What is SEO and how do I optimize for search engines?
SEO which stands for Search Engine Optimization – is the process of increasing the visibility of a website or a web page with the intent of getting free or organic traffic (unpaid traffic) through search results on search engines.
Some of the major search engines include Google, Yahoo, Bing and these respond to the users search queries with search results which they consider relevant to the searchers question.
The results can be in form of webpages, videos, webpages, local listings and even images.
What are search engines and how do search engines work?
In simple terms, Search engines are like your school or community libraries with millions and millions of books but instead of them storing physical books they store copies of what we call webpages in the digital age.
The web pages are collected by the spiders (not the ones you know) that crawl your website for information that Google presents. The webpages contain the content.
Search engines store copies of webpages from various websites in an index which in your local library you would call a book shelf.
When a user types a query in the search engine’s query field, the search engine uses its computer program (an algorithm) to look through its search index and it returns the results which it thinks are relevant to the user’s question.
How does the algorithm determine which results to present to the user?
The search engines algorithm uses a number of factors to determine which webpages from its search index should be presented as results.
According to Google’s How Search works :” To give you the most useful information, Search algorithms look at many factors, including the words of your query, relevance and usability of pages, expertise of sources and your location and settings. The weight applied to each factor varies depending on the nature of your query – for example, the freshness of the content plays a bigger role in answering queries about current news topics than it does about dictionary definitions.”
How does SEO work?
First of all, I need to ask you a question. How did you find this article? My simple guess is you used any of the most common search engines i.e. Google, Bing, Yahoo to search for answers to your query.
There are thousands of other webpages or websites with the answers to your question but this article in particular has not been presented to you randomly.
So how did you end up here? The simple answer is it’s not by chance.
The search engine’s algorithm has analysed and understood your search query and looked through its search index to identify the best webpage out of the millions of webpages it has in its database to present what it thinks (based on its algorithm) is the best and most relevant webpage with the answers to your question.
Google being the most popular search engine in the world today with a search engine market share of over 92% according to statcounter.com as of October 2019.
It has a goal of dominating the market and they try as much as they can to present you with the best information to your question so that you trust it with your searches.
How do I optimize my website for SEO?
Congratulations on setting up your website successfully!
If your website is not optimized for SEO, it means it’s not yielding results as much as it should
Am assuming you want to do this yourself which is okay if you have the skills to do so.
If not, you need to look for an SEO expert or an SEO company to help you come up with the best SEO strategy to optimize your website for Search engines.
There are a number of ranking factors that search engines like Google consider when presenting results to its users.
Google has over 200 ranking factors it uses and no one at least from outside Google knows the exact number.
We need to understand that Google does not rank a website in general but it instead ranks individual webpages on a particular website.
Therefore a website ranks for keywords, key phrases and topics from different webpages.
What are the known Google search engine ranking factors?
In summary these are :-
- Crawl-ability (website accessibility)
- Web page speed (including mobile)
- Website mobile friendliness
- Optimized content
- Domain age and authority
- Business Info
- Technical SEO
- User Experience
- Social Signals
Before a website is indexed, a search engine has a crawler that follows links on your website.
When a crawler or a robot or a bot or a spider finds your website, it will read it and index the content or save it in its database.
What it saves is the html version of a page in its large database.
The crawler does this 24/7 and each time it find new content, a new version of a webpage is updated.
So website crawl-ability is all about the possibility Google has to crawl your website.
Let’s take note that the crawler can also be prevented from crawling or indexing your website.
- You can block a crawler from indexing your website by putting a rule in the robots.txt file.
- You can also block a crawler from indexing your website by using the robots meta tag on a specific page. What is happening here is that Google will index that page but it won’t add it to its index
Web page speed
Webpage speed is all about how fast your webpage is. This is also a ranking factor for both desktop and mobile.
With that in mind, every second counts. The faster the webpage is, the higher the chances of it ranking high.
Why should this matter?
Google wants to satisfy its users as much as it can and it wouldn’t wish to give results from slow webpages that will in turn annoy the searchers.
If you want to check for the speed of your webpage, you can use Google’s page speed Insights tool or you can also use ahrefs site audit tool to find slow loading web pages on your entire website.Other tools include tools.pingdom.com,Gtmetrix etc.
Website mobile friendliness
Gone are the days when website traffic only came from desktop or laptop computers.
