SEO Basics - less searching, more finding
Story by Alex Augustyniak
9 min read
With the advent of online search engines, we’ve come to increasingly depend on them in our daily lives. It is crazy to think how much information used to be spread among different sources and that in order to find what you were looking for you first had to know where to look for it!
Thankfully those days are long gone - nowadays almost everything can be found within a single search engine of your choice - be it Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo, or any other similar popular website. And almost everything is! If you are a business owner, chances are your clients have looked your website up before even thinking about contacting you.
According to a popular internet market share statistics website - netmarketshare.com, Google remains the most popular search engine - with a popularity index hovering around 70% as of September 2021. The second-best candidate - Microsoft’s Bing is far behind with only ~13%, followed by a similar ~12,5% of Baidu (most of which relates to searches via the Chinese search engine - limited to content hidden behind The Great Firewall).
Looking at those results, it becomes clear that Google is where we should focus our efforts unless you are targeting the Chinese market. For the rest of the world - Google it is.
The first contact with your brand happens on Google’s SERPs - not your website. It’s worth noting that the content which Google chooses to display in those brackets is not necessarily yours. The indexing mechanism picks the most popular mentions of your search phrase and shows what it “thinks” will be most interesting to you. That is all fine and good for your online reputation, but only providing that this information is positive.
And let's not kid ourselves - negative news gains much more traction (and much quicker) than anything positive. A popular Polish saying goes: “A lie can run around the world before the truth even manages to put its shoes on”
So how can you improve your business visibility in the search results?
Reasons for a tarnished reputation can be numerous: an angry customer writing a negative review, a disgruntled former employee, or perhaps a slandering article from the not-so-impartial competition. Regardless - it is always a good idea to think of ways to strengthen your brand's online reputation.
With just a few simple guidelines you can vastly improve your content's visibility - thus controlling the narrative around your company. Search engines work by looking up specific metrics - if those are not set up, other content (which was properly indexed) will be ranked higher on the search results, regardless of their source.
Let’s get down to the basics:
So what is “SEO”?
SEO stands for “Search Engine Optimization”. It has to do with increasing both the quality and quantity of your website traffic through organic (not paid-for) search engine results.
SEO is just as much about the technicalities of how search engines work as it is about how people think about your business in general and how they use them. The key to implementing proper SEO is understanding what your customers are searching for, what phrases they use, and what type of content they consume. Answering those questions will bring you closer to connecting your potential clients with the solutions you offer.
A short history of SEO
Up to the mid-1990s: The Wild Wild West
The early days of the search engine landscape were highly competitive, unregulated, and focused on the quantity rather than the quality of keywords. The simple trick to ranking well was just to add more keywords than the competition.
This tactic was known as “keyword stuffing”, and it went like this - if your opponent had a keyword appear 200 times on a page - go for 400 on your website, and abra-cadabra - you’re higher in the ranking. As expected that wasn’t a very efficient solution, from both the searcher's and creator's perspectives.
- 1994: two Stanford students launch Yahoo! - at first a simple listing of sites of interest
- 1996: Larry Page and Sergey Brin create Backrub - which would eventually become Google.
- 1997: Google.com and Ask Jeeves are established
Early 2000s to 2005: Google becomes a verb
In the early months of the new millennium, the then little-known search engine called “Google” signed a partnership deal with Yahoo. From then on, every time Yahoo displayed search results on their site a small “Powered by Google” note could be observed, no doubt hugely contributing to their growing popularity.
Google then introduces revolutionary new web crawler and page ranking algorithms - which work by looking at both on-page and off-page factors, fixing the link quantity mistake of the previous era, and putting more emphasis on the quality of external links. How it worked could be summed up as “If people are talking about you, you must be worth showing”
- 2000: Google Toolbar and Ad Words are introduced
- 2000: Pubcon, a large conference for search engine technology is launched
2006 to early 2010s: Dynamic search
In these years Google kept improving their search algorithms one step at a time with the Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird updates, looking to improve search results precision and decrease false positive matches.
XMS sitemaps gained universal support, allowing for better and more efficient crawling and site indexing.
