May 10, 2014 A beginner’s guide to SEO

By Krysia Bonkowski

SEO

SEO. If you had dropped this term a little over a decade ago you would’ve generally been met with blank faces. Now SEO is on the tongues of every company and marketer. Search engine optimisation is the act of making your organisation, brand or company more visible on the search tools that people use to navigate the vast amount of content online. SEO can help push your business out in front. Here we explore some of the basic principles of SEO and why it is so important.

Why good SEO is important

With intelligent use of SEO, when your business name or key phrases related to your business are entered into a search engine, you should appear in the first page of results. Web users have notoriously short attention spans, which means appearing on that first page is all-important. You can of course pay for sponsored pages, which generally appear on the right hand side of the page, but ‘organic’ search results are achievable with less cost and will make a better impression on the audience.

Where it all starts

Search engines are a major component of consumer web use; Pew Research suggests that search engines are the internet’s second most used feature after emailing (2012). When you are working with SEO, there is really only one search engine you need to know, Google. Google has surpassed all of its competitors to become synonymous with online searching, so much so that its brand name is now a commonly used verb for that very act.

Google’s software determines how SEO works. These algorithms sort and filter search results to provide the most relevant and useful links. As Google states ‘Our primary goal is to serve users with high-quality, relevant information’. Its programs are in place to ensure this. By having awareness of how their algorithms and programs work, you can ensure that your page is more visible. Google has a veritable menagerie of programs that determine how organic results are ranked.

Spiders

Spider, or Googlebot, is the program that allows Google to create a searchable index of the web. Spiders use the links between different webpages to track and catalogue as many websites as possible. This process is called ‘crawling’. Crawling is constantly ongoing, so Google can keep track of new sites, updates and dead links. When the spider is crawling a webpage, it creates an index of all the content on that page. This process supplies Google’s immense database. Having a webpage that is easily readable to the spiders will help Google catalogue your site.

When someone enters a search term, Google measures it against over 200 ‘questions’ that try to discern the most relevant results. Those questions might be the location of the searcher or how recent the content on a matching website is. The results will determine how the results are ‘ranked’. The higher the ranking, the higher the site will be up the page. If you keep your page up to date and avoid some of the dirty tactics Google has written algorithms to target, your index ranking will benefit.

Panda

Panda originated as human driven assessment, with individuals reviewing hundreds of websites and ranking them for quality. Algorithms were written to mimic their choices and when the program began to accurately predict their human counterparts the people were phased out and ‘Panda’ was born. Panda judges a website on these human derived standards, and penalises sites with lower ranking. Things like excessive ads, or pages that are barely modified from computer-generated templates will be adversely affected.

Before Panda, programmers could create useless ‘doorway sites’ populated with key words that would lead people through to the original host site, meaning that users might get six different results all leading back to one page. Google has tried very hard to stamp this kind of behaviour out.

Penguin

In 2012, Google released a companion to Panda entitled Penguin. Penguin aimed to target further illicit SEO boosting or ‘spamming’ techniques such as link bombing. At one time, ranking was partially determined by how many links pointed back to a site. This meant that web designers could create a whole host of superfluous sites linking to their original website, thus boosting that page’s ranking. In short, Panda targeted the extra blank websites, Penguin penalised the central site.

Google’s frequent software updates make it more effective to invest in worthwhile content rather than underhanded tricks. Good content will drive up the ranking of your page organically and ensure it stays up there longer.

Making the most of SEO

If you are redesigning or building a new website from scratch, try incorporating SEO principles so that your site has the optimum reach from the outset. Ultimately, Google’s commitment to user experience means that you will be rewarded for making your site as relevant and valuable as possible to your target audience.