What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

What is search engine optimization?

Search engines (like Google, Bing, and Yahoo) are in the business of answering questions. On the simplest level, you ask them a question, and they try to provide you with the most relevant information. “Why is the sky blue?” “How do I convert Fahrenheit to Celsius?” “What is Search Engine Optimization?” If you ask Google one of these questions, it will try to point you to websites, articles, videos, and pictures that will give you the best answer.

Search engine optimization is the process of convincing search engines that your website is the answer your customers are looking for.

It’s all about the keywords

How do search engines know which results to show? If they just randomly picked websites, chances are that their users would be pretty unhappy with the results.

Google, and other search engines, use programs to scan websites for information. These programs build a snapshot of what the website is about. One of the most important pieces of information gathered by these programs is called keywords, words or phrases that appear constantly and consistently throughout the site.

For example, if Bob owns a cabin, and he wants to rent it out when his family is not using it, he may choose to build the SEO for his website around the phrase “cabin rental”. He decides to purchase a domain name that has his keywords built in (like mycabinrental.com). He adds the words to the title of his website, the description, title, headers, image tags, and paragraphs. When Google, Bing, and Yahoo scan his pages, they will know that his website is about “cabin rentals” and can start sending customers his way.

A word of caution

When adding keywords to your website, you should be careful to not overdo it. Content that has a plethora of the same word or phrase can become tedious for customers to read. Remember, your content must ultimately make sense to people. Only add your keywords to places they naturally seem to fit.

Google is also very sensitive to “keyword stuffing”. Excessive use of a keyword or having too many keywords can actually cause Google to penalize your site.

Other sites

While the content of your website is crucial for good search engine optimization, it also matters what other websites say about you. Is your website regularly shared on Facebook? Are you listed as a source on Wikipedia? Is your business registered with Google Places? Have customers posted reviews of your services? Being popular with other websites will help improve your rankings with search engines.

Location matters

One thing to keep in mind when doing SEO is the location of your audience. Do you own a brick and mortar store in Ogden, Utah? Then you should be targeting customers in that area. Are you the head of a national chain of retail stores? Then you should target the entire United States. Or maybe you have an international audience.

Once you've identified the location of your customers, how do you specifically target them? The simplest way is to use the name of the geographical area as one of your keywords. For example if all of your customers are in Ogden, Utah, then it would be wise to use “Ogden” and “Utah” as two of your keywords. People often use the name of their town in searches if they are looking for local services. Using localized keywords will also improve your rankings on Google maps. However, this only works for small areas like cities, counties, and states. Using “America” as one of your keywords won’t be that beneficial.

Another method for targeting a specific geographical area is to find out specifically what that area is searching for. Even among English speaking countries, vocabulary, word usage and sometimes spelling can be vastly different. You wouldn't use “color” as one of your keywords if you were targeting England. There, it’s spelled “colour”.

Google Trends is a fun little tool that allows you to compare several sets of keywords to see how frequently they are used in Google searches. One of its coolest features is that it allows you to specify which region you are interested in comparing. You can look internationally to see what the most popular searches are in the World, or you can drill down and see what the locals in Ogden, Utah are searching for. Utilizing tools like Google Trends can help you tailor your SEO to the exact geographical audience you are looking for.

Let’s take your website to the next level!

This article only covers some of the basic methods of improving your sites search engine optimization. There are a number of other factors the search engines look at when determining a site’s rank. If you are interested in improving your sites SEO, be sure to read our article “How to do your own SEO” (COMING SOON!). Or, if you’d rather have someone else do the work for you, feel free to contact us.