Updated: May 14, 2020
Think about the last time you searched for something Google and went past the first page looking for information. Chances are it is very few if any. According to a research from backlinko, only 0.78% clicked something on second page. Let's say someone searches for content and you are the first link on Google then your website or content is likely to get 10x clicks compared to being on any other spot. In fact, if your website or content is listed between 7th through 10th then the results are virtually the same. If you just increase your ranking by one percent, it is likely to make or break the ability for someone to discover content.
Search Engine Optimization or SEO is rather a game of optimizing your website and content discovered through a search engine's organic search results. When a user searches for the word, if your website or content automatically gets listed then it is called Organic Search. Today, we have one gateway to the Internet that is Google. It owns 87% of the marketshare of all the search engines. Then you have Bing, Yahoo and others. Typically, everything you learn about SEO skews heavily towards Google.
Having said that the increase in online shopping is making almost anyone a search provider. Amazon is a powerhouse in product search. According to a Search Engine Watch research, Amazon has 54% of product search volume in US. As companies move to online, they make search a huge priority. Walmart, Kroger, Target, GrubHub, DoorDash, you just name an online company chances are they are looking at the best way to improve their search. Users demonstrate the same behavior. If our content is not within the first few links, then it can substantially alter the business results.
How it works?
This is the million dollar question. Almost all of them are driven by algorithms. Google uses PageRank, Amazon uses an algorithm called as A9. Be it Google, Amazon, or other online companies, they have all built their business model around it. Typically there are two choices - improve your organic search results by doing everything you can to trick the algorithm into ranking your results higher - a practice also known as Search Engine Optimization or SEO or pay to be a sponsored search result also known as Search Engine Marketing or SEM. Most companies end up doing a mix of both of these approaches.
While reverse engineering each of the algorithms is a tall order, we will look at key factors that contribute to a content's success with SEO. Let's look at foundations that apply to all search engines.
First, after you setup your content, it is important to let the search engine know. Google provides a tool where you can submit the link. Google then looks for Sitemap. Sitemap is simply a list of all the links on your website. This serves as a guide for Google. Google then crawls your website. Crawling is the action where Google reads every single listed page and save it to its database.
After crawling and saving the information, Google looks at Keywords. Keywords are things that people enter in the Google search box. Google has built an understanding of various keywords, and continues to assigns a rank for your content. It also looks for Title, URL, Page description, image, video, meta which are short snippets of information you can include to gain a better understanding of the page. Over time, Google has built intelligence to better understand quality and importance of content. Compelling content should answer the searcher's query.
Now Google has looked at all the pages on your website, crawled it, and has built an understanding of it. It then looks for the quality of your site. If your page takes too long to load, then Google de-prioritizes your page. Similarly, if your page doesn't load on mobile phones, it de-prioritizes your page.
Then comes a very important aspect of your content. Google keeps a track of how many people link to your content, share your content, mention your content, across the web. The more links and references the better the chances of ranking higher.
As more and more people have started depending on Google, Google has created schema markup. Scheme Markup is a way of representing certain content snippets. There are schema snippets for Product, People, Recipes, News, and others. These schema snippets are setup to help Google better discover and understand content and then help users discover it.
We have just covered the basics. SEO is a very deep subject matter in itself. While we discussed a lot in Google's context, you would need to understand every search engine and its unique ways of working.
Key Terms and Definitions
Let's quick look at the terms and definitions associated with SEO.
Search Engine Optimization or SEO refers to the practice of continuously improving various tactics to organically increase your website or content's rank. Organically increase refers to the content that is automatically displayed when someone searches for a term.
Search Engine Marketing or SEM refers to the practice of paying the search engines to display sponsored advertisements in the search results.
Sitemap is a collection of all the webpages within your website in a specific format. Search engines use sitemap to identify all the content within your website.
Crawler refers to the software program that goes through various pages in your sitemap and reads the content within those pages.
Schema Markup refers to the special format defined by a consortium of search companies but primarily Google that provides a structure for defining a person, organization, recipe, news, or other content. Embedding this markup within your web pages helps Google better understand the content.
SEO is a very important component of growing your business, blog, or anything that needs to be discovered via a search. It has become a niche area that requires specialization. If you are an individual blogger, please check out Moz, NeilPatel.com, Yoast, SEMRush. These companies offer free tools to help you get started. If you run a large website or publishing business then equip yourselves with advanced skills around SEO. If you run an online business, then it is very important to apply SEO within the context of your business as well as enlist experts to help you.