A Comprehensive Guide to Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

how search engines work


Search engine optimization (SEO) is a practice that involves utilizing search engines’ indexing algorithms to your advantage to drive traffic to your website. SEO can apply to your blog posts, web pages, and even your photo captions, so the more you learn about it, and the better you understand it, the more likely your website will help your company or brand grow.


How Do Search Engines Work?

Search engines like Google and Bing are businesses just like yours, so much like you, they want to optimize those businesses for success. In order to provide the best possible customer service to the people using their services, they must be able to return relevant information based on searches. For example, if you were to search for “red elephant,” you would expect to see information about red elephants on your screen. If you don’t, there’s a good chance you will leave that search engine and go to another one, instead.


Search engines index billions upon billions of pages of website content according to highly specific algorithms in order to ensure that the results they provide are relevant. To do this, these algorithms look for things like keywords, relevance, content length, photo quality, meta tags and descriptions, and much more, and the websites that fit these algorithms the best are those that show on the first page of search results. Ultimately, getting your website on the first page of search results should be your goal as this will drive plentiful traffic and spur growth.


How to Please Your Audience (and Search Engines!) with Your Content

When it comes to your content – your web pages, blog posts, press releases, and more – it is important that you remember two very important things.


  • Content must please the search engine. All search engines are different, but with Google dominating the market and Bing coming in second, there isn’t much room for others. You’ll want to make certain that you have optimized for Google first; Bing is important, but it should be second on your priority list. If these search engines’ algorithms don’t pick up your content because it isn’t properly optimized, people aren’t going to see it, even if it’s the best and most informative content on the internet.
  • Content must please your visitors. You can optimize your content for SEO all you’d like, but if it doesn’t make your visitors happy when they read it, this will cause them to leave your site (referred to as a “bounce” and go back to the search results. This will hurt your SEO ranking a great deal, so it’s crucial that you make sure your content is not only optimized, but also informative, easy to read, concise, and free from spelling or grammar errors.


When your content makes both your visitors and the search engines happy, you will undoubtedly begin to see a gradual uptick in traffic, and the more traffic you get, the higher your search index ranking will climb.


Understanding the Differences between Static and Dynamic Content

There are two types of content on your website: static and dynamic. Understanding the differences between them can help you improve your site’s visibility a great deal, as well.


  • Static content is any content that stays the same across every page no matter who the visitor is or what he or she does while viewing your site. Common examples of static content include any information in the site’s header or footer, such as a logo or contact information, as well as navigation menus that are present on every single page.
  • Dynamic content can be defined as content that changes from one page to the next based on virtually any factor. If a customer chooses to buy a cake, but must select the size, flavor, decoration, and more, then this selection process consists of dynamic content that changes based on that customer’s unique selections. If you add a blog post to your site a couple times each week, this is also dynamic content.


In order to get the best possible results, you will need to make certain that you are satisfying these algorithms by adding content to your site regularly. The most popular (and often simplest) way to do this is to publish a new blog post one to two times a week, making sure that the post contains relevant keywords, helpful information, and high-quality photos with the proper meta descriptions, titles, and more.


The Importance of the User Experience

Imagine again that you’re searching for a place to have lunch, but rather than looking up Mom’s Diner, this time, you look up “diners near me”. The search engine will show you a list of all the diners nearby, and at this point, you can click the links to go to those business’s websites, where you can then look at the menu before you drive to the restaurant. Now assume for a second that the first link you click takes you to a website that loads incredibly slowly doesn’t load at the right resolution for your smartphone, or has a font and layout that makes it almost impossible to read.


Most people – your website visitors included – won’t spend much time on a website or page that is problematic in any of these ways. If they get a negative user experience in the first few seconds of their visits, they will bounce, and that will have a negative effect on your rankings. This means that user experience, more commonly known as UX among the professionals, is every bit as important as the type, quantity, and quality of content on your website. Improving your user experience improves SEO, and in turn, that improves your traffic.


