You need a general working knowledge of how search engines operate before you can optimize pages for search engines (SEO). So in this article, we review a portion of Moz’s Beginners Guide to SEO, with updated information to familiarize you with the basics of SEO.
Purpose of a Search Engine
Search engines are designed to assist people in navigating the Internet by creating lists of results related to user search queries. They accomplish this by crawling and indexing every reachable page and media file on the Internet, then presenting the information in ranked lists based on variable characteristics. The main job of a search engine is to help people find specific information on the Internet. They are built to answer questions systematically.
Physically, search engines are powered up data centers located around the world equipped with servers and powerful information processors. The servers store data compiled from billions of web pages and media files to quickly respond to search queries.
Functions Performed by Search Engines
Because search engines are systematic, their actions can be understood. By understanding their actions, therefore, we can optimize web pages and media for search engines (SEO).
The two primary functions search engines perform are:
- Crawl and Build an Index: This is the process of exploring every web page and media file on the Internet. Most search engines accomplish this by following links; therefore, link building is very important for SEO. Indexing involves saving selected code snippets from every crawled web page and media file, which can be used to render search results.
- Provide Ranked Search Results Relative to Queries: Information about every page and file that is crawled and indexed is ranked relative to keywords used in users’ queries. The results are often rendered on a web page, called a search engine results page (SERP).
Defining Page Relevance and Popularity
Relevance refers to how closely related a page or media file is to a search query. This used to be determined almost exclusively by relying on keywords in the metadata of a page, but that has changed, in part because people abused the system with tactics like keyword stuffing. Today, relevance is determined through hundreds of ranking factors.
Search engines do not release all the information about how relevance is calculated (i.e., their algorithm), to make it more difficult for site owners to cheat and game the system. Internet marketers, therefore, use numerous tools to discover trends in search rankings and determine the factors most important to ranking at the top of search results.
Popularity is largely based on the number of high-quality backlinks to a web page. The number of visitors a web page receives and how long those visitors stay on the page is important, as well as the online mentions of a business and its website. The calculation is more precise than this, but these are considered top ranking factors for popularity.
Guidelines from Google and Bing
Although Google and Bing do not release specific information about their algorithms, they provide guidelines on how to rank higher in search results.
Google recommends creating a website with web pages that improve user experience. Also, be honest and present the same content to users as you present to search engines.
On the technical side:
- Make sure every page of your website is crawlable with a clear hierarchy and text links.
- Ensure that each page is reachable from at least one text link.
- Register a sitemap with Google Webmaster Tools, and keep it updated.
- Use page title tags and meta descriptions that are descriptive and include keywords.
- Use image alt tags and title tags that are descriptive and include keywords.
- Create readable URLs that include keywords.
- Use 301 redirects or the rel=”canonical” attribute to eliminate duplicate content issues.
Bing has similar recommendations:
- Focus more on the user experience than the algorithm.
- Create content that is rich in keywords users enter into search queries.
- Regularly produce fresh content.
- Implement a keyword-rich URL structure.
- Ensure that everything you want to be indexed, such as keywords and URLs, are in text format rather than in images or rich media.
Testing is important with every form of internet marketing, and SEO is not an exception. Although there are expensive and complex tools to use for SEO analysis, there are free and less expensive tools that can help a great deal. Therefore, everyone doing SEO can do analysis and testing to see what works best.
Tools to consider using for analysis and testing include:
- Google Analytics
- Google’s Webmaster Tools
- Google Keyword Planner
- Google Search Console
- Google Trends
- Longtail PRO
- Moz’s Keyword Explorer
- Moz’s Pro Tool
- SEO PowerSuite
One method of SEO testing is to use different techniques on two different pages of the same website and see which performs best. This is how a simple SEO test works:
- Select two similar pages of a website.
- Select one page to be the control, and with the other page make the desired on-page and/or off-page SEO changes. Then, measure the results.
- If the changes on the variant page outperformed the control page, and if the increased performance was substantial enough to justify the expense of implementing the SEO strategy in the future, then move forward with the new strategy.
You need a general working knowledge of how search engines operate to understand how to optimize pages and media for search engines. With this knowledge, and guidelines from search engines, you know the basics of SEO.
To this, add quality tools for analysis that you can use to perform SEO tests, and you have everything you need to start working toward ranking high in search results.
If you would like help with what to do next, request a free analysis of your website, including key SEO metrics, or schedule a free consultation.
Recommended: The Beginners Guide To SEO
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