The Basics of SEO Part 1

What is SEO?

If you've been working online or trying to build a site of any type, then I'm guessing you've heard about Search Engine Optimization, otherwise known by it's acronym: SEO.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the art of optimizing your website and/or pages to rank in the Search Engines for certain keywords. For instance, if you sold blue widgets - you'd most likely want to rank #1 (or close to it) for the term blue widgets. But in order to do this you must know how to utilize SEO to get those rankings. 

Let's go over the basics of SEO. First, let's discuss what a Search Engine is and how they work.

What would our lives be like if Search Engines suddenly disappeared? We all seem to use them these days and rely on them to find information, get directions, find lower prices, find old friends and even search for our own names. 
Search Engines like Google have become a life line for most Americans. We practically expect these sites to make data magically appear for us. Some may not understand how they got this data. Some may not even care. But what about those of us who want to make money off these magical boxes? Let’s dive in and take a look at how Search Engines were developed and how they actually work.
Did you know that, according to most sources, Google currently owns 65% of all searches made online? This may seem obvious to most people, but some of you may use engines like Yahoo! and Bing instead. Well, let me just say it bluntly: Google is the most powerful Search Engine on the internet and the competition is still nowhere near their level. 
While Yahoo! Was actually the first Search Engine that's still relevant, it was never created as an actual search engine. Jerry Yang and David Filo created Yahoo as a directory and later created a search engine for their users to search through the directory. Of course, over the years their product has grown and it’s now more than a directory. There were other search engines before Yahoo, of course. Excite, Aliweb and others had existed as real, legitimate search engines that utilized crawling and indexing (something we will get into shortly). These engines would later disappear, go bankrupt or get bought out by others, but they served as ‘the beginning’ to something huge. 
Google was the first Search Engine that was created to really offer relevant results and was also designed to become a solid Business entity. While others were working on building for other Big Businesses, Google was building the best search engine online. Period.
Since the early millenium there has not been any serious competitors to Google. Technically, there never was to begin with, but we'll stick to 2000 and beyond. Search Engines have constantly been under attack by spammers and others who try to manipulate the results that you receive when you do a query (search). While others struggled with this, Google's algorithms were so advanced that the majority of these issues were taken out right away.
For instance, in the early years of the web when people were trying to get the most traffic from the search engines, one would see websites with text all over the meta tags and even the content (hidden with white colored text on white background, etc) with the words "sex" or "britney spears." Whatever was hot during those days, the text would be repeated all over the websites. Talk about spammy! Unfortunately, most search engines were easily manipulated by this and it caused some serious issues, especially from concerned parents.
Thankfully, Google handled these issues very well, while it's competition ran around in circles trying to figure out 'what to do.'
Another major issue (although somewhat relevant [no pun intended]) was relevancy to the search. The spammers used tricks on their own sites (on page optimization) that would fool most search engines. But they also struggled to pull up relevant results for simple searches. If you were to enter "dodge" into the other search engines, expecting to see the auto manufacturers website, you would probably find information on just about anything else OTHER than dodge. This is another reason Google excelled. Their results would bring up listings such as dodge auto, dodge city, etc. -- anything remotely relevant to what they're assuming you're looking for.
As it stands, Google will probably never be beaten in the Search game for many, many years. They became a household name quickly and have expanded well beyond 'just search.' They are constantly acquiring new startup's that they believe may be useful to the future of their Business. Google AdWords, Google Chrome, Google Android, etc. You have most likely used more than just their Search Engine. 
Search Engines: Basics
Today's Search Engines are based on IR (Information Retrieval). This is literally a science and would take an entirely separate training module to really dig into IR. But for those who love learning, please see the Wikipedia page here. We want to remember IR because the scientists who helped evolve this practice came to realize 2 very important (critical, if you will) components of Information Retrieval. 
1. Relevance
2. Importance
Keep this in mind as you continue to read about how Search Engines work.
Now let's take a look at how Search Engines actually work.
The main thing you need to remember is that today's search engines have 3 main parts:
1. Spider: these are simply pieces of code that function much like you do while operating a browser. They're created to go out and crawl websites from top to bottom, they're then added to the Index. Spiders will usually crawl websites for the first time or websites that are constantly updated. 
2. Index: the index is the database (or catalog) for results. This database (or catalog) stores information about the site, including cached pages of the website, so that it can use the information to show relevant results.
3. Interface: the interface is what some call the 'search engine software' or even 'relevancy software' that actually goes through all of the data (millions and millions of pages in it's catalog) so that it can properly rank each website based on keyword (search terms) searches. Each page will be ranked appropriately.
Google's Algorithm matters...
So we now know that a search engine has crawlers that go out and look for sites (new and updated) so that they can crawl them and put them in their index, which the search engine software (interface) uses to rank them. But how does the ranking really work?
Google's current algorithm (as of February, 2011) will rank websites based on many factors. For one, having the Keyword on the Title tag is a factor. Having the keyword within the content is another...but one of the most important factors is the anchor text in the links to a site.
For instance, if your website was about Blue Widgets and Google crawled your website and put it into their index, they would probably get your page about the Blue Widget 5000x.
Let's pretend that this page had the term 'blue widget 5000x' in it's title tag, it also talked about the blue widget 5000x in the review content on the site. But what Google really wants to see, in order to rank it high, is backlinks to the site that indicate that this site really is about the Blue Widget 5000x.
Document Analysis
Document analysis is basically when Google looks at terms throughout each page. They're looking at critical areas such as the Title, Meta Tags, Headings, Content, Footer, etc.
But Document analysis alone can't do everything Google needs, so there's something else called Semantic Connectivity, which actually connects words that are associated with each other. Google uses a thesaurus and dictionary that is constantly updated so that it can learn to associate certain words with each other. Imagine if we took the term "dodge" as we did earlier. Google will most likely refer to other terms such as car, truck, chrysler, ram, etc. (other words associated with the company). While we could dive deeper into advanced SEO training, we'll keep things like Fuzzy Set Theory out for now. You can read more about Fuzzy Set Theory here if you want to become a serious SEO Nerd!
I've written an entire tutorial on PageRank here. While PageRank is an interesting topic, please remind yourself that it's not as important these days as it once was. We still use it, but it's not as powerful (as of right now) as it once was.
When you notice your site starts building a higher PageRank, you can use that to your advantage, somewhat. It's definitely harder to outrank a site with a PR8 if you have a PR0-4.
If you want to really dig into PageRank, please read this page.
Link Analysis
It's important to learn about Link Analysis as it will help you understand more about Link Building. Google analyzes links going into and out from every page that it crawls. It literally analyzes how many links go to that page, who linked to that page (authoritative or not), the quality of the links, the IP address where the links are coming from and can even find out who owns the sites that linked to them.
The reason you need to know about Link Analysis is because a lot of people will start digging into what I call "real world affiliate SEO." While we want to learn about SEO and all of it's theories, practices and more, we also want to learn how spammers get their traffic, how we can build links without having to spend months building sites and how we can keep Google off of our backs.
Google's Link Analysis mostly consists of:
1. Analyzing the outbound links of the page
2. Analyzing inbound links to the page
3. Analyzing where the sites are located (host, IP address and more)
4. Analyzing whether or not the link comes from a trusted source
5. Analyzing the whois data (most likely) of the sites where the link comes from (possibly) and goes to
6. Analyzing the content on the site where the data comes from
7. Analyzing the number of links that go to every page
8. Analyzing the anchor text of each link
9. Analyzing...there's more, believe me!
This sounds like a mess if you start digging into it, but it's all built into a serious algorithm that Google changes quite often. Some of these may not even be used during updates. We won't find out unless we pay attention and do our own testing.
Link Analysis is very real and it's something that will make even more sense when you get into the Link Building training.
Without links, the web would be boring. We wouldn't have very good search engines (no way to tell who can be trusted without having humans involved) without links. There wouldn't be people sending you cool stuff to waste time on the internet without links. The Web becomes the lost.
Other factors involved with Ranking
Google is known to put a lot of weight on other factors such as the Domain's age, amount of backlinks, PageRank, number of pages indexed, etc.
While no one knows exactly which factors outweigh the others, I like to think that if you stick with the basics (backlinks and content) it's hard to get beat!
A quick list of Ranking Factors compiled by different sites are:
  1. Domain Age
  2. Anchor Text in inbound links
  3. Keyword in the Title Tag
  4. Authority of the site linking to your site
  5. Relevence to the links pointing to your site (related topics?)
  6. Keywords in content
A great resource to learn more about Google's Search Engine is here.
Pronounced sirps or surps.
You'll hear and read this term a lot from other SEO's. The SERP's are actually the Search Engine Result Pages (SERP's). This basically refers to the index that Google uses.
So if you were ranked #4 in the SERP's for 'blue widget 5000x' - this means you ranked #4 when you did a search for 'blue widget 5000x' on Google.
Searcher Intent
One thing to keep in mind is Searcher Intent. This is where "SEO's" and Serious SEO's differ. When you become good at knowing the intention of every query (keyword) you come across, you will make a lot more money. This is something that will separate you from your competition!

