What is SEO? Search Engine Optimization Explained

I’m often asked about SEO (Search Engine Optimization) by potential clients, when I’m teaching a course, or when I’m speaking in front of a group on a related topic. It’s a very misunderstood and mysterious topic for many so I’ll try to clear some of that up here in this post.

The Basic Definition

The definition that I use from my book, the SEO Boot Camp, is the following:

“Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the art and science of getting any given Web page to rank higher in the organic search results that come up when a searcher performs a search in a search engine”

Where SEO helps you…

Good SEO helps your pages rank in the organic (or non-paid) search results. Notice in the screen shot below that on the top and the right of a typical search results page that there is advertising. Businesses can buy to be placed in those sections by using a system call Google Adwords (for Google) or Bing Search Advertising for Microsoft’s Bing search engine. Your target for SEO is the outlined green box (see if you rank on Page 1 in Google here).

What Does Google Look For?

People usually focus most on Google’s search engine and what they are looking for in a web site because Google’s the 800 pound gorilla of search. About 65-70% of the searches that people do online go through Google’s search engine.

So, what does Google look for to determine how to rank the pages that show up in the organic search results? You can refer to the Periodic Table of SEO Ranking Factors below this section, but first I’ll briefly summarize some the main ranking factors from the chart here.

Content:

Your blog (or website) content is the most important factor. Is it high quality and targeted towards your target market? Do you use keywords that your potential customers actually use? Google will also consider if people are spending time on your page and staying within your site (versus looking and quickly clicking away). Lastly, are your posts recent or about current “hot” topics?

Keywords in the Right Places (called “HTML” in the chart below):

Are you including your keywords in the right places? Key places include above your URL (what’s called the Page Title), in Headers (such as the headers on this post) and in the Page Description that search engines can read. There are WordPress plug-ins such as the All in One SEO Pack and Yoast SEO to help you include these important components in your posts.

Site Architecture:

This one sounds complicated, but some of the factors are fairly simple. Does your site load quickly? If you use a quality web host, that helps quite a bit because you’ll be running on better or more optimized servers. Also, do you have short URLs (your web page addresses) with the target keywords in them? Can the search engines easily navigate your site? One way to help them is to include links to all of your key pages from other pages in your site or from your sidebar.

Links to your site:

The next factor is links from other sites to your pages or posts. One of the sincerest forms of flattery online is to link to quality pages from your own pages. Are people linking to your site? You can find out at this SEO Tools List (see Backlink Analysis Tools). Google will rank your pages higher if links come from quality sites, you have a large number of them, and if people place the links on top of text that includes your target keywords (see how I linked the SEO Tools List above – that’s an example).

Social Media:

Search engines are increasingly looking at how your content is shared via social media to help them assess the quality of your content (and site). Is your content being shared a lot? Are respected people sharing your content online?

Trust:

Has your site been around a long time? Are there other factors that increase or decrease your trust value such as links from trusted sites or shares from authorities? The search engines consider these things as part of their ranking algorithms.

Personal:

These factors are related to your website’s situation. What country or area are you from? Do you have regular visitors?

Violations and Blocking:

Have you been caught trying to trick the search engines by stuffing keywords with no regard for your readers (or in hidden places in your site)? Do you put links to your site all over the Internet in a spammy way? Are you trying to trick people by redirecting them to pages they’re not intending to visit? Have people blocked your site in their search results? These factors will lower your rankings.

Conclusion:

This gives you a basic overview of what Google and the other search engines look for to determine how high to rank your pages. The reality is that the more specific your industry, locality or niche are, the less of these things you need to have in place to rank well. For example, there aren’t that many Ford dealers or Yoga Studios in San Mateo (compared to all the United States). If you include local keywords and specifics about your business in your website and blog, you have a great chance to rank in the search engines. Looked at the opposite way, ranking in highly competitive markets requies that most of these things be done almost perfectly in order to rank.

On Wednesday, I’ll be translating this into 7 easy steps via my SEO Workshop. Feel free to join me!

The Periodic Table of SEO Ranking Factors

Below is the table of ranking factors from Search Engine Land that I referred to above as one framework for understanding the importance of the different factors. Click to see a larger version.

What is SEO? Periodic Table

Click here for the full SEO Periodic Table with explanations to download.

Source: Search Engine Land, The Periodic Table Of SEO Ranking Factors, used with permission

What’s your situation? Are you working on improving your search engine rankings?

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Comments

  1. SEO is really an effective SEO strategy that good in getting quality backlinks to help you increase ranking of your website and SEO is also consider as a good form of online advertising.
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  2. Ryan Hanley from Social Tools
    Twitter:
    says:

    Tom,

    Really fantastic stuff here buddy… It’s funny when I first started blogging I didn’t even think about SEO I just wrote and search results were… let’s say OK.

    But some simple focus on the topics you listed above (i.e. keywords, site speed, etc) has drastically improved this.

    Small business can compete against their national competitors by focusing on SEO.

    Thanks buddy!

    Ryan H.
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  3. It’s really nice to get to know again the basics of SEO. When I first started to put up my own blog, I never really thought about it, I just wrote what I like to write about. After a few months, I got to learn bit by bit about blogging, and how to make money from it. I agree that knowing how to properly execute SEO and maximize its potential is very beneficial to your site, even if it’s still only at its starting phase. Your post here about what SEO is will be very beneficial to newbies out there. Thanks for sharing!
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