By the end of this section, you will be able to:
- Describe how search engines work
- Define and discuss search engine optimization
- Apply search engine optimization techniques
Search engines have been around since the internet was founded in 1990. Yahoo!, founded by Microsoft, was the original search engine. Search engines are designed to help people find websites on the internet. But a search engine is only useful if it delivers relevant results. This is where search engine optimization (SEO) comes in. We have briefly discussed the concept in What Are Content Management Systems? and Creating Content with a Content Management System. Here, we will go into more depth about SEO as it relates to developing your online presence.
What Are Search Engines?
Search engines such as Google, Yahoo!, and Bing are web-based tools that use an algorithm, which is a program used by a search engine to arrange pages in order from the most relevant to the least. Algorithms generate search results based on user inquiries. In effect, a search engine acts as a personal researcher to help the user locate relevant web pages or results based on the word, phrase, or sentence typed into the search bar. Unlike a browser, whose sole purpose is to display a web page, a search engine is a locator tool. Search engines “crawl” or explore the billions of pages that are available on the internet. Using different search engines to search for the same topic or industry could yield different results because they might handle keywords differently or have different ranking algorithms. However, because Google has more than 90 percent of the market share, many websites tend to focus on SEO for Google, ignoring other search engines that are much less widely used.
The goal of SEO is to increase traffic to a website. Higher traffic, or a greater number of visitors, is accomplished by listing a website near the top of the search list when a user searches for a particular website. The higher the site appears on the list, the more likely it is that visitors will click on it. More site visitors can increase your online visibility and increase the potential for more sales, if you are an e-commerce site. Also, sites that have a greater number of visitors tend to have the perception of being of higher quality than those with fewer visits. Because of the sheer size of the internet and the number of websites hosted on the internet, SEO can be a cost-effective way to reach more people. Figure 8.27 is an example of the type of information you would find when measuring the reach of a website.
Mac users can take advantage of the built-in tools and features available on macOS, such as the Safari Web Inspector. Safari, the default web browser on Mac, comes with a powerful development tool called the Web Inspector. It allows you to analyze and debug web pages, which can be valuable for SEO purposes. To access it, follow these steps:
- Open Safari and navigate to the web page you want to inspect.
- Go to the Safari menu in the menu bar, then click on Preferences.
- In the Preferences window, click on the Advanced tab.
- Enable the option that says Show Develop menu in menu bar.
- Close the Preferences window.
You should now see a Develop menu in the menu bar. Click on it and choose Show Web Inspector. Once the Web Inspector is open, you can use its various panels to analyze the structure of the web page, inspect HTML elements, view and modify CSS styles, monitor network requests, and more. This can be helpful for identifying SEO-related issues, such as missing meta tags, slow-loading resources, or improperly structured content.
How Does Google Work?
Google is a search engine that uses web crawler software to constantly roam the internet. Web crawling means that the computer software scans the internet for certain words, tags, and links based on a particular search term(s). These software programs are automated and sometimes referred to as “bots.” The bots browse the internet when terms are put in the search bar and operate search engines for the purpose of web indexing. An index on the web is similar to an index at the end of a book—it contains all website addresses that are searchable by the bots. To get your website to be included in the index, the website content needs to be deemed credible and of value to users, easy to navigate, and not to contain duplicate information. Once the site is on the index, when a user puts in a search term that is tied to the information on the website, the website will be returned and ranked. Higher-ranked websites will appear sooner in the search results list. You can improve your website ranking by including keyword tags, categories, and links to other relevant websites. You can also improve your website ranking by using search engine marketing and paying to have your company’s information show up higher in the search results list. Google uses a sophisticated computer algorithm to rank websites that are constantly updated. Most search engines will use similar technology for searching on the internet. The Google search process has three stages:
- Crawling: Automated programs seek out new or updated pages and organize their addresses in a list that the user can view.
- Indexing: Based on information from crawling, Google visits pages and analyzes their content, images, videos, and other elements. The goal is to identify the type of page and store the information in an index.
- Serving: In this stage, the search engine determines the best results based on user language, location, device, and queries. For example, a user searching for a tea shop will have different results if they are in Florida than if they are in India.
What Is Search Engine Optimization?
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a digital marketing strategy that business owners or individuals can apply to their websites and web pages to increase the value and volume of traffic from different search engines. Search engines sort results from different websites to show the public relevant information based on keywords. Pages are ranked using an algorithm to help improve search results. A web page with more relevant links will rank at the top of the list. PageRank is an algorithm used to help business owners promote online visibility by increasing the number of internet search results for a website. To optimize search results, business owners should update their information regularly and use relevant keywords within their web pages. Keywords will be based on company products and services they offer. There are companies that will analyze and provide SEO data for your website. Figure 8.28 shows just one example of how the data be summarized.
SEO is important for businesses to implement because it boosts the likelihood that their site will be seen before their competition. A website with a higher rank will receive more clicks and visits from viewers. Higher ranks can be obtained by including keywords multiple times and in multiple places on your site. For example, Happy Tails WC might ensure that they get potential pet adopters to their site by using keywords such as “dog,” “cat,” “adoption,” and their specific location multiple times throughout the website.
Companies can also improve their website’s rank by making sure the site loads quickly, can work on multiple platforms such as tablets and phones, and has an easy-to-navigate layout. SEO can even impact the user experience; consumers should be able to locate what they need by inputting specific keywords in a search. The better the SEO is implemented on a site, the easier this process is for the end user. Implementing SEO also adds credibility to a website by increasing exposure to customers.
Optimizing Your Site for Search Engines
Here are some steps you can take to optimize your website for search engines:
- Focus on producing rich content, such as crisp images and high-quality videos.
- Conduct keyword research that aligns with what your customers want.
