Search engine optimization, or SEO, refers to the process of making your website easy to find through search engines like Google, Bing, Duck Duck Go, and others. When an internet user searches for a given word or set of words, called keywords, these search engines use an algorithm to choose which websites to show in its search results and in what order they appear. This algorithm is trained to prioritize pages that it has determined to be expert, authoritative, and trustworthy (E-A-T, an acronym that Google has said represents some of the major considerations its algorithm uses).
Of course, every website tries to provide reliable information, and a big part of creating a site is producing content that fulfills the E-A-T criteria. But a crucial element in search engine optimization is designing and structuring your website in an algorithm-friendly way. Search engine optimization makes that possible, using what we know about user search behavior and search engine algorithms.
Does SEO Matter?
The short answer to the question “Does SEO matter?” is “Yes, very much!” If your website is designed to sell a product, it’s crucial to make it as easy as possible for potential customers to find you. If your website or business depends on ad revenue, you need to drive clicks to your pages so users can see the ads. Even if your website’s goal is purely informative, search engine optimization allows you to get that information in front of as many people as possible.
In other words, search engine optimization isn’t just an intellectual exercise or a vanity project. It’s a way to ensure that you’re sharing information, promoting conversation and marketing your products or content in exactly the ways you intend.
Search engine optimization matters so much, in fact, that it should inform every step of creating your website, from concept to construction to content creation. Search engines like Google rate whole websites (these are called “domain ratings”), but their algorithm also ranks individual pages within the site. This means that not only should your site be structured in an algorithm-friendly way from the get-go, but each individual page on that site should follow best practices for SEO. A page that lists the 10 coziest bathrobes should and will rank differently in Google based on whether the user’s search includes the terms “bathrobe,” “pajamas,” or “sleepwear.”
Designing Websites for Search Engine Optimization
How do Google Search and other search engines determine ranking in their search results? While parts of the algorithm are kept under wraps, we do have some information about how search engines tend to function. For instance, we know that the speed with which your site loads is a major consideration for search engines, so it’s important not to overload your homepage with images or GIFs, which require a lot of bandwidth to load.
Two other important factors in search engine rankings are keywords and link profiles, both of which you should keep in mind when building your website and creating content. Search engines use internet bots called crawlers or spiders to analyze websites for keywords, links, user experience, and more.
These crawlers look closely at the structure of each individual page to see what keywords are used on that page, especially in important positions like page titles, section headers, and introductory text. If a crawler sees a page titled “10 Coziest Bathrobes,” with section headers like “Bathrobes with Pockets” and “Waffle Weave Bathrobes,” the search engine understands that the page is useful to people who are searching for bathrobes. When constructing your website and creating its content, it’s important to pay attention to which keywords are used in these prominent locations.
Crawlers also perform link analysis, examining how your site links to its own pages and how many other websites are linking back to yours. All websites include internal links to assist users in navigating from page to page, and the structure of interlinking on your website actually allows crawlers to find every page on the site. If your site includes pages that cannot be discovered through following internal links within your website, crawlers won’t know that those pages exist.
Your link profile also includes information about the quantity and quality of websites that have linked back to your content. The more high-quality pages that link to your website, the better your site will perform in search rankings.
Producing Search Engine–Optimized Content
The best way to create an SEO-friendly website is to create great, useful content. Strategies like buying links or doing link exchanges are frowned upon by most search engines, and they will not provide valuable long-term improvements to your site. Search engine optimization strategies are not a substitute for good content, but rather a way of enhancing that content in ways that will bring it to the attention of your desired audience.
Writing a blog can be a terrific way to drive new users to your website. A blog generates new conversations, leading users to link to you in order to participate in or share those conversations. When writing blog posts, remember to use relevant keywords in page titles and topic headings, as this will help your posts to be easily findable and helpful to visitors on your website, thereby making it likelier that they’ll read the posts and link back to them on their own sites.
Writing a blog is not the only strategy for building up your link profile, however. Guest-posting on other sites relevant to your work can build relationships across the internet and drive new traffic to your site. If applicable, you can create high-quality resources that can’t be found in other places, or can’t be found in the format you’re providing. As with blogs, pages that offer useful resources can be a good driver of incoming links, as users on social media or other parts of the internet share your content.