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SEO Website Audit

Why We Do What We Do in SEO

February 10, 2010

I hear from many people who want to be told exactly what they need to do to get high rankings and bring more targeted search engine traffic to their websites. I wish I could provide them with a straight answer, but every site has its own needs when it comes to SEO. Which means there's no exact rule that will work each and every time for any website.

One thing, however, that can help you figure out how to SEO your site is to learn the whys behind the specific techniques you always hear about. But to understand the whys, you first need to get the gist of how search engines work. Sounds scary, I know, but I'm going to make it as simple and painless as possible – so stick with me!

In very simplistic terms, there are 2 main components to the search engines: the crawler and the algorithm.

The crawler, which is sometimes referred to as a spider, a robot, or simply a bot, is what goes out on the web and fetches all the pages of information that it can get its virtual spidey legs on.

The algorithm (or algo) is basically the ranking formula that each search engine uses to determine the relevancy of any page that the crawler finds.

The search engines use this formula to decide – out of the pages that were previously fetched – which pages they should show for which keyword phrases that any searcher might type into the search box. Those keyword phrases are also sometimes referred to as a person's "search query."

While the algo is a formula, it's so complicated that it's not something you can simply reverse-engineer. The engines look at hundreds of factors and weigh them all differently. This is why you'll find that automated SEO software doesn't work well to increase your rankings.

Here's an interesting point – those hundreds of factors that go into the relevancy algorithm boil down to two major things:

What you say about yourself, and what others say about you.

Really. It's as simple (and as hard) as that!

"What you say about yourself" means the information you provide on your website, or the words that you write on your pages. The Internet is mostly a word-based medium. Every single web page has its own story to tell. Each page should be relevant to one or more search keywords or phrases. And each page's story helps the search engines understand which search queries the page is relevant to.

Make sense?

So now let's look at what others say about you. This aspect of how the search engines determine relevancy is known as the "off-page" criteria, and it's typically done through links.

That is, another site owner likes what you say or offer on your site, and wants to tell their own site visitors about it. The way they do this is by linking to your site – or a specific page of your site. Search engines take these links into account because what others say about you provides an additional layer of trust beyond what you say about yourself.

Still with me?

These two major factors – how search engines work and what they're looking for – help clarify what you need to do SEO-wise to keep them happy.

First, you need to steer clear of any technical issues that can impede the crawler from finding, reading and indexing the pages of your website. The easier you make it for them to do their job, the better chance your pages will have of showing up for relevant searches.

Which means you need to start on the SEO of your website from the very beginning. You're going to need lots of up-front research on keywords and other elements. You'll also need to make sure your content is written to appeal to both your users and to the search engines. While all of this *can* be done later, you'll save yourself tons of time if you plan your SEO before you ever start developing your website.

Then, once you've got a crawler-friendly website, you'll need to create pages that conform to the search engines' algorithms by making sure they are not only relevant to what people are looking for, but interesting and unique enough for others to want to link to them. You've also got to spend time getting the word out about your website, because even the greatest content in the world won't market itself!

I hope I've simplified the search engine process and SEO enough that you understand why you need to use the specific tactics that are involved. If you always keep the two major factors that search engines are looking for in mind – what you say about yourself and what others say about you – you'll always be able to make the right decisions for your website.

It's those two factors that drive the SEO process and fulfill its goal of helping your target audience find your website when they're seeking out exactly what you offer.


Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings, an SEO Consultant in the Boston, MA area since 1995. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalenJill Whalen

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Post Comment

 Rudy Lopes ( @yankeerudy ) said:
Jill, this is one of the best explanation in layman's terms of SEO that I've read in a long time.

In my own explanation of SEO I usually talk about "the structure", "the content", and "the referrals" (drawing a parallel between links and business referrals) but you've got me trumped. I'll have to start looking at it in even simpler terms now.

Thanks for the great post!
 Beth Cole said:
I love this plain English explanation, I want to share it with all my clients, thank you!
 Jill Whalen said:
Thanks! It really is as simple (and as hard) as that!

If more would think of it this way we'd have less search engine deception going on.
 Melt du Plooy said:
Thanks Jill, i believe no-one could have said it in any simpler. It is a great article, left me with something to think about. May all SEO's revisit this continuously.
 Travis Melvin said:
Amazing explanation of a complex topic! Thank you for polishing this down into something easy to digest and this is a great resource to share with clients or others who don't understand search and just want to "rank number 1 in google.." . Well authored and much appreciated!
 Brampton Web Design said:
You've explained it well enough that even the not so techie guy would understand. Sounds very simple but as you've said "and also as hard as that". Agreeable, I've been doing SEO for my site as well, it's time consuming and more it's hard to keep following rules that Google impose, today maybe this thing and tomorrow another thing.
 Jill Whalen said:
That's the thing. There are no arbitrary rules that chame when you look at it as I've laid out.
 Nile Hadwards said:
Good Explanation of SEO. Thank you
 Duane said:
I agree with the other comments, Kudos to you for having the ability to explain these two very different categories which actually complement one another "eventually". But you were spot on in conveying that the onpage SEO should be done first.

This article was very clear and concise and would be very easy to understand even for the complete novice. You're explanations should be stock for an SEO dictionary.
 Jill Whalen said:
Thanks, Duane.

My goal when I write any article is to be as clear and concise and logical as possible. From everyone's comments above, it looks like I succeeded!
 error fix said:
In my own explanation of SEO I usually talk about "the structure", "the content", and "the referrals" (drawing a parallel between links and business referrals) but you've got me trumped. I'll have to start looking at it in even simpler terms now.
 MichaelM said:
The way you explain it (What you say about yourself, and what others say about you) makes it easy to understand, especially for seo starters like me who always got confused by those on page, off page, reciprocal links terms. Thanks, hope to learn more from you.
 James Isles said:
Great 'bare bones' article thank you. It's hard to see the fundamentals most of the time and good to be reminded what the search engines are all about. This is especially relevant to me as my site has dropped down to page three in Google for my chosen search terms after enjoying years of being at the top.
 Elisabeth said:
Jill, I am happy there are consultants like you and I am happy I finally found you. If I could ever happen to be present on your seminars, I am sure I would gain the best practice. Great post, simple explanation, I felt as if SEO is the simplest aspect of web. I agree with the main point that all the sites are individual entities and need individual attitude. What do you think is it possible to get the site on the first page in the sphere of Forex. This is a great competition sphere and seems the methods all well known to SEO are not enough to succeed.
 Anonymous said:
My goal when I write any article is to be as clear and concise and logical as possible. From everyone's comments above, it looks like I succeeded!