographies.

4. Usability of webpages

Another way Google ranks results is by evaluating the usability of webpages. This is why it’s important that a website is easy to read in different browsers and on all device types. The algorithms also take page speed into account. The pages that rank the highest will be easy to use.

5. Context and settings

Finally, Google algorithms target search results based on user context and settings including location, search history, and search settings.

In order to match your audience with your content, remember these two main

components of SEO: knowing your audience-what they are searching for, what answers they need, what words they’re using and what type of content they prefer, and knowing how to deliver your content so search engines can find and understand it.

For most businesses, the goal of increasing SEO would be to drive traffic so you can build relationships and spark growth. So, think about what you want to grow- leads, clicks, emails, addresses, revenue, trust? As you think about your growth goals, you can better define how to use SEO to drive those goals.

We will discuss more about setting yourself up for success in the next post on SEO basics. Until then, take a look at your website and see if it has the five key factors to make it stand out in searches.

If you have questions about SEO or would like help with your website, contact The Social Bullpen today. We can set up a custom plan to help you reach your marketing goals.