In this article I’m going to answer the question of “What is SEO?” and then I’m going to explain seven ways a search engine like Google chooses which websites to rank highest.
What is SEO?
SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation is a name given to the process of making sure content (words, information, images, videos etc) is ranked favourably by search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo. In the interests of simplicity I will focus on Google. SEO can form a big part of website design.
When someone does a Google search for something, your website is seen by Google as being something to do with the thing that someone is searching for. If your website is all about elephants and someone searches for ‘elephants’, Google will see that your website is about elephants and suggest to the person searching for elephants that they should go and check out your website.
However, what if there are loads of websites about elephants? (And there are, look). How does Google choose which websites about elephants to show you?
Seven ways Google chooses which websites to rank highest
Google looks at all of the websites about elephants and ranks them from 1 to 97,800,000 (seriously, look at this screen grab):
For a lot of search terms that are not blatantly about a product or service, invariably the first result will be something like a Wikipedia page:
And that will probably be because the Wikipedia page has the most popular, most relevant and most up to date information on elephants.
Popularity, relevance and how up to date a webpage is are just three of many factors that effect a webpage’s ranking in a Google search. Let’s look at these, and others, in a bit more detail:
Popularity in this sense is how many people visit this webpage over a certain amount of time, whether you measure the number of visitors by day, week or month. The more visitors there are, the more important or useful Google will consider that page to be. And the more important or useful the page is, the higher up the search results it will be.
2. The relevance of elephants
The more relevant a webpage is to the thing the person is searching for, the higher up the search results it will appear. When searching for elephants, a page about elephants is more relevant than a page about pink elephants.
3. Up to date information
Because anyone can update information on a Wikipedia page, it means that their pages are continuously being updated. So if someone discovers something new about an elephant, they can easily go and amend or add this information to the Wikipedia page about elephants. All Wikipedia’s pages work in this way. So every Wikipedia page, including the page about elephants, is kept very up to date. Google will rank a webpage that was updated last week higher than a page that was updated last year.
In our case, the keyword is ‘elephants’. Confusingly, when people talk about keywords in the context of SEO, they also include instances where there is more than one word. So ‘pink elephants’ is still called a keyword. When there is more than one word, it can be called a ‘longtail keyword’.
Google will look at all the webpages to do with elephants and see if the word ‘elephants’ appears in the text, and if so, how many times. If you look again at the screen grab above, you will notice Google has highlighted our keyword. It’s worth noting Google has included the singular and plural versions of it too.
As well as the text, when creating a webpage, you can place the keyword in other places too. Here are some places where you can insert keywords:
- The webpage URL (the website address, for example https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elephant)
- The webpage meta description. This is the short description of the webpage which appears just under the URL in the search result. In our screen shot above, it’s the bit that begins with, “Elephants are large mammals of the family…”. As mentioned previously, you will notice Google has highlighted the keyword in this description.
- Image Alt Tags. When you insert an image onto a webpage, you can give it an Alt Tag. The Alt Tag is a piece of text that pops up sometimes when you move your mouse over the image. It can be used by screen readers which are used by people who are visually impaired.
Backlinks is a term referring to other websites linking to your website. A common backlink for businesses are directory listings such as Yell.com.
There could be a news story on elephants (like this cute news article about elephants getting wrapped up in wooly jumpers on the BBC News website), and they may want to link back to your website on elephants as they see it as a useful source of relevant elephant (I’m basically looking for any excuse to use the phrase ‘relevant elephant’) information.
If you write a guest blog and feature your name and website address at the bottom, that’s a backlink. If you join an online forum and have your website address in your signature, that’s a backlink.
Finally on backlinks, the more popular the website is that is linking back to your website, the more Google likes your website and the higher it will rank it in search results. It’s kind of like Google saying, “Well if those big important guys are linking to that website then that website must be good”.
6. Internal links
These are the easiest links for you to create because you are in complete control of them. When I write a post on SEO, I can mention, as I do at the top of this article, that SEO is a big part of website design. See what I did there? I’ve put in a link to another, relevant page of my website. Google likes this sort of thing as it can see that a visitor is being guided around the website in a useful, informative way.
You’ll hear this a lot from SEO people, Google loves content. It does, but it’s important to note that we’re not just talking about any old content, we’re talking about well written content that is relevant to the type of website you have.
This is why you see that a lot of websites have a blog page. Blog posts are a brilliant way for you to write relevant articles about your subject. It’s also a good way to keep adding up to date information. Google likes that too, remember?
There are a lot more factors that influence your rankings in Google search results such as online advertising (such as Facebook ads or Google AdWords), Google Business listings and social media. However, the above seven factors are relatively easy to implement and cost nothing. Plus, if you act on all of them you should start to see results pretty quickly.
It can be a very satisfying experience when you’ve worked on your website’s SEO and actually see your search rankings improve.
Do leave a comment or get in touch if you have any questions or would like a consultation. I’m here to help.