What is SEO?
SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” In simple terms, it means the process of improving your site to increase its visibility when people search for products or services related to your business on Google, Bing, and other search engines. The better visibility your pages have in search results, the more likely you are to garner attention and attract prospective and existing customers to your business.
How does SEO work?
Search engines are used by people when they have a query and are searching on the internet for the answer. Search engine algorithms are computer programs that look for clues to give searchers the exact results they are looking for. Search engines rely on algorithms to find web pages and decide which ones to rank for any given keyword. There are three steps to how search engines work: crawling, indexing, and ranking.
The first step is crawling. Search engines send out web crawlers to find new pages and record information about them. We sometimes call these web crawlers ‘spiders’ or ‘robots’. Their purpose is to discover new web pages that exist, and also to periodically check the content on pages they’ve previously visited to see whether they’ve changed or been updated.
Search engines crawl web pages by following links they’ve already discovered. So if you have a blog post and it’s linked from your homepage, when a search engine crawls your homepage, it will then look for another link to follow and may follow the link to your new blog post.
Google and Bing use bots to crawl pages on the web, going from site to site, collecting information about those pages, and putting them in an index. Think of the index as a giant library where a librarian can pull up a book (or a web page) to help you find exactly what you’re looking for at the time.
Indexing is when a search engine decides whether or not it is going to use the content that it has crawled. If a crawled web page is deemed worthy by a search engine, it will be added to its index. This index is used at the final ranking stage. When a web page or piece of content is indexed, it is filed and stored in a database where it can later be retrieved. Most web pages that offer unique and valuable content are placed into the index. A web page might not be placed in the index if:
- Its content is considered duplicate
- Its content is considered low value or spammy
- It couldn’t be crawled
- The page or domain lacked inbound links
This step is really the most important step, and that is ranking. Ranking can only happen after the crawling and indexing steps are complete. So once a search engine has crawled and indexed your site, your site can be ranked.
There are more than 200 ranking signals that search engines use to sort and rank content, and they all fit under the three pillars of SEO: technical optimization, on-page optimization, and off-page optimization. Some examples of signals that search engines use to rank web pages are:
- Keyword presence in the title tag — Whether the keyword or a synonym was mentioned on the page and within the title tag
- Loading speed of web page — Whether the web page loads quickly and is mobile-friendly
- Website reputation — Whether the web page and website is considered reputable for the topic being searched for
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