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SEO is an ever-changing method of tuning a website to be more visible and useful to users.
While users are the primary target, all websites must adhere to a few specifications given by search engines if they want to get seen by users at all.
Search engines use an algorithm to display the most relevant results to their users. For reasons we’ll get to, search engines like to keep their algorithms private. SEO is, simply put, the effort of trying to make a website fit well into that algorithm.
We’ll cover the basics of SEO in this article, hopefully giving you a better idea of what it is and how to use it. But first, what does SEO stand for?
SEO stands for “search engine optimisation.” The general idea of what it is is pretty well contained in the name. Search engine optimisation optimises websites to do fit the preferences of search engine algorithms.
To really understand SEO, though, you have to have a little knowledge of how search engines work and the overall SEO definition.
In the early days of Google, sites actually had to apply to get indexed and be visible to users. That was a time when there were vastly fewer sites online, and Google didn’t have the technology needed to index the volume it does now.
As things progressed, though, Google had a vested interest in keeping up with the scope of the web to provide a valuable service for its users. While it’s estimated that only around .04 per cent of the internet is indexed by Google, they’ve still managed to index over 30 trillion web pages.
How do they do it?
The best way to describe how Google keeps up with websites is through an analogy. Imagine that the internet is a physical place and the gates to different rooms and places are the links to and from websites.
There are things called “crawlers” that move to and from those gates, only being able to move to rooms that are directly connected by links. Every time a crawler enters a room, it takes down inventory of all of the stuff within it and the quality of that stuff.
That’s essentially how it works. Crawlers, sometimes called spiders, are the bots that Google sends out to the internet to document information, moving through links. The information that bots takedown is part and parcel to the search engine algorithm.
It should be noted that the “search engine algorithm” isn’t something that most of the public really understands. While SEO consultant ‘s and professionals work hard to try and optimise sites, not a single one of them has a cheat sheet on how the algorithm works.
It’s in Google’s best interest to keep that information secret. Why? If you think about a search engine from the developer’s point of view, it makes a lot of sense.
There’s some competition among search engines. While most of the web traffic goes to Google, all search engines still have it in their best interest to provide a service that is superior to their competition. In this case, the search engines’ service is providing search results that are most relevant and useful.
An algorithm is used to sift through the 30 trillion-plus websites online, pick a few thousand, organise them in order of relevance to the keyword search, and display them to the user. The way that search engines make their decisions is, on some estimates, based on over 200 factors.
That being said, algorithms aren’t impossible to understand. There are ways to “cheat the system,” and the search engines don’t want you to understand those ways. So, SEO professionals are left searching for the buried treasure of search engine optimisation.
In other words, trying to figure out how sites can rank highly in searches. While we don’t know everything about optimisation, we know the most important bits. We’ll cover those next.
There are four or five elements of search engine optimisation that we understand to be the most important factors when it comes to ranking. Those are keyword optimisation, linking, site architecture, and quality content.
SEO marketing services through search engines and social media also plays a large role, but that’s a topic for another day. Let’s start with keywords.
It makes sense that keywords should be the most important element of SEO. The entire search process begins with a keyword. People want to know how long a squirrel’s lifespan is, so they search “how long do squirrels live?”
That phrase is what’s known as a “long tail keyword.” Keywords and phrases are the most explicit way for a search engine to know what you’re looking for and what will be most relevant. It’s like the strainer with the largest holes, the one that isolates the largest chunks of gold.
Keywords extend far beyond the immediate search as well. A lot of research is done on keyword trends in specific niches. The theory is, follow what people are searching and create content to match it.
It’s impossible to know what people will want to search in the future, but if a big enough group is searching for a specific keyword, it’s likely that it will be popular for a while. That’s why many sites create content strictly based off of keyword popularity within their niche.
The idea is to place keywords into your web copy or blog posts, making it clear that the page is about or related to the keyword. The trick is, and we’ll talk more about this when we go over quality content, you can’t saturate your posts with keywords.
Google has safeguards against copy that panders to the algorithm. People have tried everything from lacing the page with invisible keywords to creating poor content that is blasted with unnatural keyword usage. Those pages aren’t going to be much help to the user.
While it’s uncertain how, it’s clear that search engines have a means of sifting out the sites that aren’t going to be useful. The best way to avoid being discarded is to create useful content that uses keywords naturally.
