What is SEO: Back to Basics

Tired of acronyms on the internet yet? Yeah, that’s fair.  

But thankfully, unlike OMG or LMAO (which we have nothing against!), SEO is three little letters that can drive business to your website. Who knew, right?

…we did! We knew! 

We also know that it’s been a while since we’ve really gone over the basics of SEO, and all that in entails.  While for most of you this might be a nice review, some of you will just be “getting” it after reading this! So grab your pen and take notes, let’s get back to basics!

Search Engine Optimization 101: A Conversation

SEO, as you might have, uh, guessed from our header above, stands for “search engine optimization.” Still sound a bit like frustrating gobbledy-gook? Sure. Let’s expand a bit instead of just hovering on a vague phrase.

Before we can provide you with the more refined details of why optimizing your page for search engines is so vital, you should probably have at least a general understanding of how SEO works and from where its foundations arise. So let’s have a chat, shall we?

What does search engine optimization even mean?

When we type anything into a search engine and hit enter, whether “Dave Matthews Band” or “humpback whale,” the search engine begins searching not the entire web (what?!) but what that specific search engine has indexed of the internet. So that’s kinda bananas start, right?

Uh, okay, but how do they “index the web”? What does that even mean?

Spiders. No, don’t get the torch or burn the house down. We’re not talking real spiders, but little robots that crawl the web and categorize everything. We’re not kidding.

These are good spiders. We want these spiders.

Before you even search anything, search engines are consistently using what are called “spiders” (or “Googlebot” in Google’s specific case) to regularly “crawl” or “fetch” different portions of the billions of web pages that exist on the web. The spiders search both new pages and updated, pre-existing pages.

SEO: A Comparison

All you’ve done is add more terms I don’t understand.

Okay, so let’s think about it like this. You know how every once in a while operating systems (Windows, MacOS, or even your phone’s OS) will inform you there are new updates that need installed? Functional but annoying, right?

So you click Remind Me Later about 30 times, but on the 31st time, you accidentally click Install Now, and the install begins, and there’s no turning back? And 20 minutes later (minimum) when your computer or phone restarts, updates have been installed? Fetching works somewhat similarly. 

Installing Updates to an OS: Install Updates Now? YES → Main system turns off → Updating program turns on, uses internet to collect updates and upload them into main system → Updating complete → Main system turns back on → Updates installed

Fetching: Search engine’s computers indicate by their programming that spiders should begin searching → Spiders search web (aka fetching) → Spiders fetching is complete (also as indicated by programming) → Spiders return to multitude of computers with their finds → Indexes created

I often think of all that information looking like something out of a sci-fi movie.

The search engine’s computers’ host pre-programmed processes that send spiders out to fetch. Spiders fetch (gather web page data) by starting on specific pages and then following the links on those pages. Next, they follow the links on those pages, and then the links on those pages and, well, you get the idea.  

Unsurprisingly, the process of sending so many spiders out searching requires the equivalent of a metric ton of computers (not literally, but a lot of computers) because when spiders are fetching, they, unlike us, are searching the entire internet like one big web.

The product of the spiders’ search is what become indexes that are accessed when any of us go to, say, Google.  

The information returned by the spiders is then indexed (sorted or categorized) so that when someone like us types a search term in, the search engine shows us pages that are the best quality for our search term.

So when we search, the search engine just pulls up all indexed pages?

Nope.  When we search, algorithms decide what sites are displayed.

I was with you until you said “algorithm.”

Algorithms are how indexed websites are selected to be displayed based on quality factors when entering search terms.

You’re probably not going to like this part unless you’re super into math, but algorithms are complicated mathematical probabilities. Thankfully, while the probabilities are relevant, you don’t need to be a mathematician to understand or use algorithms to your advantage. Instead, you mostly need to know what the algorithms are looking for.

For an example, PageRank is a Google-specific algorithm. Fun fact: despite the assumption that it’s called PageRank due to web pages, PageRank received its name from one of Google’s founders, Larry Page.

PageRank mainly considers “How many other sites have linked to this site,” which arises from the notion that sites linked to more often are more important.

Algorithms are a part of search engines and, as might be noticed with PageRank, are often even named. Google also has other algorithms named Penguin, Panda, and Hummingbird! Awww, right? Anyway, each algorithm is a group of pre-defined “preferences” that will decide which indexed web pages are the best fit for you to view based on your search term and their factors.

Algorithms are where we SEO experts are best deployed. While we have expert knowledge of exactly these algorithms are looking, we are also aware that algorithms take on continuous changes. Thus, it’s not only critical for us to understand what algorithms are seeking out, but when, how, and by whom algorithms are being updated. Algorithms can even be updated as often as daily!

On & Off Again: On-Page and Off-Page SEO

Time to stroll a little further down the line in our discussion of how SEO works then! Let’s check out some of the factors we consider when we’re improving a page’s ranking on a search engine. There are two categories that describe where our focus lies and what should be changed to punch up those SEO scores: on-page and off-page SEO.

