Search Engine Optimization 101

Search engine optimization, or SEO as it is commonly referred to, is the “art” of getting your website to appear in the search engines results pages. Now, re-read that opening statement a couple of times. First of all, notice that the word “art” was used. Each major search engine (Google, Yahoo, MSN, Ask and so on) has its own special formula for determining which sites outrank others. That is scientific. The problem is that they don’t publicly disclose their formula and thus trying to determine how it works is part science, part trial and error and part “art”. Secondly, just getting your site to appear n the search results pages is pretty easy, but getting page one rankings is a whole different story.

While some of what is done when it comes to search engine optimization is very difficult, most of it is really quite simple. To really understand it though, you need to understand what Google wants to see. Google’s philosophy is pretty simple. Give the user what they want. So, they design their algorithm around what they feel returns the most relevant results a user would want to see. So what is relevant? And how does Google determine relevance? There are several different factors that define relevance and Google doesn’t disclose them all, but here is a basic formula:

Relevance = Quality Content + Site Authority

Now, quality content generally means “unique” content, but not necessarily. Site authority can be divided into a couple of categories – PR (page rank) and popularity (links). Page Rank is a number that Google assigns to each page on the Internet between 0 and 9. Now the only “9” out there is Google, and the scale is not linear. In other words, a PR3 site doesn’t have three times as many links as a PR1 site – it usually has way more than that – but PR is not just about link count, it is also about link quality. Popularity is determined by the number of sites linking back to yours. Try not to have PR as your main focus, as there are several more important things that deserve your attention (link relevance, for example).

So, let’s put all of this jargon into a plain English example so it all makes sense. If you have a marketing or direct response website and a bunch of links from insurance companies pointing to your site, that is not all that helpful. It is better than no links pointing to your site, because it does at least show that your site is popular, however, the “relevance” of those referring links is not high, since they are from sites related to a non-relevant industry. Let’s consider another example: which do you think is going to rank higher, a site that has a PR0 and 5 random links pointing to it or a site that has a PR of 5 and 23,000 links? Pretty obvious, right?

Content also plays a very important role when it comes to your search engine optimization efforts. There are basically three types of content you can use:: Google candy, high quality articles and link campaign articles. We’ll call those really simple little 250 word blog posts “Google candy” because they are really there just to get Google’s attention and let the search engine know that your site is being updated frequently. They’re very short, so it is next to impossible for them to provide a lot of value. High quality articles are articles such as this one, which typically contain 400-500 or more words and provide in-depth information related to a specific topic. Lastly, there are link campaign articles. These articles aren’t even on your site. Link campaign articles are articles that you publish throughout the Internet in order to create links back to your main site. They served two distinctly separate purposes and thus the way you write them for these purposes may vary accordingly. They create a network of “fingers”, bringing people back to your site and they also create a network of “links” to your site that Google likes.

Search engine optimization can be a bit confusing, but when you really break it down, it is actually pretty simple. Generating results via search engine optimization does, however, require a pretty full understanding of SEO tactics and principles that are beyond the scope of this article. However, you are now armed with the basic information you need to start your journey: enjoy the ride!