Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of making your website as search-engine-friendly as possible. When search engines like Google organize the results of a particular search, they rank which websites will appear closer to the top based on several factors. Many of those factors don’t require much (or any) technological prowess, and collectively they can play a significant role in boosting your website’s rank during searches. It’s important to know that there’s no way to guarantee you’ll be the number one result in searches… If someone tries to sell you a service with that guarantee, it’s very likely they aren’t a trustworthy agency. However, the more steps you take to improve your SEO, the more likely it will be that you’ll show up at least on the first page or two of search results.
This article will go over some of the easier steps that you can take to improve your SEO. First, we’ll explore the different type of search results, and how they work in relation to search engine optimization.
Different Types of Search Results
The term ‘search result’, in the context of online searching, refers to the list of links that show up when a user types a term or phrase into a search engine.
Clicking on a search result will take searchers to a specific website or web page, which is identified by the link itself. The most common type of search result is a text link, which is usually blue. Links can also be images or even videos. However, regardless of the type of link, each search result acts in the same way taking users to a website. Searching for a given term or phrase might yield thousands or even millions of results, which are spread out over multiple pages. It’s pretty rare for people to look at more than the first page of results, so it’s in your best interest to show up near the top of that list.
There are many different search engines, but this article will focus specifically on Google. Google is by far the most popular search engine in North America, which makes it the one to be most concerned with.
Google has 3 major types of results, some (or all) of which may show up during a single search.
- Pay-Per-Click results, which are essentially ads in the form of search results. Website owners can pay to have their link show up in prominent places.
- Organic search results, which is the type that search engine optimization targets. Organic results make up the bulk of search results, and are shown in an order determined by the search engine.
- “Google Maps” results, which are centered around the searcher’s location. These types of results are represented by plots on a map, and are helpful in showing searchers nearby services that relate to the topic they searched.
In the screen shot, we can see an example of all three types of results in the locations they commonly appear. The red areas show the Pay Per Click results, right at the top of the list, and along the right hand side. The green area shows organic results, running down the central column, and continues downward to show about 12-15 links. The blue area shows a link to a map, which includes the Google Map results. Occasionally, these items will be shown in the central column as well.
Pay-per-click ads are the only type of search results that requires you to pay for better placement. Only website owners who are willing to pay for placement will show up in the ‘ads’ section. When they create an ad, website owners also create a list of search terms and phrases they would like to associate with their ad. Each item in this list is called a ‘keyword’.
The website owners also limit the amount of money they are willing to spend for each ‘click’ on one of their links. This limit is called a bid. Limits can also be placed on the amount of money to spend on bids in a particular day. When a user searches for a term, the search engine checks all the ads that have added that term as a keyword. Then, it checks to see how much each user is willing to pay to show up in the list of paid results. The users who are willing to pay the most, and haven’t spend their daily limit already, show up near the top of the paid results. The website owner only actually pays for their bid if a searcher clicks on their ad – that’s why the model is called Pay-Per-Click. There is no charge if the ad is shown by the searcher doesn’t click on it.
If you’re interested in getting more exposure via Pay-Per-Click marketing, the service you want to use is called Google AdWords. Creating an AdWords account is free, and has great support if you have any questions. If you’re trying to decide whether or not to use Pay-Per-Click ads, take a look at the pros and cons:
- Creating an AdWords account isn’t difficult, and gives you control over who sees your ad.
- It takes little to no effort to show up high in search results through pay-per-click.
- Bidding on multiple keywords means you get exposure for people searching for a wide variety of topics.
- If you rely on Pay-Per-Click as your sole means of getting exposure, it can get expensive in the long term.
- If your ad balance is depleted, your ads stop showing until you replenish it.
- Users may choose to block ads, or get annoyed with companies who use ad placement too heavily.
Ultimately the choice is yours… Pay-per-click can be a great way to get exposure, especially for new businesses or websites.
Google Maps (location based) Results
When looking for services like massage therapy clinics, often location can be a deciding factor for would-be clients. Finding a business close to home or work is definitely appealing. Google Maps shows businesses or services nearby that relate to the topic the user searched. Showing up on this map during location-based searches is obviously of huge benefit.
Each Google Maps result is shown as a point on the map, focused around the user’s current location. This is especially helpful when a user is searching for a business using a mobile device like a smartphone or tablet with built-in GPS. A searcher can also specify a starting point other than their current location, to find locations nearby their workplace, cottage, vacation spot, family member / friend’s house, etc..
Each result can be clicked to see more information about the business, like what the storefront looks like, and relevant contact information such as the company’s phone number and website.
On the above image, we can see several points listed on the map to the right, with a listing of what each point represents on the left. The order of the results is primarily based on location, but other factors play a role as well. Google Maps results also blend elements of pay-per-click and organic results. For instance, pay-per-click ads can also include location information, and show up on the map in the same way that they show up in regular results.
There’s also a special type of location-based result called a Google My Business (formally Google Places) result. Google My Business accounts are free, and allow website owners to list information to be included with their Google Maps results. Things like hours of operation, company logo, contact information, and a website can all be added. Creating a Google My Business account helps ensure your business shows up in Google Maps results.
Organic Search Results
When people talk about improving their search engine ranking, or SEO in general, they’re referring to showing up higher in organic results. The bulk of results that show up when a user searches for a topic are organic results. The competition in this area can be pretty steep.
Organic result rankings can’t be bought, the search engine determines what order they appear in, and which ones get priority. Google will attempt to show the links it believes are most relevant first. Relevant, in this case, refers to which results it thinks will be the most helpful to the searcher, based on the terms they searched for.
It does this by comparing each website against every other site to see which has more ‘relevant’ points.
Search engine optimization is the process of making sure a website has as many relevant points as possible, to encourage Google to show it closer to the top of the list of search results. The more relevant your website is determined to be, the higher up the list you’ll show up. There isn’t a single setting or practice you can follow to guarantee improved rankings… there are several things a search engine considers relevant, so you have to manage as many of them as you can. The best thing to do to improve your ranking is to break down the process into several small steps, then ensure that you do as many of those steps as possible.
Some of the things to consider, in no particular order, are:
- The quantity and variety of media on the site
- How recently and frequently you add content on the site
- How many times the search terms show up on a web page, and where those words are located on the page
- How many other websites have links to your site, and the quality of those websites
- Integration of other Google products: submitting a site map to Google, creating a Google Places page, etc.
- How much traffic your website gets, and how many people have clicked on your site while looking for similar terms
- How your visitors interact with your website (commenting on things, visiting multiple pages) and social media integration on your site
There are other, more technical, things that can effect SEO ranking as well, be this article will focus (mostly) on the steps that people can do easily with minimal technical skill.
We’ll begin exploring the basics on page 2.