Friday, September 4, 2009

A 60-Second Introduction to SEO

Hello. I am Ernie Schwarcz, and I am very proud of having been invited by Pat to be a guest phlogger and to occasionally share some Search Engine Optimization (SEO) insights and experiences with you.

Before I start, here are a few remarks (since we don’t know each other yet). First, I will assume that you have at least some basic SEO knowledge. If you are a total beginner (don’t worry, at one point we all were!), you’re welcome to refer to my introductory SEO articles on my own website. Here’s the link:

Second, I’ll try to keep my content professional but the style lighthearted. After all, SEO is great if it works, but can be quite technical on the bumpy road to success. Therefore, I’ll try to cite simple yet vivid examples and real-life comparisons.

Finally, you are welcome and encouraged to comment or criticize. The give and take of a discussion makes these topics even more interesting.

Let’s get started. First, a very simplified overview you can consider a 49-line (I counted!) crash course:

We all know that On-Page ( = Organic) SEO is the science of structuring, writing and programming a website in such a way that search engines will place the site high in their search results (for the desired keywords). This is my definition; Wikipedia’s you can find here: To this end, the search engines (to simplify matters, let’s take Google) frequently “crawl” millions of websites in order to register their content, HTML and other site “makeup”. Then Google files some of what it found. After every new crawl, that information usually gets updated in its databases.

When a web user searches for a given keyword or search term, such as “Montreal SEO Services” (I wonder where I got this example from …), Google compares this search term with all the information it has collected and pre-sorted from all similar and comparable sites. Then it very quickly sorts the information and displays on its search results thousands of websites most important in relation to “Montreal SEO Services” – most relevant websites first. Of course, every website wants to be first because first ranked, first clicked, first to get the opportunity.

For easier understanding, here is an example from real life. Let’s assume Jane Doe walks into her local library looking for books. The librarian will retrieve books for her based on the subject she chooses, but if Jane’s subject is too general, she’ll be asked for clarification. In other words, she’ll have to narrow down her topic. Initially, Jane is inexplicably shy. But eventually she tells the librarian that she is looking for books on bad marriages, good poison, and outstanding criminal lawyers. Now we are talking, and a successful search can be done within minutes.

A search engine is not a librarian and has no idea what you really want when you type in a general expression. But what a search engine will do is compare the search query to the information in their databases, find the contents which most closely match the requested information, and then rank them in order of importance, or relevance, whereby the most relevant contents are displayed first.

And these contents (as mentioned, they regularly are collected by the search engines) are simply what web designers or webmasters have written into their web sites, either explicitly in the copy, the HTML code, or - implicitly - as a set of logical connections, by way of internal and external links to the individual web pages.

So it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the better designed and written a web site, the more relevant its content will be for the search engines for certain keywords or search terms. Increased relevance will, in turn, rank the site higher on the search engines' results pages for those terms.

How does Google determine what is “relevant”? Great question. The answer is: it has its own set of hundreds of very complex mathematical and logical rules, aka algorithms. Of course, we would all love to know these rules as they would guarantee top Search Engine Results Positions (SERPs) at all times. Alas, no-one knows for sure since Google guards its algorithms like the vaults of Fort Knox (and, to boot, often modifies and even changes them to keep us on our toes).

Well, not quite. The general principles are more or less known, and Google itself publishes some general guidelines. What is not known is the exact weight Google attaches to each of those rules and in which precise combination they are most effective. Add to this the fact that Yahoo and Bing have different criteria and algorithms, and you can imagine how difficult it is to optimize a website to satisfy all the Search Engines’ criteria.

Welcome to the complex world of SEO!

This was a lengthy introduction and future phlogs will be much shorter (promise!), but once you’ve read the above, future tips and pointers (to follow, unless Pat ejects me) will suddenly become quite common-sense and logical.

Ernie Schwarcz is President of SEO Trump Consultant Company in Montreal, Canada. SEO Trump Consulting is a Web Design & SEO Services Company specializing in high-quality yet affordable Web & SEO Services. Services are offered to US, Canadian and International clients in a a number of languages, including English, French, German, Chinese, Spanish, and Hungarian.