The game has changed and now very many visitors use their mobile devices to browse websites.
If your website is not responsive or mobile friendly, this can be a total turn off for many visitors and they choose to close your website and go somewhere else.
How do I know if my website is mobile friendly?
Mobile Friendly Test Results
There are very many tools on the internet that you can use to check if your website is mobile friendly or not.
In the recent years, Google has put a penalty on websites that give users a poor experience on mobile devices and this is part of the ranking criteria.
When it comes to Google, content literally everything. Whether its text based, images, videos or any other form of content.
Having content on your website is one step and in order for your content consumers to find that content, it needs to be optimized for SEO.
Optimizing your content involves use of keywords because the search algorithm relies on those keywords.
Keywords are simply words and phrases that information searchers use when they are looking for answers to their queries.
The keywords and phrases help the search algorithm to understand what you content is about.
Domain authority and age
There has been a serious debate about domain age being a ranking factor. With some arguing that it’s not and other giving their opinions that it is.
So who is right and who is wrong?
There is no clear answer to this question but some individuals have gone ahead and carried out some tests and the results are convincing that domain age is a ranking factor according to the article (In SEO,domain age matters) written by on Sean Si of Seo-Hacker.com.
What is domain authority and why does it matter?
Domain authority is about the relevancy of a website for a particular subject area or industry. It’s this relevancy that gives it a direct impact on its ranking by search engines like Google.
We can summarize the subject of domain authority in four dimensions
- Quality of the information presented
- Information and website centrality
- The overall competitive situation around a subject or topic
- The prestige of a website and its authors
Having your business information on your business listing is very crucial especially if you’re targeting local areas.
What kind of information should I put?
Follow the below criteria on each and every business listing you setup
- NAP – name ,address , phone number
- List your business on Google My Business and Facebook
- Have reviews both on Google My Business and Facebook and other directories
- Optimize your business listing with the right local search terms
Technical SEO is the process of optimizing your website for the crawling and indexing phase.
You need technical SEO to help search engines find, crawl, index and interpret your website with no difficult.
Remember: If search engines can’t find & crawl your website, you literally don’t exist.
You can implement all the above steps but if the user experience is not good then it’s almost a waste of your valuable time.
Search engines can understand how users interact with your website by using a number of signal i.e
The bounce rate – this happens when a user lands on your website and they bounce off because they don’t like the website of its not relevant to what they are looking for.
Click-through rate – The click through rate is another metric that search engines can use to determine and evaluate the user experience on your website.
Click-through Rate or CTR is the ratio of the number of users who click on a link to the number of people who view a link or page.
The CTR can also be used to measure the effectiveness of a marketing campaign. I.e. website, email etc.
Dwell or Session time – How much time do users spend on your page or website.
These can greatly affect your rankings on the SERP (Search Engine Results Page)
Social Signals refers to a webpage’s overall shares, likes and the entire social media visibility as perceived by search engines.
Let’s not forget that the Search Engines core aim is to provide users with high-quality and relevant content.
What social signals do search engines look at?
- Number of Facebook shares
- Number of tweets and retweets and the popularity of the people tweeting
- Website mentions on community sites
Increased social signal can help in improving domain authority and ranking of the website in general.
When other websites link to your content (In bound links), its signals to search engines that your website content is authoritative and relevant and this gives you a high chance of ranking high especial if the links are coming from other authoritative websites.
The other types of links that can help in SEO are:
Out bound links – Links that come from your website leading to other websites are also important especially if you want to implement a successful SEO campaign.
Internal links – linking to your own website content can help connect pages together for both your visitors and Google. This makes each page more valuable.
You now know what SEO is, how search engines work and what factors search engines like Google look at when ranking webpages.
Remember search engines change over time and some changes are made that may at worst change how search engines look at the above factors when ranking websites.
Most of the factors don’t change and they will always be a ranking factor for search engines.
Next, we will look at:
What is SEO writing? And a number of other topics in the world of SEO
Kakaire Brian is the CEO of 1AdVERT Digital Marketing Agency based in Kampala,Uganda.
He has skills in website design, website development, and having tons of practical SEO knowledge and expertise, Brian’s skills run from SEO to digital marketing to website development. Brian offers SEO audits, SEO consulting, and website design & development through his company, Site Objective SEO Consulting.