Demystifying the basics of search engine optimization (SEO)

Search engine optimization – or SEO – is often described differently depending on who you ask, and is usually associated with several less-than-flattering words (black box, witchcraft, and voodoo all come to mind).

Simply put, SEO is the practice of optimizing your website to rank more highly in unpaid searches on search engines such as Google and Bing. How do search engines determine the rankings? In theory, it’s quite simple – they use mathematical algorithms to determine the relevancy of your website to any given set of search keywords. While “it’s just math”, in practice these algorithms are not made publicly available, which results in quite a bit of “guesstimating” as to what will ultimately help your page ranking, and in turn results in frustration from website builders and business owners. With that said, however, the basics of SEO are quite well-known, and should be practiced by anyone with a customer-facing website.

1) Content is king

Populate your website with content that is relevant to your target audience and will be appreciated by your customers and prospects alike, resulting in long website visit times and strong website traffic. Keep your keyword use limited to the normal flow of content (many SEO experts will recommend keyword densities in the 3-5% range), and focus on natural content that keeps your human website visitors engaged.

2) Mind your meta tags

Specifically, title tags (the text that appears as a link to your website in search results) and meta descriptions (the text that describes your website below your web address in search results). Beyond ensuring you have them, keep both title tags and meta descriptions concise, relevant, and compelling.

3) Optimize your site performance and user experience

Search engines, like humans, like fast, clean websites that work properly. Make navigation easy and logical, avoid slow-loading pages and dead links, and ensure the site is pleasing to the eye.

4) Use free analytics and webmaster tools

For most, Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics has enough functionality to help inform SEO decisions. What keywords are you receiving impressions for? Where do you rank? What’s your click-through rate? It’s all there, and it’s all free.

At the risk of oversimplifying, the goal of search engine algorithms is to maximize relevancy to consumers. If humans like your website and your business, search engine algorithms likely will as well.