It is easy to get lost in the current glut of SEO literature and fail to make sense of it all. In this article, I will try to present my own simplified view of how SEO works. As SEO is a rich subject with many facets, and could be treated from many angles or points of view, I will focus on a very small number of concepts and assume knowledge of the following:
- I assume you know what a search keyword is and how to use it in Google.
- I assume you know what a web page is.
- I assume you know that Google indexes web pages’ (mainly) textual content, and compares it against the user’s search keyword to decide if it’s worth retrieving.
- I assume you (vaguely) know that SEO stands for search engine optimization.
Everything starts with content
In the beginning there was nothing, then web content was created (by you), and woke up Google’s crawling machine, telling it to index whatever it finds interesting on your web site. Assuming you already have your domain name, nothing really interesting happens if you have little or no web content. You will feel the frustration of not being known by anybody neither close by nor around the world. You type keywords related to your business in Google’s search interface, but your website is nowhere. If you are lucky, and you hit through some interesting content some ‘sensitive keywords’; those that match potential internet user queries, your web site’s root page or the target web page will probably be part of Google’s SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages), but shall be so far down the list that even you cannot be patient enough to dig it out! At the bottom of your despair, you launch your ‘Why Am I Invisible’ cry:
For the purpose of this article, we define SEO as the set of actions that increase tangibly the visibility of a given web site’s pages (or just its root page) on Google SERPs. Most of the time, if your web site is a business venture, you would probably like to appear on Google’s first results page (which generates 80 percent of visits!) for at least one, or a limited number of search keywords. Depending on how much competition there is out there, this can be a daunting task, necessitating a lot of investment. It’s like lifting a rocket off the ground to escape the pull of gravity. We consider that SEO’s fundamental objective is in Visits. Once some SEO guru managed to drive visits to your web site and your web pages, he has fulfilled his contract. It is up to you after that, to guarantee that your visitors like what they find, or purchase whatever you want them to buy. If what you wrote on your site was interesting, or what you sell provides great value, you are rewarded by your internet users with Back Links. For the case of articles; they will be mentioned elsewhere, or shared throughout the social networks. For the case of business products, your site will become ‘famous’ for whatever it sells. Google tracks among other things, the quality of these visits and rewards you generously if it sees that people spend a lot of time ‘inside’ you web site, look well beyond the first page they happened to hit (the so-called landing page). The diagram below summarizes our simplified view of SEO’s most important elements:
As you can see, content drives visits, visits drive back links and generated economic value through the sale of products, services, and advertising. There is a very important SEO feedback mechanism operating between back links and visits. The more you have happy visitors, the more you will be rewarded with back links which are a reliable indicator, in the eyes of Google, of the quality of your offer. Focus on the Golden triple: (Content, Visits, Links). In this beautiful SEO cycle, content remains the golden egg, the central engine that boosts your click count or total number of visits per month, to use a concrete measure of success (or failure).
Now Technically Speaking
Knowing all this, how does it really work in practice? Well, the story starts with a keyword analysis phase. Using Google Keyword Planner or any other keyword tool, you will first explore your subject, namely by finding as much as possible, the most interesting keywords to your business, and a few that are less close but that may bring an interesting population of visitors. The next step is to decide on the number of pages, or blog articles (even in a commercial web site) to design and write. There are two crucial observations here. The first is that this is the most critical phase of interesting content creation. If your content is not that interesting, it can even backfire and give you negative points in Google’s search algorithm. The second important observation is that of the name you give to your web page or permalink. There is a close relationship between the primary keyword you are targeting by some given web page or article and the words you use to name your page.
For the best possible example, I need go no further than this article. It bears the permalink how-does-seo-work, hence its writer (myself) hopes to match direct queries typing the keyword ‘how does seo work’ as well as queries close by linguistically or semantically, as figured out by Google. That’s all you need to know about the permalink decision. If you need or decide to write several (no duplicate content) articles around the same subject, revolving around the same target keyword and permalink, you will have to append suffixes to your root permalink or at least add more specific words.
The last phase of our simplified SEO model, will be the link earning phase. We have said that without links, your content has no wings to fly, it won’t succeed the lift-off phase. Links are your reputation, and quite justifiably, there is no better indication that your site is worth something, than a good number of back links. To understand this, imagine what difference it makes to Google (and to everybody else, for that matter) to have zero back links, 10 back links, 100 back links, 1000 back links, and 10000 back links ! Orders of magnitude simply cannot lie about your worth to the internet community.
In practice, SEO companies do not wait until somebody discovers how valuable you are to the world. They register your web site (or you’ll have to do it yourself) to dozens of hopefully respected directories, thereby giving you your first minimally trusted set of back links. Once this is done, you have to publicize your interesting content by leaving comments in relevant blogs and forums. The tricky part is that they have of course to accept your comment and the link that it contains for it to end up accepted.
Make no mistake, the last part is a very important part of your link capital. Treat this as nothing less than you vital marketing phase. You would typically spend more time publicizing your interesting content, than creating it, and this until you succeed your web site lift-off operation, escape the pull of gravity, and start to drive traffic more or less effortlessly to you site. The diagram below summarizes our simplified vision of SEO work:
The DPK acronym stands for Domain-Page-Keyword. By DPk-rich, we mean that a web page content contains a set of consciously targeted keywords, and sometimes, ‘accidentally’ hit keyword sets, acquired through spontaneous prose. We introduced the DPK in our previous article.
We defined SEO above as a set of actions that increase your site’s visibility. The best way to conclude is to leave with a (again) simplified set of actions that you’ll need to go through or that your SEO service provider will do on your behalf:
- Explore your subject, leave this phase with a list of target keywords.
- Transform this list into a set of permalinks, each being the title and embryo of the corresponding web page.
- For each permalink, write your interesting content … make the world smarter, or happier, or richer, etc.
- Earn your first back links though registering into reliable (free or paid) internet directories.
- Work hard to convince forums and blogs that you have added value in some articles of yours, leave a backlink and … pray that it will be kindly accepted by the blog owner or forum administrator.