Ask someone, how does search engine optimization work, and you are liable to get a confusing answer. That’s because the many technical details of SEO require a specialized vocabulary and an understanding of the mechanics of the Internet. But worry not. It is possible to learn how Google SEO works without all that — which is what we are going to do in this article.
How Search Engine Optimization Works — The Purpose Is Conversions
You have a business website. What is the goal of your business website? Most likely, you are trying to get one of two types of conversions:
- Getting website visitors to contact you with an inquiry, either by phone or by submitting a form. This is lead generation.
- Getting website visitors to place an order directly on your website. This is e-commerce.
The challenge is to get people who need what you sell, but don’t know who you are, to find you online when they are in the market. That’s what SEO does. SEO is a very large basket of techniques that makes your website content more visible on Google’s organic search results for people looking for your products or services. With SEO, more people discover your website, more people visit your website, and more people either inquire or order — or both.
SEO techniques are used in three areas:
- On the visible, public, front-end part of your website, text, images and internal links are optimized so Google can more easily match your most important content with searches aimed at your products or services.
- On the back end of your website, hosting, speed of page loading and other programming-related details are optimized so Googlebots — also called crawlers or spiders — can clearly understand your site’s content and recognize its value.
- Away from your website, links to your website are obtained from relevant websites. Google places a lot of importance on inbound links, figuring the more people linking to your site, the more valuable your content must be.
How Does SEO Really Work — Strategy
In each of these areas, there are many options and many things that may be done or must be done to make Google take more notice of your website content. One of the keys to understanding, how does SEO work, is to recognize that the main artistry of SEO is figuring out which options to emphasize, which to give minor attention and which to ignore. The answer to these questions, the strategic mix of SEO that will work for your website, is determined by several factors:
- The SEO-readiness of the front end of your website
- The SEO-readiness of the back end of your website
- The SEO strength of your competitors
- The difficulty of ranking for keywords (search phrases) important to your business
- Your SEO budget
In general, the strategy of your SEO campaign will be to:
- Figure out the most important and obtainable keywords for your products or services
- Make sure you have a web page devoted to each of those products or services
- Go about optimizing those pages as aggressively as possible within the limits of your budget
- Track and analyze data — primarily relating to organic website traffic and conversions from that traffic — to continuously improve the tactics, and in some cases to revise the strategy itself
How Does SEO Work — The Tactics
It’s in the tactical aspects of SEO where things start to get confusing to the non-expert. The good news is, if you understand what has been covered so far — the purpose of SEO and the strategy of SEO — you are in a strong position to monitor, evaluate and steer your SEO campaign. But let’s go a bit deeper and delve into some of the important specifics of a typical SEO effort.
Google’s search algorithm.
Google (and all other search engines) have a formula for determining how to rank web pages when people conduct a search. This formula is very complex, unique to each search engine, and continually changing and evolving. The formula is called an algorithm. Algorithms are proprietary and highly valuable — the better the algorithm is, the more relevant and useful search results will be. Based on popular opinion, Google’s is by far the best: Google has a whopping 90 percent-plus share of the search market.
Google conveys to the public certain aspects of its algorithm, because it wants to guide SEOs in how to shape and promote web content that offers high-quality information — and discourage SEOs from pursuing tactics designed to game the system. You can see this information starting here.
It is thought more than 200 factors go into the Google algorithm. Nobody outside Google knows precisely what those factors are or how they are weighted.
This is why the best SEOs are always capturing and analyzing data — it’s the best way to make accurate decisions about which of the many available SEO tactics are most likely to generate the most growth in conversions.
Every website needs to have certain things in place to have any chance of success with SEO. Among the most important:
- All target pages of the website must have keyword-rich, relevant title tags (descriptions on which Googlebots focus).
- All target pages of the website must have content incorporating carefully selected, relevant keywords and/or variations of them.
- The website must have a clear and intuitive navigational structure.
- The back end of the website must be free of serious flaws that make it difficult for Googlebots to evaluate content.
SEO tactical priorities.
Once the above conditions are met, it makes sense to proceed with an orchestrated SEO campaign. Most likely, these will be some of the main tactical elements:
- Link building. Most small and midsized businesses don’t have enough quality inbound links to impress Google. If good links can be acquired, a business can put distance between itself and comparable-size competitors, and even catch up with and outrank larger competitors.
- Mobile-friendly website. Google is putting more emphasis on mobile-friendliness in its algorithm. To achieve high rankings, many companies must not only adapt a mobile-friendly web design, but even go to a mobile-first design.
- Content development. On the website, content for target pages can be expanded and refined. By making these pages more extensive and/or informative, Google will deem them more valuable and reward them with higher ranking. Off the website, well-written articles relevant to your business can be marketed to websites in your industry — these articles include links to your website and over time can create a critical mass of inbound links to improve rankings substantially.
So much of how Google SEO works depends on your starting point. For instance, if your website already has superb content about your products/services, it will be relatively easy to incorporate keywords and polish it for SEO purposes. On the other hand, if your website has few pages devoted to products/services, it will need to be created from scratch. Or again, if your website is built on an outdated, proprietary platform with poor SEO compatibility, you may have to rebuild your website on a new, SEO-friendly platform — a large and expensive project. On the other hand, if your site is built on Drupal, WordPress or one of the many other SEO-friendly platforms, the back-end components of SEO should proceed rather smoothly and at a moderate cost.
This is why it is usually wise to start with an SEO audit before investing in an SEO campaign. You should know going in whether your contemplated SEO budget is too small, too large or just right.
To discuss an SEO audit or your next campaign, contact us now or call 855-883-0011.