SEO 101: The Basics

SEO, which stands for search engine optimization, is a major buzzword in marketing and communications. It’s an in-demand skill for professionals, though it still has an air of mystery to it. SEO isn’t too tricky once you learn the basics.


So what exactly does SEO do? It may seem like Google arbitrarily brings certain results to the top of the page, but those lists are actually the result of a complex search process. When you look for something using a search engine, it sends “spiders” to crawl through the web looking for the most relevant results for queries. They collect data from thousands of web pages and rank them based on popularity and authority. Search engine optimization is the process of improving and structuring your website so that it is more relevant, making it easier to find through a search and eventually drawing more people to your site.


Now, the pages that are on the very top of the results page may not be optimized. Some search engines allow sites to pay to be listed at the very top of the page. Search engines usually indicate if a result is an ad. After the ads, the top results are the most popular and most optimized pages. These are referred to as “organic.” The goal of SEO is to be at the top of the organic results list. People have a tendency to distrust ads and often skip over them, clicking instead on one of first ten organic results.


How do search engines decide which websites and pages are the most relevant? There are a few ways. First, they look at what is called the “on-page” SEO, or the optimization that’s physically on the page. Some of the biggest parts of on-page SEO are keywords.


Keywords at the words potential visitors will use in search engines. In order to optimize your website, you need to figure out which keywords are best for your business, industry or website and which words people are using that direct them to your site. There are two kinds of keywords—short and long tail. Short keywords are short, maybe one to three words, and are broad in scope. For example, “striped shirt” is a short keyword. It’s broad and difficult for a search engine to know just what kind of striped shirt the user may be looking for. On the other hand, “women’s white and blue striped sailor shirt” is a long-tail keyword. It’s very specific, down to the gender, color and style. Ranking high for a short keyword is very difficult to do, and usually left to large companies and retailers. It can be more beneficial to a smaller company or website to rank high for a long-tail keyword, because the chances that the visitor finds exactly what they’re looking for are much greater.


It’s not enough to simply have lots of keywords on a page. You could list thousands in order to trick the spiders, but search engines now are much too smart for that. In fact, they’ll ignore and eventually blacklist websites that try to outsmart them with shady SEO techniques. Engines also consider keyword synonyms, ordering, intent and tenses, as well. In short, it’s important to create quality content around your keywords. Don’t unnecessarily repeat keywords or list tons of words or phrases that aren’t relevant. By using a few important keywords alongside relevant, quality content, you’ll be improving your SEO in no time.

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