What is SEO?If you've ever searched for something online (and most of us have), you already know more about SEO than you think you do. But there are a few different agendas under the surface of any search. Let's say your search is for sneakers. Making all those "wants" match up is the job of search engine optimization. SEO professionals employ a variety of different strategies to make websites appear higher in your list of results and make it more likely that you'll click on them to find what you're looking for. SEO is often part of an overall online marketing strategy and complements other tactics like social media marketing, content marketing and more.
What factors affect a search?When we type something into the Google search box, there's a lot going on under the hood. Google takes into account more than 200 different factors to help it determine the results for each query. No one knows all of the factors, but there are a lot of guesses - meaning there are many different paths to optimization. Let's look more closely at a few of the major factors that we know Google takes into account as it considers your search.
1. Your questionThe first thing Google tries to do is understand what you're getting at with your query. It uses a technology called Knowledge Graph to help it better understand the nature of what you might be looking for, and whether it can best satisfy you with a definition, a list, a map or something else. Search engines are continually working on new and better ways to predict what we're looking for and what we need faster and more accurately.
2. Your locationA search engine not only takes into account the nature of your question but also where you're asking it from. For instance, when I put a query like "pizza" into Google, it does some thinking for me and assumes I'd rather have a list of pizza places near me than a Wikipedia entry about the history of pizza. So local businesses have to put special effort into maximizing their SEO efforts for local visibility, which means doing things like optimizing their Google Places pages.
3. Who created itGoogle likes rewarding real people who write great content. One way it accomplishes this is through Google Authorship, which gives a special designation to authors who are verified through Google+. You can identify a verified author by the small photo next to their content in search results.
4. Your friendsAnother factor search engines are increasingly banking on is each individual's social network. "Social search" allows you to easily find content - like restaurant reviews, blog posts, photos and more - created by your friends and the contacts in your "social circle."
5. How it got sharedMore that using your individual social network to serve you personalized results, search engines also use social sharing as a signal to determine the quality level of a piece of content.
6. Your deviceFinally it's important for a search engine to understand whether you're on a computer, a tablet or a mobile phone as it prepares to give you search results. All these factors combined mean that my search engine results for a specific question might look totally different from yours, depending on things like who we know, where we are and what type of device we're searching on.
But what does an SEO do?So beyond understanding and studying the many factors that affect search results, what does an SEO actually do? But there are some common practices that you'll hear about when it comes to search engine optimization. An SEO:
Optimizes the siteThe first part of a solid SEO strategy focuses on the technical side of a website. Since Google finds information about a website by crawling it, it's often the job of an SEO to make sure the site is easy for Google to find and crawl. This graphic from DataDial focuses on site architecture. That means doing lots of different things to optimize the site itself like assuring the site has a sitemap Google can find, making sure it loads quickly and analyzing the site's design and architecture to make sure it works well for users. Lots of SEOs will perform a technical audit to determine a list of issues with a site.
Researches and optimizes keywordsKeywords are the words you enter into a search engine to find what you're looking for. If we go back to our sneakers example, a shoe company might want to be known for shoe-related keywords like "tennis shoes," "sneakers" and "athletic shoes" as well as specific brands like Nike or Reebok.
Builds linksBefore search engines like Google had fancy ways to personalize your search results based on your friends and your location, they used one main element to figure out which stuff was the best on the web: links.
Helps creates content (that builds links)One of the best ways to get links these days is by creating great content. Whether it's a video, a blog post, a tool, a comic or another resource, great content naturally attracts links as people visit it, share it and talk about it. This graphic from Top Rank explains it well.
When you put all the main components of an SEO strategy together, it looks kind of like this diagram. In this post, we're going to break it down in the complete beginner's guide to SEO: what SEO is, how it works, what factors affect search and what sorts of changes you can make today to improve your search optimization.