Search Engine Optimisation Explained

One of the most important things to have when starting a new site is a high search engine ranking. With most sites, search engines can account for up to 95% of traffic. If you're not placed in the first three pages, it's unlikely you'll get any traffic from a search engine. Eye tracking studies have shown that searchers scan the page from top to bottom, left to right looking for a relevant result. Placement at or near the top of the initial results increases the chance of searchers going to a particular site.

How Search Engines Work

  1. Crawling the Web
    Search engines run automated programs, called "bots" or "spiders", that use the hyperlink structure of the web to "crawl" the pages and documents that make up the World Wide Web.
  2. Indexing Documents
    Once a page has been crawled, its contents can be "indexed" - stored in a giant database of documents that makes up a search engine's "index". This index needs to be tightly managed so that requests which must search and sort billions of documents can be completed in fractions of a second.
  3. Processing Queries
    When a request for information comes into the search engine (hundreds of millions do each day), the engine retrieves from its index all the document that match the query. A match is determined if the terms or phrase is found on the page.
  4. Ranking Results
    Once the search engine has determined which results are a match for the query, the engine's algorithm (a mathematical equation commonly used for sorting) runs calculations on each of the results to determine which is most relevant to the given query. They sort these on the results pages in order from most relevant to least so that users can make a choice about which to select.

Although a search engine's operations are not particularly lengthy, systems like Google, Yahoo!, AskJeeves, and MSN are among the most complex, processing-intensive computers in the world, managing millions of calculations each second and funneling demands for information to an enormous group of users.

What is SEO

Search engine optimisation (SEO) seeks to improve the number and quality of the visitors to a website from "natural" (unpaid) search results. The quality of visitor traffic can be measured by how often a visitor using a specific keyword leads to a desired conversion action, such as making a purchase or requesting further information.

In essence however, SEO can be described as:

Content x age x links = Optimised Site

There are a range of strategies that can be used in SEO, including;

  • On-Page Factors - the way the site is coded and
  • Offsite factors - getting links from other sites.

There are two broad categories of techniques - techniques that search engines recommend are part of good design, and those techniques that search engines do not approve of and attempt to minimise including;

  • White Hat - SEO techniques are considered white hat techniques if they conform to search engine guidelines. This typically means creating content for users not for spiders and then making the content easily available to search engines rather than attempting to "beat the system". These are the techniques that we apply for our clients.
  • Black Hat - black hat techniques attempt to improve rankings in ways that are disapproved by search engines, or techniques that involved deception. An example of a black hat technique is the use of text coloured the same colour as the background, in an invisible div or positioned off screen. Another involves the practise of serving one version of a page to a human and another to search engine spiders - this is called cloaking. Search engines penalise sites they consider to be using black hat techniques by either reducing their rankings or eliminating their entry in the database altogether.

The reason we follow white hat techniques is that our techniques are aimed at creating content for users, not for search engines. We make our content easily available for search engine "spiders" without trying to trick search engines into ranking the site highly.

One risk that must always be remembered with SEO is that the algorithms generating referrals through search engines change, and therefore there are never any guarantees of continued referrals. Due to this lack of certainty, a business that relies heavily on search engine traffic can suffer major losses if search engines stop sending them visitors.

Last Modified: 04 April 2022
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