As SEO is such a large topic, we will break it up into a 3-part series of articles. The focus of this article is to answer the question “What is SEO and how can it help my business?”. To answer the first part of this question you will need to know the inner workings of a search engine to get a basic understanding of how search works. You will learn that search is a process which can be broken into three simple steps that a search engine must take before providing you with, what it believes, are the most useful results. This process starts with Crawling and Indexing, followed by Algorithms and finally fighting spam. To answer the second part of the question, “…how can it help my business”, we detail why it is so important to the success of business in today’s online marketing arena and how it is of equal importance to non-profit organizations, bloggers and just about anyone with a website. What is SEO? Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is define as: “…the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a search engine’s unpaid results..” –Wikipedia These “unpaid results” are what a search engine, like Google or Bing, produces once it takes your search query and runs it through it’s internal process. The page of results you get back is called the Search Engine Results Page or SERP. This first page, usually comprised of 10 organic results and a handful of ads that match or are related to your query, is considered by all marketers as the Holy Grail. I instantly have images of Indiana Jones fighting tooth and nail to aquire this mystical power. Such is the pursuit by online marketers for result #1 on page #1 of the SERPs. How Search Works To master SEO, you need to have a basic understanding of how search works. Google has made it easy by segmenting the process into three steps which are Crawling and Indexing, Algorithms and Fighting Spam. Crawling and Indexing For this first step, Google navigates an ever growing web of over 60 trillian individul pages using software called web crawlers. These web crawlers, like the most well-known GoogleBot (not an actual robot), crawls the web from link to link and pulling data about those webpages back to Google’s servers . As it does this, it is systematically indexing and sorting pages by their content and several other factors. Cool fact #2: The Google Index is over 100 million gigabytes of data. Here is a short video describing how search works by Matt Cutts (an Engineer from the Quality Group at Google). Cool fact #3: The life span of a Google query is less then 1/2 second, and involves quite a few steps before you see the most relevant results. Algorithms Cool fact #4: Google uses over 200 ranking signals to decide the best results for a search query. To aid the Google search engine in delivering the best possible results, Google engineers write programs & formulas. These Algorithms are computer programs that look for clues to give you back exactly what you want. The process incorperates a list of over Google ranking factors that are continuously refined by Google. Fighting Spam The internet is flooded with spammy websites that attempt to game or use trickery to get to the top of the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). This is very bad for search in general as relavant results get buried low in the SERP pages. The good news is that the Google’s algorithms can detect a vast majority of different types of spam and automatically take action (demote their rankings). For those spammy websites that make it through the automated spam demotion process, there is a team at Google who manually review sites. Here is a list of different spam types: Cloaking and/or sneaky redirects Hacked site Hidden text and/or keyword stuffing Pure spam Spammy free hosts and dynamic DNS providers Thin content with little or no added value Unnatural links from a site Unnatural links to a site User-generated spam So now that you know some of the tricks people use to try to “break the rules” please avoid them like the plague. Some say they can give you short term gain but once the Google machine detects you have been using this type of manipulation, you will loose your rankings and likely get placed in a sandbox that is extremely hart to get out of. How can SEO help my business? Here are some statistics to illustrate why performing well in the SERPs is so important Organic Listings receive 90% of all clicks Less than 10% of people advance to Page 2 Page two drives about 5% and page three 1% of all SERP clicks The #1 organic result (meaning result #1 on page #1) drives 33% of all clicks The top 3 organic results (#1, #2, #3) capture 61% of clicks If you have a website selling a product(s) or a service featuring content that is well optimized for SEO, plain and simple it means more leads and more sales. Sites that appear higher up in the results will get more traffic to their pages, and in turn more business. Like we said in our introduction, more traffic to your website is also of benefit non-profit organizations, bloggers and just about anyone with a website. Many professional bloggers make a living by by selling adspace on their blog. The more traffic coming into their site, by way of content marketing, the more their revenew from sources like Google Adsense. We how you now have a better understand on what SEO is and how it can help your business. Stay tuned for educational content to show you how to properly optimize your website content for Search Engine Optimization.