Let's say you wanted to do a search on ram. This is what's referred to Disambiguation. What Google has to do is figure out if you're referring to a dodge ram, a ram (animal), RAM that goes into your computer or something else entirely different. If you enter ram you will most likely encounter RAM ads and then at the bottom you'll see an image like this:

As you can see, Google is trying to help us find exactly what we're trying to search for. As powerful as it is, these terms can be trouble for both parties. Google doesn't know what you're trying to find when looking for "application" either...
See how many weird searches you can come up with and start seeing how Google tries to figure your intent out!
This may sound like a big waste of time, but soon we'll get you really moving when we get into more Searcher Intent related training in the Keywords module.
What are you Optimizing your Website for?
While you are going through this training material it's time to start really thinking about your Goals of SEO. Everyone wants traffic, but how much traffic do you want/need and what type of traffic are you going after? Don't answer that, I'll answer it for you.
1. We want as much traffic as possible. We will do this by focusing on Keywords (we'll be going over this shortly), using multiple keywords for each page on our website.
2. We want QUALITY, relevant traffic. We don't care about traffic for finding oysters if we're running a site about auto detailing. We want our traffic to be laser targeted and aimed at our content.
For instance, if we're building a website based on Blue Widget's and we have our page based on the Blue Widget 5000x, we need to get traffic that is interested in the Blue Widget 5000x, not the Red Widget 3000i. That's wasting our efforts to get the highest quality, best converting traffic.
Remember this: we want our traffic to convert into sales. Right? Of course! If we're not looking for conversions, we're not in Business. We're just like all those other millions of people who have websites, but no sales. It's wasting money and time and we don't want that.
You have one main goal with SEO: make money. With that big goal comes a bunch of smaller goals:
1. Rank for as many keywords as you can.
2. Get quality, qualified, traffic so you can convert them into sales.
3. Test, Test, Test. Even if you're making an absolute killing with your current results, you always want to test to see if you can get even better results.
"Test everything, assume nothing."

The next part of the series is located here: SEO Tutorial Part 2


almost 9 years ago

If anyone has any questions, issues or comments - please leave them here and I'll see them soon! :)

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