What is Search Engine Optimization?

By: Daniel Imbellino
Updated: June 12, 2016

It’s really quite amazing just how many get this question wrong, including SEO professionals themselves. globe with seo logo Search engine optimization is not a mystery or rocket science really. Simply put, SEO is the art of optimizing content for the internet and for those who make use of the internet. Unfortunately, in order to understand what SEO is and how it works also means you need to have some understanding of how both internet based technologies work, and to some degree, how people interact with the internet throughout their daily lives. Fortunately, with a bit of logical reasoning and some investment of time into learning internet based technologies, we can effectively make sense of SEO from a practical perspective.

SEO From a Practical Standpoint:

When we think of the word practical, we think of something we can use in our daily lives, something that already has a real world use. For instance, while mathematics can turn humans into analytical machines, its practice is hardly practical in its own right. It’s our abilities to take math and implement it in a real world manner that make it truly useful, such as if you were calculating the force of wind in pounds per square inch in order to determine the factors of current weather conditions. Or if you were calculating the distance of an element on a webpage using certain percentage or pixel based values in order to determine the proper placement of an element across the screens of various mobile devices. The point here is, a calculation itself is pointless if it’s never used in a practical manner. The situation is much the same for SEO as well.

If we want to benefit from SEO from a practical standpoint then we need to combine both the technical and logical aspects together in some form or another. When I mention logical aspects I am partially referring to the psychological aspects that drive the internet today, not just the technical ones. The question is, how do people interact with content online? How do we determine what people like or want? What is our content creation strategy based on? That being said, their truly is a psychology behind SEO, and those who don’t recognize this important aspect will ultimately fail with their online goals.

The Technical Aspects of SEO:

From a logical stand point, what does every webpage in existence share in common? Well, they all consist of binary data, although this doesn’t mean a whole lot in terms of practicality. What else do they share in common, what are we overlooking here? That’s right, they all consist of some form of a markup language and they all require style information of some sorts. HTML and CSS are two standards that virtually every webpage in existence share in common. Why is this important to note? HTML houses the content we create, and CSS stores style information that is associated with that content. Search engines use data from both HTML and CSS in order to properly make sense of the content we create. Being as search engines use bots in the form of spiders to crawl websites, if you were to implement either HTML or CSS improperly the consequences would definitely be drastic.

Search engines expect content to be formatted a certain way. Despite the fact that major search giants like Google insist on creating content for people and not for search engines, this actually couldn’t be further from the truth. Focusing on people without taking the technical aspects of the internet into consideration is clearly a bad idea. There must be a balance between the two. That being said, you must create content for both search engines and for people, otherwise search engines won’t be able to make any sense of the content you publish.

In terms of HTML, you have heading tags, paragraph tags, etc. What if you used the <h1/> tag over and over on a single page? What would happen? For one, you could get penalized by search engines such as Google who frown upon this practice as being a means to try and game the system since <h1> tags carry a high weight in terms of SEO. The point here is, in order to understand SEO, you must understand web design technologies to some degree, no exceptions. How can you optimize a webpage if you don’t understand the technology that drives it? Think about that.

The internet today is driven by many standardized and proprietary technologies alike. The proprietary technologies in some cases are almost de-facto standards themselves; such as is the case with PHP and content management systems. While PHP itself is not a standard, it is often implemented on a wide scale across the web, making it seem as if it truly were standard. It’s a best practice to learn both the standard and proprietary technologies behind the web for the reasons stated above.

From both a technological and logical standpoint, what exactly do search engines index when they crawl our sites? The answer, mainly text and the more the better. Search engines obviously tie up content to users search queries based on text that is present within a given webpage. In fact, text itself is probably the most important aspect of SEO in terms of not only ranking well in search results, but also in providing value to users. This is one of the reasons why keyword analysis is so heavily regarded by SEO specialists today.

Unfortunately, many people develop websites and content where most of their textual information is stored in graphics, such as with infographics, stand alone images, etc. While infographics seek to provide a means for displaying content in a manner that brings a visual component into the mix, the information they store is unreadable by search engines. Recently Google has given a fair warning to sites that implement infographics too much. The problem they see with their use stems from the fact that they tend to represent information as if it were accurate and factual, when often the info they contain is not, and the fact they have no way to know what content is contained in those graphics period. Search engines cannot read textual information stored in graphics, this is why we have alt tags, but they can only do so much on their own.

Making Sense of Search Engine Optimization:

If you want to make it on the web today it’s no secret that you need to understand how the internet works from the ground up, as much as possible. Here we’ve listed some good points for those who are just getting their feet wet, and even for those who consider themselves seasoned professionals.

