When you turn on your computer and access the internet, chances are that the first thing you’ll see is a search engine. This is no accident. The modern internet is an exponentially vast collection of data, and without the ability to search through that data so as to make sense of it, our contemporary digital world would be impossible. We might say then that search is very much the lifeblood of the internet. Search engines are the determinative factor in the visibility, traffic, and user engagement of a particular website. Search rankings directly affect the bottom-line of all digital businesses and should concern any business owner looking to maximize the benefits of operating within the digital business landscape.
The logical question of course then becomes: How can my website appear on the 1st page of a Google search? In pursuit of answering this question, we will introduce the concept of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and detail how SEO can be used to maximize a website’s search prominence and increase user traffic. After going over some SEO basics, we will highlight the benefits of SEO and the ways in which it can be successfully implemented. All of this should serve to both highlight the importance of Search Engine Optimization and point the way towards successfully boosting your website’s search ranking.
How do search engines rank a website?
Before delving deeper into the practices that make up the SEO toolkit, it would be helpful to first understand how search engines actually work. In order to make sense of the vast amounts of data accessible on the internet at any one moment, search engines like Google and Bing utilize software programs known as crawlers. These programs, as their name suggests, ‘crawl’ through the internet, and download and index relevant information from each website that they visit. Crawlers index this information by following the internal and external links of a webpage. These links are then used to analyse the content of a website and understand its semantic connections to the rest of the web pages that populate a search engine’s database. Once crawlers have collected this data and indexed it into this database, complex search algorithms allow a search engine to provide a relevant set of links to a user in response to a specific query.
As we hinted at earlier, the internet is a vast and ever-expanding space. New information, websites, and content are constantly being uploaded to the web at a near exponential pace. Search engines, therefore, have to make decisions both about what sites to return to users in response to search queries and in what order to display them. These decisions are made by first determining what elements of an engine’s database constitute a relevant response to a specific search query. Relevance is determined using an algorithm that takes a number of factors into account, the most important being the existence of keywords. These keywords allow an engine to select a set of pages that it knows contains information that is sufficiently related to a user’s request. Once a search engine has determined the set of pages relevant to a user’s request, it must then rank these results and present them to the user. While ranking algorithms are both deeply complex and proprietary, we can say in broad strokes that they order relevant sites according to two key criteria: trust and authority. Trust is a measure of the legitimacy of a website’s information, while authority is a measure of the way in which other sites on the internet interact with a particular website. Central to both of these measures is a website’s link profile. Websites that have a strong set of internal links, that link to other trustworthy sources, and that are linked to by other high-ranking websites will have higher authority and trust scores, and therefore be displayed higher in a set of search results.
What is Search Engine Optimization?
Search engines use a number of factors to determine how websites are ranked when searched for by users. Though technical, this is crucial information for anyone seeking to maximize their participation in today’s digital marketplace. Search engines are the modern consumer’s primary resource for connecting with businesses, and rankings within these engines have a massive effect on the volume of traffic directed towards your businesses’ website. 95% of users never make it past the first page of Google results, and websites that rank within the top-3 generate 100-200% more traffic than those that appear towards the bottom of the page
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a set of tools that allow businesses to maximize their rankings within search engine results pages (SERP’s). These tools are crucial, as businesses that are able to boost rankings can significantly increase their organic web traffic, user retention, and sales volume. However, these are not the only benefits of SEO. To elaborate, SEO offers a powerful and cost-efficient alternative to the other common strategy used to boost rankings: ad purchases. Searchers have been proven to be far more likely to visit sites displayed organically in search rankings than in ads (studies estimate that only 2.8% of searchers actually ‘click-through’ paid advertising). A well-implemented SEO strategy is therefore an incredibly attractive proposition for the modern digital business. It can lead to an increase in organic (and therefore high-quality) traffic and attract more customers than traditional advertising. SEO strategies also have a cascading and multiplicative effect when implemented over a long time frame. Higher search rankings garner more high-quality links and trust, which over time leads to even higher rankings.
