What is Search Engine Optimization

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When someone searches online for products or services like yours, you want to come up as #1 in the results. Unfortunately, the competition is fierce and potential customers are paraded with other options: big stores that offer your product and a thousand others, blogs that list their favorite resources in your areas, and even your rival company down the street. How do you rank ahead of all these other websites? This is a question that has been asked since search engines like Google first took root, and the answer is always changing. 

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a method of improving your website and its online presence in order to rank higher for search terms that will help your website thrive. For example, a Seattle pizza parlor wants to rank for “pizza seattle,” and a Las Vegas magician wants to rank for “magic shows las vegas.” For the most part, SEO is all about setting goals for your website and then getting there. 

A Brief History of SEO

Once upon a time in the late 1990s, all you needed to rank #1 was to spam your target search terms all over your website. Our Seattle pizza parlor could take the #1 page, make a carbon copy, add “pizza” to the page a few hundred more times, and rank at the top of their local search, nay perhaps the top of the world. Of course, search engines didn’t like what this did to the Internet they knew and loved. 

Millennials and above may remember when the search results were flooded with gibberish websites crammed with words and phrases that meant nothing in particular. The first major Google update, Florida, cracked down on sites like these, making it tougher to reach success just by stuffing a site with search terms. Other brute force SEO methods took over as the simplest ones were penalized: Having more links to your website meant your site was more reputable, so people built hoards of websites just to link to their own, and made backlink networks where everyone linked to each other. Google started hunting down these backlink networks and website farms, penalizing any websites that were caught. Since Florida, Google has made 17 major updates, each time focusing on different aspects of the search engine algorithm, like comparing the value of a link from one website vs another, and better interpreting natural language. For a more thorough explanation, check out the detailed history of SEO put together by Torque.

Nowadays, most of the sneakiest tips and tricks have been shut down or penalized, and search engines watch like hawks for the latest get-optimized-quick schemes. This has in turn changed the face of SEO: The best way to optimize your website in 2022 is to make your website better

This may be a cheeky line, but it’s true. The most surefire way to succeed is to determine what search engines (and users!) are looking for, then deliver exactly that. 

The Three Main SEO Strategies

With the checks and balances of search engines being refined since their infancy, websites have a lot to prove if they want to be #1. First, websites must prove their relevance to the topic a user searches for. This is still primarily done by matching the content with search terms, but it’s become much more complex. Next, they must have credibility proven by outside sources like links, mentions, and reviews. Finally, the website must demonstrate the usability to compete with similar resources. This metric comes from a combination of site speed and user interactions, checking if users are really finding what they’re looking for when they come to your site.  

SEO Tactics for Relevance

The first step in most search engine optimization efforts is to know which searches you want to appear for. Using tools like Google Ads Keyword Planner and Ahrefs, people look for commonly searched words or phrases that their website has the caliber to compete for. These are referred to as keywords in the SEO world. These keywords are then incorporated into every aspect of a page, from the title and headings to the main content and the alt text for the images. 

They’re also featured in the meta title and description that entice users from the search engine to the page. When adding a link to a page, people will also incorporate these keywords in the text of that link, aka the anchor text. For example, this page is a shameless advertisement of our SEO services. Rather than spamming the site with these terms, modern SEO users sprinkle in their keywords with care, incorporating synonyms and variations while also making sure not to go overboard. 

SEO Tactics for Credibility

One of the things that made search engine optimization a breeze 20 years ago and much more complicated now: Google now checks your references. Search engines assign a rough value to every link to your site, judging not just whether websites in good standing refer to you, but whether they refer to you as what you claim to be. If your website is acclaimed as a sock store, this won’t get you too far as an auto repair shop. 

Search engines are also picky about your references: the more reputable the better. If Google determines that you’re buying or trading links (without marking them as sponsored), you may see your rankings plummet. The best way to boost your credibility and avoid the Google doghouse is to engage your audience, write shareable content, encourage honest reviews, and let your reputation grow honestly. You can also show search engines the pages you consider the most important by making them easy to navigate to.

SEO Tactics for Usability

When users click a link to your site, do they find what they’re looking for? Do they browse your content, use your contact forms, and make purchases on your site? Do they leave at first glance and select the next search engine result instead? 

While they can’t stand over users’ shoulders and watch every click (yet), search engines use the info they have to judge if users are successful in their journeys. Search engines can also take their own look at a website, test how quickly it loads, make sure the font is legible, and see if it’s as usable on mobile as it is on desktop. 

The most straight-forward way to improve the usability of a website is to cut down on loading time. As for the rest, Google Search Console points out usability issues it finds, and real-live human beings are also excellent at spotting problems. Usability is perhaps the most clear-cut step in SEO: simply making your website better.

As search engines continue to evolve, SEO evolves with them, proving to these systems that your website is a great resource on a given topic.