What is SEO?

And why does it matter?

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is the way a search engine (Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo, Safari) indexes search results. This is a complex algorithm; there is no way to know for certain how the engine will order your result, but optimizing your content through a few SEO principles will improve where you stand. This can be vitally important – very few people will venture beyond the first few search results by themselves, even if they’re looking for something specific.

SEO effectiveness is usually gauged through Alexa ranking – a very interesting tool. You can look through the top sites list to get an idea of which sites are getting the most traffic. To illustrate my ideas I’m going to use Wikipedia which is, at the time of writing, 13th in the world for Alexa rank.

But what matters for SEO?

Keywords

The way search engines are optimized is to look for specific keywords, and use the frequency of those keywords to classify content into categories. If you’re writing a beauty blog, using words frequently used in the beauty industry jargon will help the engine classify your content and ‘recommend’ it to people looking for beauty advice. Protip: make sure the keywords appear in the title of your posts!

Related to this is finding the keywords that are trending. Adding an article about the Harlem Shake isn’t exactly going to drive up traffic now, but if you dropped the same article back in February of 2013 you would’ve hit the jackpot. Search Twitter and news sites to find content people are currently following and stake your claim. Bonus: the more trending material you post the more the search engine trusts you as a source for up-to-date information and the higher up you go on the results list.

Why is Wikipedia so good for this? Well, each article is near-guaranteed to have a ton of technical information on the subject at hand. It is also constantly being updated, so all of the most recent subjects and stories are being posted there as soon as they’re reliably confirmed by news sites.

Links

What search engines are doing – and what the internet as a whole is trying to do – is create a ‘web’ of information. The way this information is connected is through hyperlinks. These can be both:

  1. Internal links: These lead to other pages on your own site. This is important as it shows that your pages aren’t simply dead ends; if the user is interested they can find more related information.
  2. External links: These lead to other sites. Don’t be afraid to link elsewhere, traffic is not a currency on the internet. Having people pass through your site, read and interact with your content, and move on to another site is just how people navigate on the internet. This is a net gain for all parties involved. You’re not ‘losing’ readers by exposing them to outside sources, you’re proving your reliability to both them and the search engine. Plus, because it’s symbiotic, authors of sites you link to may be more likely to link to you in turn.

Why is Wikipedia so good for this? Wikipedia is filled with references and links. Internal links direct you to high-quality educational information about nearly anything you could dream of while external links provide recent, trustworthy sources to back up claims. Speaking of recency…

Recency

Similar to the first idea of picking trending content, recency just has to do with how long it has been since content was updated. Alexa rank decays over time. This isn’t a problem with extremely popular sites such as social media, but if your site is going weeks or months without an update it will quickly fall into obscurity, results-wise.

Protip: Contrary to what may be expected, linking to older sites is actually better than new ones. More obviously, linking to popular websites is better than unpopular ones, and linking in the body text is better than linking in a sidebar or footer.

Why is Wikipedia so good for this? People are constantly updating articles on Wikipedia, not only adding new information but correcting and rolling back mistakes, discussing additions, and reformatting content.

Accessibility

This is a tricky one, but accessibility matters when building your website. Abiding by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines is a good place to start. This is a standard by which webpages must conform to for maximum comprehension by all individuals. Things like screen readers must be able to navigate through content in a natural manner and describe it to those with disabilities. This involves adding alt text to images, making sure your content makes sense hierarchically, using <strong> and <em> correctly, and using contrasting colours.

Why is Wikipedia so good for this? Like many sites (and many automated blog softwares/CMSs) Wikipedia has much of the accessibility built in necessarily. All images are sufficiently described, all content is organized into logical hierarchies, and all pages follow a similar style. Speaking of style…

Formatting

Finally, formatting all about the content you have on the page. People like pictures more than text, but pictures also take up a lot more space than text in the greater scheme of things. Optimize by striking a balance. Don’t create long, text-heavy essays – users won’t respond well to them and the engine’s algorithm won’t, either. On the other hand, don’t create entire pages for small twitter-length anecdotes, either. Use images when they help the user understand or visualize the subject (and alt-text them!), but don’t load too many, they will slow down page load times to a crawl.

Why is Wikipedia so good for this? Wikipedia is consistently, if not beautifully, formatted. All elements on the page serve a purpose, from bio sections with pictures and info to in-text references, with nothing extra – function over form.

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