Search engines attempt to find the best content to answer the questions posed by their users. Search engine optimization (SEO) is our attempt to make our content into the best answer so that search engines will offer it up first.

The goal of search engine optimization is to understand what our target audience is looking for, what language they are using, then understand how search engines look for results. We use this understand to develop our content so that it answers the questions and is easily found and then highly ranked by the search engines.

Search engines use tools called spiders or bots to crawl the web looking for content. These bots index everything they find. Next, the ranking algorithms sort all this content and decide what is more important and more authoritative. We will talk more about ranking algorithms below, as well as in future articles. At the other end of the process, the search engine llooks at phrases users enter into search boxes and tries to determine what they are really looking for. This may be different for each user, as the search engine uses not only the general algorithm, but personalized search history to interpret the entries.

SEO specialists use their understanding of this process to make decisions about content. They also study how users conduct their searches so that the content will appear for the most relevant searches, not just the most frequent.

The Scope of SEO

Where does SEO fit into the overall web content process? The primary ranking algorithm Google uses contains over 200 major factors. These include how the content is coded and displayed as well as the navigation and information architecture of the website. They also include off-page factors, such as what and how other web pages link or mention content on the website. There are other algorithms that make important adjustments to how content is indexed by looking for certain qualities that indicate low quality or high quality content.

To really have a chance at success, SEO needs to be considered during every stage of development, be part of all major website and web content decisions. Recently Hulu made a coding decision that resulted in tens of thousands of pages being delisted. The consequences of this choice could have a large impact on the company’s revenue.

The discipline of search engine optimization is also heavily concerned with how users search for information. While there is some value to using this knowledge to optimize existing content, the best place to use it is in the initial development of content. The research done by SEO specialists is invaluable in understanding what your target audience really wants.

Organic SEO

The best type of SEO is called organic, or sometimes “white hat” SEO. Organic SEO begins with the premise that quality content is what people want to find, and search engines are naturally going to rank it more highly as long as it is well formatted. Instead of trying to outsmart or trick the search engine algorithms, organic SEO works with them to provide the best, well organized content that is easy to find, share, and use.

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Value of SEO

Some writers, over the years, have questioned whether SEO is as valuable as it once was. It is true that search engines are more personalized now, and they have gotten better at understanding user intent and finding new content. It is also true that people spend far more time on social media these days.

But good SEO is actually more important than it ever has been. In absolute numbers, people use search engines more than ever, and in a far greater variety of circumstances. Mobile search has become prevalent because searchers are consulting their phones before many types of decisions, small or large.

Spending more on social media makes a lot of sense, but search engine optimization is going to reach more precisely those who are actively interested and doing research. Because of mobile, search engines also often provide that final bit of information people use just before they make a decision.

Being at the right place with the right data is the key to success in our information-driven age. The best way to get there is probably with good SEO.