- Identify your target audience and design your site to meet their needs. If your site is not well-designed, it can be difficult for web crawler software to analyze the content effectively.
- Make sure you have a good hosting site that allows your website to load quickly and allows you to add tags and categories to your website.
- Consider hiring an SEO expert who can analyze your website and help you improve your rank within ethical guidelines.
Optimizing Specific Content
SEO keywords include specific words and phrases in your web content, making it easy for your site to populate within search engines. If your website is optimized properly, the language used in your keywords will be identical or similar to the language used by your visitors. Therefore, it is essential to understand your target market. Keywords help define what your site is about and connect your audience to you. For example, if you have a T-shirt shop but fail to specify the types of T-shirts you sell, you will miss opportunities to reach potential customers. For better results, use keywords that represent your niches, such as “wholesale T-shirts” or “vintage T-shirts.” Make a list of relevant topics surrounding your niche and develop different keywords. It is also a good idea to study your competition and see how they rank or what keywords are driving traffic.
To maximize the benefits of SEO, you need to provide well-organized, meaningful content that encourages visitors to remain on the site longer. Using keywords in your content can help you build trust and establish authority. Be sure to create titles that your target customer will use in a search engine, and use keywords associated with your topic throughout your page, as well as links that connect to other reputable websites. For Happy Tails, you might consider titles such as “adopting cats” or “caring for a new pet.” These titles and descriptions should also be interesting, using catchy words and phrases to attract your audience. Descriptions should be detailed, and neither too short nor too long. Here are some tips for writing titles and descriptions:
- Titles and descriptions should summarize what the page is about.
- Avoid using false narratives or titles to drive traffic to your website. This is considered unethical.
- Be sure your titles and descriptions use the same language your target audience would use, so they can feel a connection. Consider hiring a copywriter that specializes in SEO or web content.
When it comes to ethical considerations in SEO, ensuring accurate representation is of utmost importance. Engaging in unethical practices, commonly known as Black Hat SEO or spam, can have severe consequences for your online presence. While these practices may not be strictly illegal, they are widely frowned upon in the business community. If search engines uncover your hidden agenda, you risk being penalized with search engine bans or a significant drop in your ranking.
Review cases from HubSpot that highlight some of the biggest SEO blunders to gain a better understanding of the unethical practices to avoid. By exploring these examples, you can learn from the mistakes of others and cultivate an ethical approach to SEO. The cases presented provide valuable insights into the consequences of unethical practices.
Now, let’s examine three cases from HubSpot’s examples of unethical SEO practices, along with an explanation of the specific unethical practice involved in each case:
- Case 1: Inflated Keyword Density: This case involves the excessive and unnatural stuffing of keywords into content in an attempt to manipulate search engine rankings. This practice aims to deceive search engines and artificially boost a website’s visibility. However, such keyword stuffing compromises the quality and readability of the content, making it difficult for users to obtain valuable information. Search engines consider this practice unethical and may penalize websites that engage in keyword stuffing.
- Case 2: Hidden Text and Links: In this scenario, websites use hidden text or links that are not visible to users but are intended to be detected by search engine crawlers. The hidden elements are often stuffed with keywords or include links to unrelated or low-quality websites. By concealing these elements, website owners aim to manipulate search engine rankings. However, this practice is deceptive and violates search engine guidelines, as it misleads both users and search engines about the actual content and purpose of the website.
- Case 3: Link Schemes: This case involves the creation of artificial and manipulative links with the goal of improving search engine rankings. Unethical link schemes may include purchasing or exchanging links, participating in link farms or networks, or using automated tools to generate a large number of low-quality backlinks. Search engines consider such practices as attempts to manipulate their algorithms and devalue the trustworthiness and integrity of search results.
By understanding these unethical practices and their associated consequences, you can make informed decisions to avoid them and uphold ethical standards in your SEO efforts. Remember, the focus should be on providing valuable, relevant, and user-friendly content that aligns with search engine guidelines. By taking an ethical approach to SEO, you can build a strong online presence, gain the trust of your audience, and foster long-term success.
A uniform resource locator (URL) is used to access resources that are published on the internet. Most people are familiar with its format: generally, they begin with “www.” and end with “.com” or similar. A good practice is to design URLs in a way that will benefit users, while also being easy for search engines to understand. Here are a few things you can do to optimize your URLs:
- Limit your URLs to fifty to sixty characters. This will not be sufficient to rank your site, but it is a good practice because it helps make the URL easier for users to copy and paste, share on social media sites, and remember for future use.
- Create SEO-friendly URLs that describe your content and include keywords.
- Use hyphens to separate words and lowercase letters.
Let’s look at some examples of good and not-so-great URLs. Figure 8.29 outlines some good URLs and URLS that could use some work.
Using headings on your website can help both visitors and search engines locate and understand your content. Headings are used to partition content on a page with a good deal of text or other information. The headings can break up the information to make it more readable and visually engaging. When a block of text gets lengthy (generally more than five to eight lines of text), you should consider using headings to organize the content. Headings can also enhance the accessibility of your site. A site with headings is easier to read and can help visitors to the site jump to relevant sections. Headings are also used by many screen reading technologies to aid in site navigation. If there are no headings, the reader can easily be confused and leave the site. To organize your content, try some of these tips:
- Break up text by topic and add a short, descriptive heading for each.
- Include keywords in your header tags for SEO.
- Use headings to describe each section of the website that contains more than five lines of text.
- Make your header tags consistent in font size, color, and writing style, so visitors can recognize the headings quickly.
- Avoid using all caps for headings. Words typed in all caps have accessibility issues as they are often difficult to read.
- Use catchy or relevant words.
Some website headings that might work for Happy Tails WC include “Join our Family” to volunteer for the organization or “Find a New Friend” to see the adoptable pets.