If ranking in search engines were a democratic process, links would be the votes. Similarly to a lot of democratic systems, not all votes are counted equally. Some voters have more pull than others.
Search engines see sites with links as ones that are relevant to the online community, so they’re more likely to be relevant to users. Links to other sites in the relevant niche are more valuable than links to sites with no connection to the content.
You wouldn’t want to link to a toilet website if you were selling diamonds, for example. In the same vein, sites that are vastly popular will hold more weight in terms of ranking. So, a link from The New York Times is more valuable than a link from your local newspaper.
Similarly to keyword optimisation, you can’t cheat the system by blasting your site with hundreds of outbound links to popular sites. The outbound links you insert should be relevant and organically placed. Outbound links aren’t the most valuable, though, it’s inbound links that really boost your ranking.
While healthy outbound linking (linking to sites from your own) does show that you’re nestled in your niche’s network, it doesn’t say much about what other sites might think about you. Inbound links (links to your site from others), however, tell the algorithm that your content is relevant enough for other content creators to reference it.
Cultivating a healthy number of inbound links can be difficult, though. It’s similar to the employment dilemma wherein a person needs the experience to get a job, but they need a job for experience. Without much online traffic, you aren’t likely to be linked to by other sites but you need to be linked to in order to garner online traffic.
You can respond to this issue in a couple of ways. First, you could go out and essentially “cold call” other sites for links. Offering to write a blog post for their site in exchange for a chance to link back to your own is an extremely common method.
This is called guest posting, and it’s a viable way to network and beef up your site’s SEO. The alternative to guest posting is hiring a service to guest post for you or pay for inbound links. There are easy ways to have these services performed, and there’s no shame in paying for a little credibility in this case.
Good site architecture is more rooted in web design than it is SEO, but it has a big effect on your rankings nonetheless. Site architecture refers to the arrangement of your site and how easy it is for users to navigate it.
When Google crawls your site, it will take note of the arrangement of links and pages, making a judgment on how well it’s organised. In general, if a crawler can make it through your site systematically, you’re better off.
The best overarching tip to give about site architecture is that you should make your content hierarchical. In other words, start with general ideas and pages, breaking down your pages into smaller ones that relate to the original idea. This arrangement makes it easier for users to navigate.
If your content is scattered, lacking any logical organisation, users will have a hard time finding what they need and you will have a hard time ranking in search engines.
Whether it’s SEO for small businesses or multinationals, another large tenet of content marketing and SEO is the presence of good content. This is essential for a number of reasons. First, the search engine rewards useful content. It follows that you will do well eventually if you have a foundation of thoughtful content that meets user needs.
Second, search engines can snuff out bad content quickly. You will have a harder time being linked to if your content isn’t great, and that will be followed up by a lack of organic search results. People are going to come back to a site that is genuinely good.
You should also post content regularly. You don’t need all of your posts to be about the exact product that you sell, in fact, it’s unwise to do so.
If you have multiple pages that are optimised for the same keyword, Google won’t know which page to rank for. In that sense, you’re competing against yourself.
Writing numerous articles on your product will eventually lead to a conflict of ranking among your pages. Your best bet is to write a few central pieces about your business, writing the following posts on topics that you take from your keyword research.
Those central pieces are called keystone pieces. They should be those general ideas we referenced in the site architecture section. Make these living documents that are updated regularly.
Additionally, your subsequent posts should link back to your keystone pieces as much as possible. This gives those keystone pieces a lot of weight when it comes to rankings, and they can then serve as vessels outward toward your other posts.
If you organise your posts hierarchically, it should follow that all of your posts serve to feed traffic back up the system to your keystone pieces. Those keystone pieces are the heavy hitters and should lead users to make purchases, generate brand awareness, or do whatever you need them to do.
So, what does SEO stand for? Quite a bit. In fact, there’s a lot more to it than we covered in this basics of SEO article.
While having a good understanding of search engines and why SEO can benefit your site greatly, there’s really no substitute for the professionals. If you’re looking to seriously boost your ability to rank in search engines, going with a professional may be the best bet.
So, we hope that answers your question What Does SEO Stand For? If you’re interested in learning more about how to improve your site’s rankings, we have the information you need.