What is SEO? A Beginner’s Guide

SEOWhen you type a search term into Google (say, a book title), what is the first result likely to be? Are you more likely to be faced with Amazon or ‘Books Are The Best?’ Amazon, of course. But how does Google know to show you Amazon first? Books Are The Best has the word ‘books’ in it and I’m searching for a book! Well, it’s not actually as simple as that.

Search engine optimization, or SEO, has become big business. It’s all to do with helping search engines, like Google and Bing, find your website, and making it stand out among the other millions upon millions of indexed sites. Your site needs to look like the most relevant one for the purpose; that is, the search engine has to take the search term from the user and compare that against all the websites it knows about. It knows Books Are The Best sells books, but it can see that many more people use Amazon, and many more websites can ‘vouch’ for Amazon as the best fit for the search term.

But what is a search engine looking for when it’s checking for the best sites to fit the search term? It wants to find a number of things. Firstly, it’s looking for the site content. Can that search engine find the term the user search for, or something similar, on your site? If it can, this suggests it’s one of the possible websites the user could need. It also wants to see how important that site is. Search engines use algorithms to determine a site’s ‘importance’ which change all the time, but there are a few ways a search engine can assess how good a site will be for its purpose.

It will look at which other sites have linked back to it. Amazon is a massive, well-known site, so lots of other websites will link to it. If The Guardian create a gift guide online, they will probably link to Amazon when they recommend a book or DVD rather than Books Are The Best. The Guardian’s website is also popular and well-known, so will hold a lot of authority. Google will see that an authoritative site has linked to Amazon, and improve its view of Amazon as a result. This is based in part on PageRank, whereby the most authoritative sites will have the best PageRank and will appear higher in Google searches.


Search engines will also check where these links come from. It’s all very well if Books Are The Best has thousands of links pointing towards it, but if these are all from small sites with no authority, or worse, spam websites, this won’t count for much, and the more spam links there are, the lower it will be regarded in the eyes of Google. Lots of links from higher PageRanked sites, however, will make Google sit up and pay attention.

The words people use to link to a site will also be taken into account. If lots of people use the title of the book to link to another website, Google will spot this and recognize that this must be a highly relevant page. Likewise, it will appreciate links about books, recommended reads and the author, but if it sees lots of links about sheep, drainage systems and three piece suites (in other words, spammy links) it will overlook that site and disregard it.

In a nutshell, SEO is what helps people find your site, and what helps the search engine decide what is relevant. If you want anyone to find your site, you need to get yourself acquainted with an SEO specialist. Otherwise, you might have the best website in the world, but without telling search engines how to find it, it’s like putting an amazing department store in a hamlet with no road signs or directions.

About the Author

Carl Booth is an online marketing consultant who loves finding new opportunities to make money from the web.