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Explaining Search Engine Optimisation

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Just a few years ago no one beyond web designers had much of an idea what SEO was; today it’s a boom part of Internet marketing.

Getting that cherished first place on Google can make a huge difference to a business; 94% of web surfers ignore paid or sponsored results and only look at the ‘organic’ listings, 62% never go beyond the first page, 42% never go past the first result! Figures like these drove website owners to find out how they could get in those first page organic search engine results, and they discovered the answer was SEO, but what is it exactly?

To understand SEO, it helps to understand how search engines work, so let's take a look at the big name on the block.

In basic terms, the Google system doesn’t understand what any words mean, they ‘keywords’ you search for are totally meaningless to it, but it can easily produce a list of websites which have your keywords in.

Once it has a list of sites Google then applies a complex algorithm to try and figure out which sites are the most relevant to your search. It looks at how many times your keywords appear on each website, whether they’re packed onto one page or spread out equally, where the words appear on each page, each paragraph, each sentence, whether third party websites have recommended any of the results as a good resource by linking to them and hundreds of other parameters.

So, in a simplified way, the algorithm runs something like this;

  • Are the keywords in the page title? +5 points
  • Are the keywords spread across the page? +3 points
  • Are they repeated too many times? -3 points
  • Do other sites relevant to the keywords link to this site? +1 point for each

And so on. By juggling a lot of measurements around, Google gets a pretty good idea of which websites are most relevant to your search enquiry, even though it has no understanding of what any of the websites or keywords mean.

So, as the name suggests, all an SEO expert has to do is optimise a website design to appeal to that search engine algorithm, putting all the right words in the right places by adjusting the copy, building links with third party websites and so on. Unfortunately, you can never be certain just which keywords a potential customer will search with, Google’s algorithm is one of the best kept secrets in the world, and it’s constantly tweaked to improve the results!

Expertise in SEO can only come with years of experience actually doing it, experimenting with different techniques and staying on top of the many changes and how they affect things. Like any other trade, search engine optimisation is a specialist skill and one that should always be ongoing, evolving and responding to the latest changes in search engine algorithms and practices.