Technical SEO Techniques:

1: Follow webmaster guidelines! So many over look this part as being no big deal. If you pay close attention to what search engines consider to be a best practice, then you can affectively avoid a lot of headaches. You can check out Google’s webmaster academy to learn some of the current best practices for developing content on the web here: Google Webmaster Academy.

2: Research keywords! Use Adwords “Keyword Planner” to make informaed decisions as to what keywords you should be targeting for. This tool has been enhanced upon Google’s previous keyword tool. It can provide info such as, how many people are searching for a given set of keywords globally or locally, what the expected competition is for a set of keywords, etc. You will need an Adwords account to use this tool. Its great not just for organic search targeting, but for those who make use of paid marketing efforts as well.

Make sure to include your targeted keyword in your page title, meta descriptions, and headings, as well as body text. Use synonyms to describe the same thing in multiple ways, and think about what a user may type when searching for something online. The average person will type a short phrase when searching for content on the web.

3: Use proper markup and create content that is legible to both people and search engines! Don’t store important text inside of graphics or use headings multiple times whenever possible. Use current and up to date HTML and CSS practices. HTML5, while not officially being a full standard, is well liked by all major search engines. Google is known for taking heed to new and emerging technologies. Later on when you master the web design process, consider using semantic markup with the use of DIV’s or Classes in order to provide more information about the content that is stored on your pages.

4: Use a proper directory structure! If you have several sections on your site, then content within each section should be in its own directory. For instance, the SEO tutorials for this website are stored in “pctechauthority.com/guides-to-search-engine-optimization/name-of-file.html”. On the server this section has its own folder to house all the content that is stored within it. If you’d like to read more about setting up proper directory and folder structures check out our guide to Navigating HTML File and Folder Structures.

5: Create an appealing site design and simple to navigate user interface! Don’t make people hunt for information. Notice we’ve included a custom search engine that indexes the content of this entire site! You can pretty much find what you are looking for just by searching for it. Also, don’t use drop down menus if you can avoid them. They tend to glitch and close as people attempt to click a link. They also hide links from users, another reason to avoid them whenever possible.

6: Create a fast loading website! No one likes waiting minute and a half for a page to load. Most people will assume your site is broken after just 15 to 20 seconds of waiting for a single page to load. If your site speed is too slow, then your site is guaranteed to never grow or rank for that matter. Content management systems like Wordpess present a serious problem when it comes to site speed. Wordpress sites are stored in PHP frame work, making them “heavy on the code!” People also tend to use too many plugins with Wordpress sites, which also cause page loading issues. If you plan to use Wordpress, be aware of the technical headaches that come with it. CMS’s tend to create tons of unnecessary overhead that can be difficult to manage. Test any templates you plan to use as much as possible! Wordpress or Blogger are great choices for building a site, and a recommended best practice by Google. Why? Because, most of those who attempt to design their own site mess everything up, making it difficult for search engines to crawl their sites.

7: Pay attention to technical data in your webmaster tools account! Google webmaster tools gives webmasters a whole plethora of data regarding their sites performance. Here you can fix problems with 404 error pages, see which keywords and pages you score well for, set a preferred domain for your site, etc.

Logical SEO Techniques:

1: Focus on the user! Just because you like what you create doesn’t mean anyone else does either. Make use of social networks like Google+ in order to connect with a large audience and gain feedback from those who interact with your content. This will help to keep your bounce rates low! If users enter your site and leave 2 seconds later, then it’s obvious that either you aren’t producing quality content, or your site does not appear to be appealing to its audience. The lower your bounce rate, the higher your rank in SERPS.

2: Research your content, products, or services, in order to provide the best information to users possible. No one wants to read the same thing over and over again. Make your site and its content innovative in as many ways possible. What are you doing better than everyone else? What sets your website apart from your competitors?

3: Base your content strategy on users. If people really liked your article about cloud computing and shared it everywhere, but they didn’t like your article on gardening, then it’s obvious which subject you should continue to build upon. Find out what people like and create content based on not just their interests but yours as well.

4: Provide social connections within your site! Include like, +1, or sharing buttons on your pages so others can share your work with a wider audience.

In recent years, when it comes to search engine optimization, too much focus has been made towards data analysis and not enough effort has been equally given to focusing on the underlying ideas that surround the content we produce. SEO is not all keyword analysis or optimizing keywords for that matter. The content you create and the users who make use of that content should be your top priority. Today social networks are full of people who are bent on marketing with Pinterest, quora, squidoo, and other social platforms. What many of these web marketers and SEO’s failed to realize is that, if people like your content they will share it across those platforms for you, as long as you give them the tools to do so. Don’t make SEO all technical, instead focus on the big picture, which includes the technical, logical, and social aspects combined. In the end, it’s the content, the product, or your service, that will make or break you on the internet.

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