What Is SEO?

What Is SEO?Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the visibility of a website or a web page in a search engine’s “natural” or un-paid (“organic”) search results. In general, the earlier (or higher ranked on the search results page), and more frequently a site appears in the search results list, the more visitors it will receive from the search engine’s users. SEO may target different kinds of search, including image search, local search, video search, academic search, news search and industry-specific vertical search engines.

As an Internet marketing strategy, SEO considers how search engines work, what people search for, the actual search terms or keywords typed into search engines and which search engines are preferred by their targeted audience. Optimizing a website may involve editing its content, HTML and associated coding to both increase its relevance to specific keywords and to remove barriers to the indexing activities of search engines. Promoting a site to increase the number of backlinks, or inbound links, is another SEO tactic.

Many clients ask us about the importance of SEO in their organic optimization strategies and they often want to know the most important component of an SEO campaign.

The Foundation of Successful SEO

The foundation of a successful SEO program consists of the following building blocks:

Keyword density of the text. The majority of a site’s pages should contain the words and phrases the target audience types into search queries. Pages should appear somewhat focused on these important keyword phrases, and the phrases should be featured prominently on the page. Otherwise, the page won’t receive consistent search engine traffic over time. Keyword research and copywriting are a part of this building block.

Information, site architecture and page layout. Search engines and site visitors must be given easy access to content with sufficient keyword density. How text, graphic images, and multimedia files are arranged on a page tells search engines and site visitors which content the site owner believes is most important. URL structure and technical architecture figure into that as well.

Link development. Commonly referred to as link popularity, this is the number and quality of objective, third-party links pointing to a URL or pages in a Web site. Of course, not all links pointing to a site are objective, third-party links, but those types of links aren’t always the most credible. Google places significant importance on these.

For all the new technology that’s emerged in the past 10 years, these building blocks still form a solid foundation, even with video, audio, and other multimedia search optimization. There are differing opinions on which is the most important block.

Keyword-Rich Text

Since optimization is centered on query-based searches on the Web search engines, one could conclude that SEO’s core is text. It’s a logical conclusion since searchers must type text into a search box to receive document information.

However, sometimes a document isn’t text-based. Some documents (or files) are graphic images or multimedia files. Therefore, the document surrogate, or a text-based substitute for a non-text file, must contain text search engines can crawl and use to determine relevancy.

As much as the use of text-based, keyword-focused documents and document surrogates for information retrieval, are important, I don’t believe keyword-rich text is the most important component of a successful SEO program. Text without context carries little meaning to searchers.

Information Architecture and Interface

A site’s information architecture and page layout is one of the most important components of an SEO program.

If a house has a strong foundation, it will be around for a long time. Without one, the house will collapse rather quickly. It’s the same for a Web site. SEO should be about building that strong foundation, not chasing algorithms and exploiting search engines. Start with a strong foundation. Accoutrements can always be added, refined, and removed.

Regarding search usability, the most expensive, time-consuming SEO solution involves modifying the site’s information architecture. Any beginner SEO can place keyword phrases in HTML title tags and meta tags. But creating site navigation and cross-linking with a labeling system that users understand is quite a challenge and takes experience. Identifying page types and assigning the most appropriate cross-links; knowing when to use text-based documents and when not to; optimizing for site visitors as well as search engines; are so important and can’t be completed quickly and easily.

Additionally, a target audience’s search behavior often varies by site type (B2B, B2C, publisher, education, etc.), age, gender, education level, etc.

Nonetheless, once a strong information architecture is in place the site sees vast improvements in qualified search engine traffic and cost savings. It’s easy to modify Web copy when the foundation is solid.

Link Development

Sometimes, a site receives qualified search engine traffic due to link popularity. In fact, if a site type (such as a Flash-based site) is unable to have the aforementioned on-page criteria, link development is often the only organic SEO solution.

Web site usability and link development go hand in hand. People tend to link to sites where the content is useful and informative. In addition, if Web site owners make that content easy to find through a solid information architecture, they pack one of the most powerful one-two punches: unique, useful content that’s easy to find.

What Is SEO?

As Web developers we consider the information architecture and interface as being an important component of successful SEO as well as text and link development.