Updated November 20, 2015
Put simply, SEO (Search Engine Optimization) involves doing things to make search engines like your site more.
Why would you want the search engines to like your site more?
Because then, when people are googling or searching for topics you write about, the search engines will be more likely to suggest your site as a place to go for the information (above others who talk about the same topics).
To understand SEO better, let’s go back a few steps.
I once designed a business website for a friend who is a professional organizer. After her site was complete, we had a discussion that went something like this:
Her: I want some business! We just launched my website. Why isn’t anybody calling?
Me: Because having a website alone doesn’t guarantee you’ll be found.
Her: But why? It seems to me, if someone googles “professional organizer in [her city]” my site should come up. But it doesn’t. Why not?
It’s a good question (and one she found highly frustrating).
The truth is, landing on the front page of the SERPs (Search Engine Results Page) is no small feat.
In a sea of billions of webpages, ranking among the top dozen or so for a particular search term is extremely difficult. There’s a lot of competition!
But let’s back up a even more.
How search engines work, in a nutshell
Search engines use electronic robots (a.k.a. bots, spiders, etc.) that march around or “crawl” the internet constantly. This is what they do:
- Visit & revisit web pages. The term “web pages” here is a general internet term referring to an single page of content online. “Web page,” or “page” as they are sometimes called, shouldn’t be confused with a WordPress Page (vs. Post). In this context, both WordPress Pages and Posts are considered “web pages” or “pages” since they each are a single piece of content with a unique web address (“URL”). Confusing I know.
- “Index” (categorize & organize) the information contained on those web pages.
- File & store that information away so when someone is searching, it can be found quickly. (Imagine if all the billions of pages on the internet weren’t organized in some way!)
This is helpful because when you, a human, are searching for something online, this is what happens:
- You hop onto Google or another search engine
- Type in your search term or phrase (“query”) and hit enter
- Google quickly looks through the web pages its bots have indexed (see above), and gives you a list of search results that are, ideally, exactly what you’re looking for.
Google determines which search results to show you based on many, many factors. The exact formulas (“algorithms”) for these results are closely-guarded secrets and highly complex. And they change CONSTANTLY.
What does this mean for bloggers and website owners?
A search engine like Google is important because when a web page on our site shows up on the first page of the search results for a particular search, it is very valuable. It’s like a golden needle getting found in a haystack.
Not many searchers click over to the second page of search results (do you?). If your site appears on the first page for a particular search, it’s huge. It means more traffic for you.
So, bloggers and website owners around the world are constantly trying to make their site more SEO-friendly so the search engines will show their site’s pages on that front page.
Of course, getting there won’t happen at all if the search engines don’t know your site exists in the first place. As I briefly mentioned above (but I’ll say it again because it’s worth repeating), when your site has been indexed, it means:
- Bots (spiders) found your site (yay!)
- They crawled through it
- They figured out what your blog is about by reading your content
- They organized, filed & stored the information about your blog’s pages in their gigantic collection of indexed webpages
- They determine how your page ranks among similar pages on the internet (based on various secret formulas and algorithms).
So, what is SEO again?
SEO is about doing everything you can to remove any barriers the bots might encounter during those 5 steps.
It’s about making your site easy to read and really attractive to the search engine spiders. If the spiders can move easily through your site and get a good idea of what it’s about without getting hung up on broken links or dead ends, they’ll remember you as a good source.
And when someone searches for topics you talk about, hopefully the search engines remember to recommend your site as a source. And on the front page of the SERPs would be a major score!
Want to know specific things you can do to improve your SEO? Read my SEO tips here.