SEO is short for search engine optimization, but what does that even mean?
Search engines are programmed to locate the best – the most “optimal” – search results.
Since SEO is intrinsically related to Internet content marketing, it is all about trying to get a website ranked high within search results.
This optimization, which is independent of paid advertising, is beneficial for both individuals and organizations.
Let’s say, for instance, that you think you may have a sinus infection.
So, you type “sinus infection symptoms” into the search bar of your preferred web browser, be that Google, Bing, or Microsoft Edge.
If you enter this search term into all three of these browsers, as I did, you will see that the first results page for all three includes a link to a WebMD article.
This means that WebMD is search engine optimized, as it appears within the first page of search results each time.
In simple terms, you could say that when Google, Bing, and Microsoft Edge scoured the Internet at light speed for information about sinus infection symptoms, they all separately concluded that WebMD was a good place to get your question answered.
That’s the basic explanation, but in what way do search engines determine the best search results?
This is based on a combination of factors such as algorithms, content, keywords, and links.
To find sites, web browsers use algorithms; and, to be found, sites depend on content, keywords, and links.
Math people will be familiar with the term algorithm, which is a specific way of solving a math problem.
When it comes to computers, Merriam-Webster broadly defines an algorithm as “a step-by-step procedure for solving a problem or accomplishing some end.”
If computers already have a particular process they follow, then why does SEO matter?
Think of it as a popularity contest. A browser’s programmed algorithm is not only looking for websites that have keywords matching a search term, but for sites that have also had repeat traffic to them.
This is where quality content comes into play.
It is not enough to have inferior content randomly sprinkled with keywords to attract a web browser’s attention.
Someone who talks loudly about nothing will get attention, but it will probably not be lasting, favorable attention.
Similarly, a website with useless “filler” information may initially be able to fool a search engine and draw in visitors, but it will not fare well in the long run.
A person seeking helpful information about a topic will not be likely to return to a disappointing website.
Web browsers have been evolved to the point that they have a certain low-level artificial intelligence allowing them to learn from people’s preferences.
In short, as the humans wise up, so do the search engines.
This is also why the practice of sprinkling spammy links across the Internet can backfire.
If someone tries to increase website traffic by placing backlinks to it in unrelated places around the web, humans and browsers will eventually pick up on that, which ties back into content importance.
If other people like and share a website’s content, that starts a chain reaction of legitimate links back to that site.
Don't over optimize
Overuse of keywords can also do more harm than good.Let’s go back to our popularity contest comparison.
Someone who tries too hard is less likely to be popular, while the person who acts naturally is more likely to be popular.
Say a website manager is trying to draw web surfers to the site by flooding it with keywords.
Even relevant keywords thrown around in mass amounts will sound repetitive to humans and raise a red flag to browsers.
SEO is ever changing
While it is possible to cover some basics of the “what” and “why” of SEO in one relatively short article, the “how” is a much more complicated subject.
Remember that Merriam-Webster described a computer algorithm as “a step-by-step procedure.”
Now take into consideration that the steps within those procedures are constantly in a state of flux as computer algorithms change.
Moz.com states that Google, the largest search engine, updates its algorithm 500-600 times per year.
That would roughly work out to be once or twice per day. Granted, most of these changes are minor, but the major ones are just that – major.
And each time a major algorithm update rolls out, SEO must adapt along with it.In 2016 alone, Google came out with eleven major algorithm updates – an almost monthly rate of change.
In 2017 there has already been one major update, and there are likely to be many more, if the past is any indication.
Stay up to date
What this boils down to is that websites failing to keep up with the times will fall behind in rankings.
A website that is not regularly maintained and updated is not likely to make the first page of search results.
People will often stand in line and scan magazine covers without ever opening one up.
Front-page newspaper articles are often read, but that little article buried on page seventeen seldom is.
Just so, casual web surfers will not bother looking all the way to page five of search results.
It is no wonder then that job fields have expanded for SEO experts and Internet marketing specialists.
These are the people keeping up with the latest (practically monthly) trends.
They are modern-day Druids, seen as tech magicians to a population largely lacking in technological know-how (seriously, we use technology every day, but how many of us actually know how it works?).
Unlike the Druids, however, who supposedly hoarded helpful information and sequestered themselves on an island apart, these people possessing superior knowledge of the World Wide Web’s tangled workings are willing to share and apply it – for a fee, of course.
Well, maybe they are a little like the Druids after all…
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