SEO and it’s implementation
The benefits listed above only serve to underline the crucial importance of SEO to the current digital business landscape. Well implemented SEO strategies can reap significant and long-lasting rewards for a business and are an increasingly crucial part of the digital business toolkit. SEO implementation can take a number of forms, and the exact shape of a particular business’s SEO strategy depends on that business’s specific needs. In broad strokes, SEO strategies first seek to ensure that a website is developed in accordance with practices viewed favourably by search engines (e.g., internal linking, metadata content, and keyword placement). After ensuring that the website has been constructed according to best practices, SEO then seeks to boost ranking through a set of keyword strategies. Keywords are an essential means by which search engines determine relevance, and in order to optimize a website for search, it is necessary to construct a comprehensive keyword strategy that covers the entirety of a website. As coherence (of both keywords and content) is viewed favourably by search engines, these strategies require careful preparation and research in order to be implemented most effectively.
Website construction and keyword approaches work to improve the way a search engine analyses a particular website. However, it is important to also ensure that a website contains informative content that contributes fruitfully to a subject on the internet. Novel and original content that is linked to by other high trust and authoritative sites significantly boost your site’s trust and authority ratings in the eyes of a search engine. SEO content writing is a response to this set of search engine preferences and consists of practices that work to maximise the rankings gains from the placement of content on a website. These strategies should not be overlooked, as producing and placing original content on a website, and implementing a strategy geared towards developing organic external links that point towards that content is a tried and tested means towards increasing your search ranking.
SEO as a Service
There are obviously a large number of benefits to SEO. However, these benefits can often prove difficult to unlock. To demonstrate, keywords, which are central to any SEO strategy, must be decided in advance and continually updated to keep in line with current search trends. These keywords then must be integrated into the internal design of the website and harmonized with any SEO content used onsite to help drive organic traffic. The successful SEO strategy thus requires a degree of coordination and planning that falls outside the purview of normal business operations, and that extends beyond the tasks traditionally left to web developers and UI designers. Search Engine Optimization is, therefore, best thought of as a specialist’s activity. While the importance and benefits of SEO are clear to see, it often takes a trained and dedicated eye to bring these benefits to their fullest fruition.
It is important to point out, however, that SEO can be implemented at any point during a website’s lifecycle. While it has become increasingly common to integrate an SEO specialist straight from the outset of a website’s development, this does not mean that the benefits of SEO cannot be realized by any digital business. SEO analysis of an existing website is a powerful tool by which any business owner can assess the strength of their website’s search rankings and uncover key metrics regarding that website’s keyword scheme, link profile, and content strategy. SEO analysis thus provides the digital business owner with the means to understand their website’s SEO strengths, while also allowing for an examination of the areas where a website could be better optimized for search. Understanding both a website’s strengths and the areas where it could be improved is the first step towards the construction of a comprehensive SEO strategy, and SEO analysis is often the first order of business for a specialist looking to boost a site’s search rankings. SEO analysis should therefore be seen as a potential first step towards unlocking the benefits of SEO for an online business.
As we have hopefully demonstrated, the benefits of SEO are hard to overstate. Search engines are the point of departure for any online interaction between business and consumer. They are the means by which customers connect with the digital business, and therefore should occupy a prominent position in the mind of anyone looking to maximize their participation in the digital ecosystem. Search Engine Optimization is thus best seen as a set of tools and techniques that allows the business to respond to the centrality of search and utilize that fact to its advantage. As high search rankings lead to high user engagement, a steady stream of new visitors, and the ability to convert those visitors into customers and clients, it is incredibly important that SEO be implemented as a long-term strategy that covers the length of a website’s lifespan. We should repeat, however, that it is never too late to optimize a website for search. SEO can be used to improve any website. The benefits of SEO, in other words, are very much there for the taking.
How will you use SEO to unlock your website’s potential?
With Vidar’s broad experience with design and usability, he is responsible for strategising the use of digital design within Studio Vi.