Quality Photos and Videos Matter

No matter which industry your business is in, photos are going to be incredibly important for your overall success. People want to see what they are about to buy, and if you’re selling a service, they like to see photos or images that visualize the benefits they are likely to receive. Though there’s nothing inherently wrong with using stock photography to boost your SEO, tossing together some random images and calling it done won’t do much to improve the user experience.


  • For images, you can use stock photography or your own photography – but never random images you find online. Copyright laws can be very, very tricky. Make sure you choose images that are relevant to the section of text they accompany and make sure that their resolution makes them easy to view on PCs, tablets, and mobile phones alike. Choose captions and descriptions that suit the page or the content, as well.
  • For videos, once again, you will need to make sure the resolution is high enough that your visitors won’t see a blur, but also not so high that they take longer to buffer than they do to play. Videos should be concise and short, and they should be 100% relevant to the content at hand. They can entice customers to buy, give demonstrations of products or services, and more.


Social Media and SEO

Google, Bing, and other websites aren’t the only search engines out there. In fact, social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others also act as search engines, and optimizing the content you share with them can help your business grow, too. If you really think about it, when people wake up in the morning and start the day, one of the very first things they do involves picking up their smartphones or tablets, navigating to Facebook or Twitter, and checking out what’s going on in the world. Social media platforms have their own built-in search functions, and just like Google or Bing, all the major platforms strive to be the best because the more members they have, the more money they can make.


Your goal, then, is to provide social media platforms with content they can feel confident about sharing with their users. When you create a Facebook post, follow the same guidelines as creating a blog post. Use a high-quality video or image that accurately represents your company or mission, and make sure the links or the text you share are beneficial to people in some way. Finally, make sure your social media posts are designed in such a way that they drive engagement, because the more people engage with your post by liking, sharing, retweeting, or taking any other action, the more the social media platform will share it with other viewers.


YouTube and SEO

YouTube is one of the biggest search engines of our time. Though it started as its own independent entity, it was acquired by Google in November 2006, and because it is now a part of the Google family, many of the same algorithms behind the standard search engine also dictate which videos people are shown when they perform a search on YouTube. If you truly take the time to get to know how SEO works – and to discover how Google’s algorithms affect your rankings – you can also leverage YouTube to your advantage regardless of your industry.


Optimizing YouTube content for SEO is a bit different. When you upload your video, you are given plenty of opportunities to use text to your advantage, and you can even enter multiple “tags” that will tell YouTube’s indexing algorithms what your video is all about. However, AI has gotten smarter over the years, so you can’t make a video of your kids playing with your puppy and tag it with “how to make a burrito” when there is no relationship between the two. Your video must be relevant to its description, and the description must be helpful to the visitor. The better you can get at this, the more people who will inevitably see your videos, and the more traffic you will get – as long as you make sure to include your website’s URL in the description box.


Keeping Up with Algorithm Changes

Whether you optimize your content for YouTube, Facebook, Google, Bing, or even a combination of all of these, it’s important to keep in mind that nothing ever stays the same, especially when it comes to the algorithms used to index and rank pages. Unfortunately, Google doesn’t provide a breakdown of the way its algorithms work; much of it is proprietary since these algorithms have made Google the successful company it is today. As a result, SEO specialists, webmasters, marketing experts, and others must make the equivalent of educated guesses by determining what the sites ranking at the top of the search results have done to get there.


As a result of their research, they have determined that regardless of how the algorithms change over time, there are three crucial components of SEO: quality content, a great user experience, and a website that loads quickly (and correctly) on every device and platform possible. While it may seem simple enough, perfecting these three components takes time, expertise, and patience, and that’s exactly why so many companies large and small rely on marketing and SEO experts to get the job done.


Search engine optimization isn’t going away. In fact, it’s the only way entities like Google, Bing, YouTube, and others can be certain they are providing their users with the best possible experiences. Their success relies on their ability to serve their customers’ needs by delivering them excellent websites and pages that are not only relevant to those customers’ searches, but also easy to use and aesthetically pleasing. If you can provide these search engines with the pages they find most appealing for their visitors, then pretty soon, you’ll find your website getting more traffic than ever before.



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