SEARCH Engine Optimization, or SEO, is a complicated technique to master, even for webmasters. I am not a webmaster, so please take at face value what I am going to share with you today.
Try to google “seo” and the top four results will likely show, in ascending order, three Google advertisements (by Adwords), and a definition of Search Engine Optimization by wikipedia.org. Without going anywhere — meaning on the same web page — you will see how Wikipedia defines SEO, which is “the process of increasing the quality and quantity of website traffic by increasing the visibility of a website or a web page to users of a web search engine.” If you need more elaboration, or if you are like me who does not quite fully understand what quality of website traffic is all about, then chances are you will scroll farther down for other search results. Or, not having enough time to wander around, you may click the advertised websites and click the links that will bring you to the products or services being offered, which can be expected to have something to do with SEO, such as web hosting or offers of SEO services. Anytime you click the advertised link or links, Google, through its Adwords, makes money.
(Google tells the advertiser that somebody clicked your link and its costs you, say, $1. Search keywords are auctioned off among advertisers, take it or leave it. For keywords that command stiff competition, like weight loss and anti-aging, advertisers can pay as much as $3 to $5 for every click.)
On the other hand, if you feel satisfied with the information you got from Google Search, in this case Wikipedia’s definition of SEO, then it is likely you will return to google the next time you feel like poking around for information from the internet.
In a nutshell, that is how search engines work and why they spend huge money to make sure you keep coming back. Google Search has earned its reputation as highly sensitive to user experience, which explains why more users prefer its search engine over that of Yahoo or Bing. (Google commands 90 percent of all desktop searches worldwide; 92 percent for mobile searches.)
How do search engines meet users’ expectation? Google has been using a complex and ever evolving process of delivering search results, but the main idea has stayed the same: to provide its users original and high-quality content. How does Google know if a website’s content is of high quality? There are many ways, and new ones are coming up everyday, either to enhance its processes or to “police” SEO cheats. (To the horror of not a few website owners, money-making and highly monetized websites that have been ranking high in search results for months can disappear the next day, and many of them might not know what happened.)
The more widely known factors by which quality of website content can be determined are user engagement and the so-called backlinks. If you are a website administrator and you link your website to Google Analytics (like Google Search, Google Analytics is a free service) or from the control panel of your webhost, you can access the following information: who visited your website (visitors are called traffic in cyberspeak), from which part of the universe they visited, when the visit took place, which page or pages of your website were visited, and how long the visitor stayed in each page of your website. The analytics also reveals the IP (short for Internet Protocol) address used by the visitor. Therefore you have a way of knowing if the visitor was unique or one who returns to visit at quite an unusual interval or frequency, which can prompt search engines to flag your website on suspicion of deploying bots (short for web robots). Needless to say, if your visitors spend long minutes flipping through your pages, it will tell Google that the content of your website is of high quality. To this end giants like Facebook and Google have invested billions in apps to tempt their users to prolong their stay on their pages. Facebook, for example, has Messenger, Games and, lately, Dating; Google has legion of free apps as well — Gmail, Maps, Images, Search Engine and another giant, YouTube, just to name a few. Alexa in fact ranks them at the top (Google at number one, YouTube at number two, and Facebook at number 6, Wikipedia at number 9) among billions of websites worldwide that attract the most of user engagement.
Another key factor for ranking high in search engine results is called backlinks. When I cited Wikipedia as source of my SEO definition, it implies that I consider its content to be of high quality. When this article gets posted online and a hyperlink to that source is created, that means a backlink for Wikipedia.org has been generated. The more backlinks a website has, the more convinced Google will be that that website’s content is of high quality.
Over the course of time, however, backlinking has become a wide frontier for SEO cheaters. Up to this day, softwares like SENuke that generate thousands of backlinks for websites on auto-pilot are still thriving. (They evolve as often as search engines do.) Because of persisting “blackhat” SEO practices, Google sometimes drop websites from its search rankings altogether. Bots are busy everywhere, creating impressions of active user engagement for a particular website content. At Fiverr.com, for example, you can buy 25 thousand Facebook likes for $5.
Unique content also helps rank websites in search engine results. This explains why large and the so-called authority websites with a steady supply of fresh, unique content, like Wikipedia and news sites that have maintained their online presence for a long time, rank high especially for high-traffic keywords.
For webmasters, SEO used to be a simple and straightforward process. The basic inputs include getting your website (that is, your domain name) listed by search engines. Do-follow tags and site map text files make it easier for search engines to crawl your content. Domain names are also important; seo.com may not outrank Wikipedia for the search keyword “seo”. But whatisseo.com may outrank Wikipedia if the search keyword is changed to “what is seo.” Whatisseo.com may also outrank whatisseo.ph or tips.seo.com for the same keywords. All other things being equal, a domain name that has been registered a decade ago will often outrank a website whose domain name was registered only lately.
Early SEO techniques included keyword density. An 800-word article about rockstar Duterte will dominate search engine results for the search keywords “rockstar Duterte” if its title or subtitle and at least 30 percent of the article content is populated by those keywords. Google eventually became ambiguous about using this criterion, as bots churned out content that, while pleasing to crawlers, were rubbish to humans. Organizing content in a silo also helps crawlers to analyze the relevance of your content to search engine users. Blog farms can overcook the silo, and Google, in its dictatorial reign, can unilaterally trash them like they are yesterday’s leftovers.
Experts recommend that the quickest way to sell online and attract traffic (customers for, say, weight loss or anti-aging products; or followers for an idea, say charter change, or for mobilizing a partisan community, say during an election) is to advertise with either Google or Facebook. Another option, which costs almost nothing unless you are hiring webmasters and SEO consultants, is to create online content that ranks high in search engine results for the keywords with which you are selling a product or an idea.