SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It stems from how sites and pages are archived on the internet. In order to understand how SEO actually works we need to take a step back to see how the internet actually works. Don’t worry… we’re not going to get too technical or detailed.
A Brief History
The internet that most people know is a combination of different computers. These computers all have different addresses called IP addresses. These are a series of numbers that tell other computers where a computer is on the web. However, humans are terrible at remembering numbers so we began placing domain names as a vanity address. So when you go to Amazon.com you are actually being routed to an IP address.
With the advent of domain names ordinary people began to be able to use the internet through various browsers. But there was still an issue. You still had to remember the site addresses. So in order to not have to remember your favorite addresses people began making lists of their favorite sites for others to use. Eventually companies such as Yahoo, Alta Vista, and others began to manually input sites into a database and relate them to keywords so people could search for websites relationally. However, there was an issue with this method. In order to keep up the exponential growth of the internet, they had to have hundreds of people manually inputting information into their databases around the clock. And they still couldn’t keep up…
Enter The Crawler
That’s when Larry Page and Sergey Brin created Google while attending Stanford. They took an entirely different approach to archiving the pages and sites on the internet. They created a computer program that would go from link to link, essentially “crawling”, and archive data about that page such as the URL, the title, and a brief description. By completely automating the archival of the internet, Google quickly became the best source for searching the internet simply because they had more information, meaning more URLs, than their competitors.
Another thing that Google did that set them apart was make a mathematical formula, or algorithm, for how to rank the pages based on search criteria. This became simply known as Page Rank, which was aptly named after Google cofounder Larry Page. This algorithm took into account many different data points and gave each page a score. The higher the score the higher your results would be on Google’s results. This is when SEO was born.
The Birth Of SEO
As soon as people where aware that there was an actual formula to ranking on Google, they became aware that they could affect their positioning on the page by altering what Google was looking for. So for example, if people searching for new basketball shoes searched for “Basketball Shoes” and your store only had “Tennis Shoes” as a title, then you could add another page titled with Basketball Shoes and that page would rank higher up for that particular search.
So what exactly is the algorithm? Unfortunately Google keeps that proprietary. So anyone claiming to actually know the algorithm is lying. However, we do know quite a lot about what Google looks at because they actively communicate with the community. They will often tell portions of what is important or what they are focusing on.
This means that attempting to fully understand the algorithm is largely impossible because it’s constantly changing. You can see a list of all the changes to the algorithm listed here. A few years ago it was possible to use parts of the algorithm to your advantage. An example would be Public Blog Networks, or PBNs. These were list of sites that were linked together. Some sites could be completely fake but Google would count them as a link to your site which increased your overall score. That’s not the case anymore, and Google has shown they will permanently penalize you if you try and game the system to your advantage.
This is often called Blackhat SEO and Google hates it. There are many people who will try and argue that Blackhat still works. It might to a degree, but is it worth risking having Google penalize you? Because, eventually Google will catch on and penalize your site. Then you’re left with a choice of whether to rebrand or compete from a deficit.
However, you can’t and shouldn’t do nothing. In fact there is something you can do that Google loves. And that’s simply making good content.
Build It And Links Will Come
Google is actively trying to build trust into their product. So if you actually focus on doing what they want, they will reward you. That means making high quality content that others want to link to, share, and consume (read, watch, listen to). There are other important factors such as keyword targeting and backlinking, which can help, but the number one goal of Google is to get quality content in the hands of their users. So that should be your goal as well.
There is a long list of things Google likes in content and sites. Google likes content that is long and has “good quality”. Long typically means over a 1000 words. Some experts say over 2000 words. They also like videos, images, and comments and links to and from other sites.
Google also values availability and security. They recently have begun penalizing sites that are not mobile responsive. The reason for this is that over half of internet users are mobile only so Google wants to promote sites to their customers which are now primarily on a mobile devise. Google has also begun penalizing sites that are not HTTPS/SSL secured.
However, these are all modern practices for webmasters and that’s a good thing because Google is actively trying to make the web a safe place for its users through Page Rank. We’ll talk about this and more later on in subsequent SEO series.
So is SEO important? Yes, absolutely. If you do nothing your competitors will always be ahead of you. However, there’s a right and wrong way to do it and choosing the wrong way to do it can be catastrophic if Google finds out. Is it easy? Not exactly. It’s not rocket science and the average person can learn SEO and likely implement it on their site. However, it’s very time consuming.
We hope this answers a lot of questions that you may have had on SEO. Please let us know in the comments if you have any other questions or if we missed anything that you’d like to add!