SEO Basics: What Is SEO and Why Should I Care?

by Carlin Leung

Originally published on the Quietly Blog

So you’ve finally built that beautiful site—maybe it’s your own personal blog, or perhaps it’s a shiny new page for your brick and mortar business. It might even be a personal page or a website you made just for fun. Either way, after making your way through a website to-do list the only thing left to do is “SEO.”

You’ve left this item to the end because, well, it looks intimidating. A quick search for “SEO” or “What is SEO” returns pages full of jargon like “ranking factors,” “white hat optimization” and “SERPs” — yikes! Don’t worry—we’re here to help guide you through the world of SEO. Here’s what you need to know about the basics.

What Is SEO?

In the simplest possible terms:

“SEO, or search engine optimization, is a set of actions you perform to make your website easily found when people search for stuff on search engines.”

Translation: when people use search engines like Google or Bing to search for topics related to your site, your pages are more likely to be at the top of the results. So using good SEO tactics will push your site to the top of search queries.

How Does SEO Work?

First off, this is huge question, and there are tons of ways to look at it. Let’s keep it nontechnical.

Google and other search engines’ ultimate goal is to serve up the most useful and relevant sites to the user. Search engine optimization techniques make it easier for search engines like Google to identify what the information is on a web page and who it might be useful for.

For example, if you are searching for pancakes, the search engine will return sites that are related to your search, which is pancakes. Otherwise, people are likely to jump ship to another search engine that serves better results.

Search engines find websites by using automated programs (known as “bots”) that look at every page on the web. These bots look at every aspect of the site, including what it’s about, what’s on each page, how it’s designed and what other sites link to that site. They report this (and much more) information to the search engine. The search engine then uses that information to determine what sites are relevant to what topic. Aka: when people search for any given term, the engine can deliver useful results.

The actions listed below are ways for you to tell these bots, “Hey, this is what my site is about. If people are looking for something that they can find my site, don’t forget that I could be what they’re looking for!” When the report returns, your site is likely to be ranked as more relevant and useful. Therefore, it’s more likely to be a high-ranking search result when people search.

If you’re looking for more in-depth explanations, check out Moz or GotchSEO; they do a great job explaining how and why SEO works.

How to SEO: Think About Your Users

The most important step when it comes to SEO is to consider your site like a user. Self-audit your SEO and site by giving good honest look and asking pertinent questions like, “If I’m a visitor on this site, what would annoy me? What would I change about it? What don’t I like?” Forget what’s feasible and what’s not for a second and think about what will make your site better.

Write down a list of ‘annoyances’ or edits you’d like to make—maybe your site takes too long to load, or you can`t figure out how to find a certain page (here’s a list of common annoyances). From there, figure out what’s realistic to change. If it helps, ask a friend or another third party to browse through your site and provide feedback.

Some questions to consider for your SEO self-audit:

  • Does all my writing make sense?
  • Are there too many ads on my site?
  • Is it easy to figure out how to get around the site?
  • Do all my links go to the right sites or are there dead ends?
  • Is the site visually appealing?
  • Does the site provide its intended value to the reader?

Remember: a search engine’s first priority is to make sure the search results they display are useful and relevant to the users. By doing a self-audit, you can make sure your site is relevant to your users, which will help your search performance significantly.