On-Page SEO

On-page SEO regards search optimization factors which are on or in your actual page and includes what’s in your tags, your blog posts, and more. On-page provides emphasis to items like headers in blogs, how your page is structured, images in posts, and a whole host of other considerations. Here are the core components to maximize on-page SEO:

  1. Site speed: No one has time for a slow site! We know we don’t! Enough said.
  2. Optimizing your tags: Particularly, consider meta tags, which are elements of your HTML (your website’s coding). Meta tags include:
    1. Title tags, or the titles of your pages as written in HTML
    2. Meta descriptions, or the short description of your page that shows up in a search engine beneath the linked title. Understanding how to optimize these features based on algorithms can drastically increase your site’s traffic.
    3. Meta robots, or the means of coding into your website whether or not search engines should index your site and/or follow the links on your page.
  3. Worthy content: Original, quality, fresh content is irreplaceable and ranks highly. Your content should also contain an appropriate ratio of keywords.
  4. Crawlability: How well will spiders find you in fetching? This depends on how and where you’re linked, how many links you have, and your general interlinkedness.

Off-Page SEO

The second category is off-page SEO, which looks at factors which tend to be less in direct correlation with what’s on or in your site. So instead of analyzing whether your headers use the word “white dressers” on your white dresser site, off-page SEO looks at whether your link appears a furniture store’s site.

These off-page evaluations are based on the trustworthiness, authority, popularity, and relevance of your site and how other sites link to you. Off-page looks at the question “How does your site look if we’re looking at it as another site? Would we recommend you?” Consideration factors include backlinks (other sites linking to your site), blogging as a guest on another site, and marketing on social media, among others.

Necessary for navigating the streets of off-page SEO is a basic understanding of the three main types of links. A link’s a just a link, right? Nah. Not in the SEO world!

  1. Natural links: Links that you make to other sites without any action from the site linked. Like us linking Search Engine Watch’s discussion on natural links right here. See what we did there? Search Engine Watch hasn’t taken any action for this link’s creation, we just think the link is relevant!
  2. Self-created links: Using backlinks in places like a forum signature, an online directory, or online guestbook. These types of links can teeter on being precarious and can actually sometimes contribute to a lower ranking.
  3. Manually built links: These are requests for your link to be shared, whether clients, customers or others that may have relevant influence. Manually built links are indirectly solicited links.

For both on-page and off-page SEO, we need to continually bear in mind that while there are depths and layers to these types of optimizations, both categories should hold equal importance. To actually benefit from search engine optimization, there should be an equally divided focus between on-page and off-page components.

Black Hat & White Hat SEO

So besides there being two categories of how we look at SEO techniques, there are also two uses of SEO: Black Hat and White Hat. Despite sounding like it’s about cool hats, it’s not just a matter of which color looks better on you. In fact, hats sadly aren’t even directly involved other than as analogies.

The Dark Side: Black Hat SEO

Black Hat SEO is the result of using frowned upon techniques such as stuffing (intentionally using a higher than optimal keyword density) and duplicating content to make your site “appear” more relevant to algorithms.

When using Black Hat, you’re focusing on how to get around metrics and algorithms with cheap shortcuts. This strategy only considers how a search engine would view a website and not how the website would actually interest or help a human being. Does. Not. Compute.

Black Hat is quick, dirty, and non-sustaining. It may actually work, and you may find some gains, but it’s a candle burning at both ends. Eventually, your page may even get banned, which would (duh) be the ultimate in bad for business. In fact, search engines banning your page, especially Google, would be a disastrous, catastrophic hit to your business.

Following the Light: White Hat SEO

If you’re not planning some scammy, back-alley, short game that could knock you out of search engines altogether, you’re probably mostly in line with White Hat SEO. With this use, optimization is for long-term support of entrepreneurs and businesses.

Most SEO experts prefer and use White Hat. If maintaining your website’s integrity while improving search engine optimization is your site’s driving factor, White Hat is your game. A few of the more recent White Hat techniques, as outlined by SkyBound Digital, include a unique marketing plan for content, researching and understanding keywords, and putting Schema to work.

In our minds, there are already enough scams out there. Hard pass. We’ll stick to hard-work and

committed payoffs.

On-Board and Ready to Fly

With your newfound insight, surely you can understand why what we do with search engine optimization is relevant and empowering. Honestly, it’d be irrational to think that SEO can’t make a meaningful impact on your business when 93% of all searches online start at a search engine!

It’s also okay if after all of this you’re still confused. This stuff is confusing to just about everyone. While our guide here gave some (we’d like to think) decent insight, what we discussed here didn’t begin to cover the true breadth of knowledge based on and for SEO.  

We’re here for more than just giving you an inside to our little (but not so little) world and how we do what we do.  More often than not our work isn’t only about memorizing algorithms and suggesting changes. Just as vitally, being an SEO expert means keeping up-to-date on algorithm changes, evaluating input from other professionals, making decisions that create better all-around websites, and keeping lines of communication open and friendly.

If you have questions for us, know that we’re all ears (well, eyes, if you send us a message). Contact us, hit us up, drop a line, give us a call. Whatever works, we’re here to provide you professional opinions and most of all, teach your SEO to learn, rank, and dominate.

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