What is a search engine?
The search engines are like the librarians of the internet. They help users to find the information they want. A search engine uses robots or spiders (automated software) to crawl through all the billions of documents on the Web, going from one to the next by following links. The information they find is indexed and ranked. There is so much information available that it has to be ranked for you to get the very best results when you conduct a search. Each search engine has a different way of obtaining their results. They use secret recipes called algorithms that are extremely complex and detailed. These algorithms are changed and refined all the time.
So, now that you have a basic idea of what a search engine is and how it works, you need to understand why it matters to you.
Over 200 different factors can affect how your content is ranked. If you want traffic to your website, you have to pay attention to what ingredients matter to the search engines. They will rank your content and the higher it ranks, the more people can find it.
Basic SEO ingredients that matter to search engines
Your title (Meta title) should include your keyword. The search engines narrow down their results according to the words used in a search. You need to have a good idea of what your audience wants to find to create a suitable title. There are various plugins and tools used for SEO that can help you to optimise your titles. I will discuss title optimisation and keywords in other posts. Keywords are very important to SEO as they are what people type into the search engine when they are looking for something.
3. Headings and content
Your H1 heading is important to the search engines too and so it is also a good place for a keyword. The search engines love a record of consistent, fresh content. If your content is similar to what everyone else is writing or stale and outdated, it will not rank. Quality content is becoming more and more important.
4. Internal links
When you have internal links from one page of content to another, it makes life easier for the spiders. Your anchor text is the text you click to get to the other post. Don’t waste anchor text by saying “click here” or “read more”. Rather include the name of the product or relevant keywords from the post to which the link points. This image shows anchor text which when clicked, opens up Google’s Search Engine Guidelines.
5. External links
Google and the other search engines use the links pointing to a website to help with their ranking calculations. These are called inbound links or backlinks. They are an indication that your content is valued by others. If you manage to get backlinks from authority sites, your own content is valued more highly. Getting good links to your site is not as easy as it used to be. In the past writing a relevant article in an article directory and linking to your website from that article was sufficient. Now the relevancy of the links to your site content has become much more important. Getting genuine, high quality links is hard to fake.
6. Alt tags
An Alt Tag is the text used to describe an image on your website. Each image on your web site contains a unique Alt Tag. The keywords used in the Alt Tag should describe the image as accurately as possible.
7. Comment engagement
The search engines like to see that you are engaging socially. Are others making comments on your posts and sharing your content? Posing a question for discussion at the end of a post helps to encourage readers to leave comments.
8. Social sharing
Make it easy for people to share your content. This will help to bring traffic to your site from other sources.
When you intentionally optimize your website with the right ingredients, the search engines will rank it more highly. You gain more visitors and therefore more chance that people will engage with your content. If you are wanting to monetise your website, the more traffic you have, the better chance you have to make money.
Evolution of SEO
Strategies have changed dramatically since the early years of SEO. In 2000 it was easy to get ranked by stuffing your content with keywords. Then came the years when links were all important. People would use every possible tactic, both good and bad, to gain links without really considering their quality. Search Engines became concerned that their algorithms were allowing sites of lesser quality to obtain high rankings. They started to update their algorithms.
In 2011, Google’s Panda update set a bar for quality. Sites overstuffed with keywords, stale content and irrelevant links were targeted. Many people lost their traffic as a result of this update. In 2012, the Penguin update was launched and again, those who were trying to outwit and manipulate search engine results were badly hit. When the Hummingbird update came out in 2013, it became evident that more emphasis was being placed on semantic search. Google was now recognizing the full meaning of a search query instead of just looking at individual words.
From 2013 social media participation has become more and more important. The search engines give more weight to social standing and sharing of information. Building relationships within your niche is vital. Take note that search engines will continue to update their algorithms. Providing original fresh content supported by good white hat SEO should always be your focus.
Black Hat and White Hat SEO
Black hat SEO involves trying to outwit the search engines in order to rank more highly. It goes against search engine guidelines and usually involves some sort of deception in the techniques used. It may result in your site being banned, de-indexed or penalised. Keyword stuffing, link farming and cloaked pages fall into this category. White Hat SEO involves using techniques that adhere to search engine guidelines in order to improve rank. White hat SEO techniques include doing research and analysis into what people are wanting to find, creating excellent content and keeping it up to date and relevant. The results of white hat SEO is lasting.
It is worthwhile to co-operate with the search engines as much as possible and follow their guidelines. However, you must always remember that you are writing for a human audience and not for a search engine. It makes sense to use white hat SEO techniques, strategies and tactics to gain ranking but ultimately it is your audience that matters. Become a trustworthy source of valuable content and your audience will love you.