You might think Search Engine Optimization is something of a dark art - complicated, arcane, best left to professionals. There is a kernel of truth to that, but that’s no reason you can’t understand what SEO is trying to accomplish. In this article, I’m going to break down how search engines work, and why websites need to be optimized for search engines like Google. I’m not going to get into the technical details of how SEO works here - we’ve already covered this in our “SEO for beginners” overview.
There’s a saying that “If you can’t explain it to a child, you don’t understand it yourself.”
If the ideas behind SEO really are something anyone can learn, it must be possible to break it down that far, right? Let's try.
What is Search Engine Optimization?
What is a “Search Engine?” How do they work?
When you want to find something online, but you don’t know where it is, you can use a tool called a “search engine” to help you.
A search engine looks very simple! When you use a search engine, you use words to describe whatever you are looking for.
Almost immediately, the search engine shows you all the websites that might have what you are looking for. A good search engine will show you pictures and videos and all kinds of websites. It's like magic!
But how does a search engine know where to find what you are looking for?
Spiders - The Lego Blocks of Search Engines
Search engines use teams of robots to learn everything they can about everything that is online.
These robots are sometimes called spiders or crawlers because they go from one website to another like a spider crawling a web.
But instead of crawling on a web, these robots crawl on the connections between websites. These connections are called “links,” and there are more links online than stars in the sky or grains of sand on every beach around the world!
There are hundreds of billions of websites, and the links they have between them change all the time, so the robots are always hard at work.
They are always looking for new websites they haven’t been to before, and for anything that has changed since the last time they looked at it.
On every page a robot crawls, it takes notes about what it finds.
The robot makes a lot of notes! Notes about words, pictures, videos, even special computer language that humans can’t read. When it has learned all it can, the robot gives those notes to the search engine.
Building a Map (Search Index)
Search engines use those notes to build a map of the internet, called an “index.” In fact, this process of learning about everything on the internet and building a map is called indexing.
Just like a map tells you where cities and rivers and mountains are, this index tells the search engine where things are online.
When you ask a search engine to help you find something, it checks its index to see if it has learned about any website that might have what you are looking for.
Because computers are very fast at looking things up, and because the teams of robot web crawlers never stop working to index websites, a search engine will give an answer almost before you finish asking a question!
So that’s what a Search Engine is: a tool that has a map of everything online, built by teams of robots crawling links between websites.
And that’s how a Search Engine works: when you tell it what you are looking for, it checks its index to see if it has learned anything about any website that might be the right answer.
What is Optimization? How does it connect to Search Engines?
What is Optimization? Optimization is a fancy word that means “making something the very best that it can be.”
Remember that web crawlers look at every website to understand what is on it?
Those web crawlers are very good at finding websites to look at, but not very good at understanding what is on them.
Web crawlers can only tell their search engine what they understand about a website.
And when a website isn’t in the search engines’ index, it won’t recommend it at all!
That means that search engines sometimes don’t recommend a website, even if it has good information that could help someone.
People want search engines and their web crawlers to understand their website, so they do whatever they can to help them. They optimize it.
Making your website the very best website
Search Engine Optimization is for websites. SEO makes a website the very best that it can be for Search Engines.
There are a lot of ways to do this!
One way to optimize a website is to make special parts of the website easy for web crawlers to understand.
That way, when a web crawler visits a website it gets the right information. And because of the information in the search engine’s index, the search engines know to recommend the website it came from.
Another way to optimize a website is to include words and phrases used by people who might want to find your website.
If you use the exact words and phrases that people are searching for on your website, then search engines have an easy time finding you in their index when they look for answers.
A third way is to get other websites to include links to the website you are optimizing.
Because web crawlers move from link to link across websites, they think websites that have a lot of other links pointing to them are probably more important than websites that have just a few.
SEO is about making sure the robots that look at your website really understand what is on your website, using the same keywords and phrases as people who are searching for you. If you do these things, search engines will recommend you.
That seems pretty straightforward - what’s the catch?
The complicated bits are what you actually DO to optimize your website for SEO. What specific language and files do you need to have so web crawlers know what is on your page? What keywords should you be including in your content creation to rank higher on SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages)? How do you build valid backlinks that increase your domain authority?
These are a few of the technical and stylistic fundamentals that Sage SEO can help you with!
We are helping startups and small businesses take control of their SEO, enabling them to rank on Google for critical search terms higher, faster, and gain the benefits of front page rankings to their business.