Ah, the mysteries of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). If you’re like most conscientious web site owners, you know you need it, you’ve heard a lot of hype about it – but you don’t really understand it.
Unfortunately, that’s what a lot of SEO service providers are counting on. If you’re not careful, you can end up paying a lot of money for a lot of empty promises. In this article, we’ll take a look at the basic components of SEO and expose some of the hype for what it really is.
Two Types of Search Results
First, know that there are two types of search engine results. That is, when you search on a word or phrase, you get two types of results: paid results and natural results.
- Paid results, or pay-per-click advertising, are the handful of listings highlighted the top of the page and in the right-hand column. They’re essentially paid advertisements, often called “sponsored” results.
- Natural results are the bulk of the web pages listed down the center of the search results page. In fact, there may be several million results pages. These listings appear in response to your search because the search engine has determined that the content on these web pages may be relevant to you, based on the word or phrase you typed into the search engine. They’re often called “organic” results.
How Do Natural Search Results Work?
Natural search results are the end result of complex search engine computer programs called “bots” or “spiders”. These programs endlessly crawl the web, visiting every page and following every link they can find.
All of the information they find is captured and indexed in a massive database. Then, when you submit a search, this database is queried for pages that appear to match your search. How the pages are evaluated, weighted and ranked differs slightly from one search engine to another, but the basic mechanics are the same.
So what are the bots looking for? That’s the key to SEO.
First and foremost, the search engines like to see relevant content. They’ll consider many factors when assessing your content:
- The amount of information on your pages
- The number of times relevant keywords and terms appear in your content
- The relevant sites that link to/from your site
- The words that are emphasized in bold or italics
A well-constructed web page also contains a wealth of information programmed behind the scenes:
- Page titles – the descriptions that appear in your browser’s title bar, at the upper left of your browser window.
- Image tags – the captions you often see if you hover your cursor over an image.
- Meta tags – the keywords and page descriptions that are invisible to the end user, but tell the bots specifically what subjects you think your web page should be associated with.
Meta tags in particular would seem to make SEO really easy, right? Unfortunately, that used to be true. But scammers and spammers figured that out a long time ago. Because meta tags can be easily abused and manipulated, search engines now give meta tags less weight in their overall considerations.
So, what if you have every single one of these elements in place, and your site still doesn’t place well in the natural search results?
There are several reasons why this might happen. Read on to our next article to see if you’re making these common SEO mistakes…