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In this age of Google dependency – Google now processes over 3.5 billion searches per day – you’ve likely heard of SEO, or search engine optimization. (If you haven’t, SEO refers to the process of improving a website’s visibility in organic, or unpaid, search engine results.) Being ranked in the top results of a Google search results page can make or break a business; the first five results net, on average, about 68% of all organic clicks.
That’s great – for those top-ranking sites. But the rest of us are left wondering, how does SEO work? And more importantly, how can I get SEO to work for my site? This quick guide does not have the magic answer (and any one guide claiming to do so is likely a scam). It will, however, provide an overview of the SEO fundamentals, giving you a better sense of what steps to take next.
First, the very basics. Search engines crawl the web by following links from page to page, then sort the pages into an index (or database). When you input a search query, the search engine pulls pages from the index and returns them in a ranked list. Pages are ranked by relevance, as determined by the search engine; algorithms take into account multiple factors, such as the quantity and quality of a site’s backlinks (or in-bound links), keyword match and context, content uniqueness, and user accessibility. Google’s algorithm takes into account over 200 factors!
Perhaps the most important guideline to keep in mind is that a good website must be designed with the target audience in mind. Site content should be useful, appealing, information-rich, and valuable to users. That aside, in no particular order, here are a few basics which serve as a useful starting point for understanding SEO:
These points will hopefully get you started with SEO. A wise SEO beginner would, at this point, do some more research on each of these specific points (hint, hint). If, having done so, you decide to consult or hire an SEO expert, I recommend first having a glance through Google’s guide, “Do you need an SEO?”. Good luck!
Certain practices such as keyword stuffing, manipulative linking (e.g. purchased links, link exchanges), and cloaking (i.e. showing search engines content that’s different from what users see) may get you banned. Google, in particular, is quite firm on this point.