- 2006: Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools are launched
- 2007: Google introduces Universal Search, including images, videos, and news in the search results
- 2008: Google rolls out the Vince update, which emphasizes brand recognition and trust as ranking factors
- 2009: Less popular search engines, such as Yahoo and Bing band together and form The Search Alliance
- 2011-2012: The Panda and Penguin updates are introduced to combat the spread of content farms (websites spamming low-quality content)
- 2012: Google Knowledge Graph launches.
- 2013: The Hummingbird update is added, aiming to better address natural language queries and conversational speech
Mid-2010s: The year when mobile overtook desktop
In the 2010s smartphones had already been around and popular for half a decade, counting from the launch of the iPhone. However, only in 2015, which has become known as the “Year of the Mobile” a new mobile-friendly update was introduced by Google. That year marked the first time when mobile search queries overtook desktop statistics
- 2015: Google launches much-anticipated mobile-friendly algorithm update, designed to improve mobile results quality up to desktop standards.
- 2015: The Year of the Mobile update
- 2016: Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) are introduced (the name is quite self-evident)
Late 2010s to now: faster, better, more contextual
The trend of incremental improvements over time continues to this day, albeit perhaps with a slightly different focus, as mobile-first and responsive designs play a major role in any website's ranking. Page speed and contextual clues also become ranking factors, adding other items to the ranking checklist.
Google becomes a self-described AI-first company and yet another era in the search engine history is started with the introduction of Google RankBrain, which aims to interpret search intent based on phrasing.
- 2017: Google Chrome starts issuing HTTPS warnings for sites that ask for user data without an SSL encryption in place.
- 2018: Google introduces the Mobile-First Index - causing search engines to use mobile versions of a website in their indexes instead of desktop. E-A-T Update is rolled out, which focuses on rewarding websites adhering to Google’s Expertise-Authoritativeness-Trustworthiness guidelines.
- 2019: The BERT update is launched, aiming to improve interpretation of long-term searches.
Search engine basics
In a single sentence - search engines are machines designed to find answers to your queries. They do that by scouring billions of pieces of content all over the World Wide Web and scoring them based on relevancy to determine which is the most likely to fit your question.
To do that search engines “discover” and catalog all available content - pages, videos, images, PDFs, etc. via a process called “crawling and indexing”, and then rank the results in a list ordered by relevance.
Organic results vs. paid results
As mentioned above - organic results are gained through effective SEO setup instead of being paid for - as in advertisements. Ads used to be simple to spot - they were clearly labeled as such and appeared on top of the search results, above the 10 or so blue links with descriptions. Nowadays however with the popularity of SERPs (search engine results pages), non-organic results are becoming harder to spot.
This is all very convenient for users - in most cases, one does not even have to read the blue links provided below, the information is simply available in the SERP.
It’s important to keep in mind that search engines make money via advertisements - and it's only natural that paid content is shown in a special, more accessible, and intuitive way. Some SERP results are organic and can be influenced by the business owner - those include featured snippets and related questions.
A proper SEO setup allows your content to compete for the privilege of being featured in a SERP.
Is it worth it?
Research shows that the majority of online traffic is driven by search engines. Organic search results are more credible to experienced searchers, and they receive way more clicks than paid advertisements.
To give you some numbers, according to moz.com:
- Only ~2,8% of all USA searchers came from ad clicks
- SEO has ~20x more traffic opportunities than PPC on both mobile and desktop
- 64% of global responders trust search engine result
Setting up and maintaining up-to-date SEO can be treated as an investment - it can continue to pay dividends over time. With solid content and correct keywords, it’s well within reality to snowball your online presence, perhaps even going “viral”.
In contrast, advertisements need continuous funding and are by no means bulletproof - as shown above.
Search engines are getting better - smarter, faster, and more accessible, and more intuitive. However, they can’t be left on their own yet, and need to be guided by humans. Correctly optimizing your site will help deliver well-organized data to search engines, and bring organic traffic to your website. If you're interested in optimizing your website for search engines, we have a separate blog post that covers the latest SEO trends in 2021. Feel free to check it out and discover valuable tips and tricks to enhance your site's search engine visibility.
If you need help in keeping your website up-to-date and aligned with changing standards, look no further! Our team of skilled experts at Direktpoint is ready to lend a hand. Don't hesitate to reach out to us!