Working in the web design business, It can be easy to occasionally forget that some of the specialized terminology and jargon we use at work everyday can seem alien and bizarre to people who don't spend all day up to their eyeballs in CSS.
One of the terms you may have heard thrown around is a lot is "SEO.” You may know it's important, you may know it's somehow related to how visible your site is, but you may be a little hazy on the details. That's fine, SEO is a complicated topic and there are all kinds of conflicting opinions, techniques, and strategies out there about how to maximize it, so it's no wonder you may be confused. Today though, we're gonna break the term down to it's basics in plain English so you can understand what it is, and why it is important for your business.
Search Engine Optimization
At its very core, SEO is about getting your site to show up on Google and other search engines (but lets be honest, mostly Google). It's a way of getting your site and business more visibility by way of search engine results. If you think about it, it's the ideal way to reach your customer. Instead of constantly reaching out and shouting for attention in a crowded market space, a great search engine result ensures that you are the very first business the customer finds when they come searching for one. It's about making sure you're in the right place at the right time.
Do you ever wonder how a search engine like Google works? Why some sites show up as the very first result for something while others are buried behind pages of other results? As you might expect, it's complicated, and it would take too long to go into exactly how Google works its magic, but the important term to remember is page ranking.
Google assigns a page ranking to each every website based on a combination of factors, the most important of which are keywords and relevancy. Keywords, are very simply, words your site contains. When someone tosses in a search phrase, Google quickly checks to see which websites also contain those words - particularly as page titles, headlines, and in other places of prominence.
Of course, just because a site uses a certain term a lot, doesn't necessarily mean its useful. If you used the internet at all back during the late '90s, you may remember scores of terrible AngelFire and GeoCities sites that were just littered with giant blocks of unrelated text at the bottom of the page (often in transparent fonts). Those sites did that to crudely manipulate search results, trying to drive traffic to themselves regardless of merit or relevancy by attaching popular search terms and words to their terrible anime fanpages.
What made Google so unique in the search engine business was that they added the second magical ingredient – relevancy. Instead of just relying on keywords like the search engines of old, Google charts how helpful your website is to other people. It does this by looking at how often its linked from other sites (implying that people frequently use it as an example or an easy way to answer a common questions). This is referred to as backlinks. The technique was so successful it quickly established Google as the dominant search engine and now they all use the same method.
Keywords are used to find a website, and backlinks are used to determine relevancy, Google assigns a page ranking to a site based on these factors and moves it up or down the search result food chain appropriately.
Getting to the top of the list
Obviously, being in the top three Google search results or even on the first page of results is a tremendous boon for any website. It ensures that people can easily find and places you in a position of trust and respectability (I mean, if Google thinks you're cool, you must be doing something right).
So how do we make that happen? Well, that’s where a professionally designed website comes into play. You need a clean page with clear terms and links put in the right place (Google actually takes page position and prominence into account when picking out keywords) and it has to be easy to navigate and attractive. Having a responsive web design (RWD) that makes sure your site is mobile friendly is important too – Google will actually dock marks from your site if it isn't optimized for mobile browsing. It makes sense, they're trying to steer users to the most useful sites, considering how many people primarily engage the net through their phones these days, your site won't be very helpful if it can't work well with them! There are all kinds of tricks to getting Google's attention, which is why it is important to seek out the help of a professional web designer who can leverage them to get your site as much attention as possible.
As for encouraging backlinks, that is often up to the quality of the content on your site. Obviously, being great at your business and highly recommended by other people and sites (especially high traffic sites) is the best way to organically grow traffic and climb the page ranks. You can tilt those odds further though by going the extra distance. Engaging, informative, and entertaining content like blogs and articles can be a massive help. Informative how-to's, humorous commentary, or just practical news for people in your particular niche, anything that will be picked up and linked to by other websites is great. A kickass social media presence that gets people talking and sharing links will take you far as well!
In the end, getting the golden Google touch takes an element of luck. But it's like Grandpa used to say, if you want to be struck by lightning you can either sit around and hope for it to happen, or you can grab a big metal pole and run into a field during a thunderstorm. A solid SEO strategy that combines great content with an expert page design will always show results, and in the process make your website better for its target audience.