What is SEO, Really, and Why Should You Care?

Short for search engine optimization, the process of increasing the amount of visitors to a Web site by ranking high in the search results of a search engine. The higher a Web site ranks in the results of a search, the greater the chance that that site will be visited by a user. It is common practice for Internet users to not click through pages and pages of search results, so where a site ranks in a search is essential for directing more traffic toward the site.

SEO helps to ensure that a site is accessible to a search engine and improves the chances that the site will be found by the search engine.

How do Search Engines Rank Sites?

A search engine sends a “spider” (AKA “bot”) to crawl… the servers on the world wide web to find documents to bring back to its index or database. In the index, it filters documents according to the search engine’s rules (such as, to weed out duplicates) and stores those which meet its quality criteria.

When a searcher makes a request, the search engine evaluates the sites in its storehouse of indexed sites, assessing which are the most relevant to the requested information, based on area of expertise as evidenced by keywords in content, and references in the form of links from authoritative sites. Note that the links that count with search engines are the ones pointing to your site. Each search engine has it’s own set of rules that govern which sites rank higher (their “algorithm”). Some, like Google, change from time to time to continually improve the process and to make sure sites are keeping their sites “Fresh” with their Search engine optimization.

How Does SEO Help?

Search Engine Optimization clears and maintains a path for search engines in four ways:

1. Addressing the limitations of the “bots” with crawler-friendly site design, as well as addressing indexing filter issues. Proper site design and critical code elements are ESSENTIAL for a site to perform well.
2. Making the site accessible to searchers by identifying keywords most used by the target audience and writing the keywords — sensibly — into the text of the website.
3. Attracting inbound links from authoritative sites and targeting those links to searchers’ interests.
4. Analyzing visitor activity on the site — human and “bot” – to look for ways to improve the search experience for both.

When you do this right, you help the search engines do a better job providing their visitors the information they seek, and they display your site to the visitors you seek. Everybody wins.

“Google really does want to encourage appropriate SEO; we want to help you rank better if you follow our guidelines,” said Matt Cutts, Google’s senior software engineer on a radio interview last month. You’ll find those guidelines at http://www.google.com/webmasters/guidelines.html .

Why Is SEO Important to Your Site?

In the “everybody-knows-that” department, studies reveal that 70% of searchers click on natural or organic listings. But with Google, that jumps to 87%. Nearly 50% of all searches are done on Google — more than half, if you add in AOL, which displays Google search results. So, do the math. Of 1000 searchers, 555 (55.5%) will use Google or AOL, and 483 (87%) of these will click on links that are not “sponsored”. Of the remaining 445 non-Google searchers, 311 (70%) will choose organic listings over paid. Altogether that’s 794 out of 1000 searchers! Who wants to pass up that many visitors? What’s more, research last year showed that 60% of searchers click on one of the top three organic listings if it interests them. (Just how to capture their interest, well that’s a topic for another time.)

There you have it. Search engine optimization to get some of those top rankings is vital to website success. Fortunately, successful SEO rests on following through on some basic principles for your site. If you haven’t begun SEO already, now’s the time to begin.

Feel free to give me a call if you have any more questions or if you want to improve your SEO for your site.

~ Jim