SEO is a topic that can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it; you can stick with conventional wisdom, or you can dive into the infinite rabbit hole of trying to figure out what Google wisely conceals. Reading the preceding articles will give you most the understanding you need without having to become an expert, but this post will lay out the key concepts of the basics to get you on your way as well as a few more complex pointers you may need and some pitfalls of trying to short-cut your way to Google’s good graces.
Here is where I would normally bore you with statistics (some of which you can find here) vetting the topic, but I think it’s safe to assume we all know how important showing up on search engines is. For our purposes just know that showing up in the first 3 listings of a popular search will make you, the first page will help to a degree, and after that you need to either be better or make sure you have the basics down and move on.
How search engines work
Here’s a little video that will give you a birds-eye understanding, but the key takeaway is that search engines don’t search the entirety of the web with each new query. Instead they navigate via links to discover and then index sites based on relevance (appropriate keywords) and popularity (number and quality of connecting links.)
The important thing to understand when considering any kind of optimization is the mindset of those determining its parameters. And the mindset of the people at Google is to understand the mindset of the typical searcher, so just skip a step and think about how people search, both through Google and when scanning a page. Google values some things (like the following examples) directly, but it also has provisions in place to down-rank sites that may look good on paper but are performing poorly by looking at metrics like bounce rates.
You want pertinent, popular keywords in key places, organized in such a way that people can see them (the higher up on the page the better, for example, and this goes for links too.) You want them in your URL, in your headlines, taglines, as subject headers, and within your content.
People like well-organized, clear content, and so does Google.
People like material obviously related to the headline, and so does Google. (A point of caution – even if not deceptive, incongruity can hurt your ranking. If you title something “The best music ever” as a plug that’s obvious to a human and start talking about how you make [your] music, Google won’t rule out foul play and you will suffer.)
Note – Google doesn’t see words you can’t hit Ctrl-f to find, so make sure your keywords aren’t stuck in a picture, java, or flash files. If you must do this, add captions.
The main way that Google judges popularity is by the number and quality of sites linking to your page (and traffic). Again there is much to be said about this topic, but it mostly comes down to good-‘ol marketing. It may be tempting to crawl around begging for links but both the quality and quantity of the yield will be poor.
You’re much better off making your site valuable and something that others will feel helpful linking to and getting yourself out there. Social media is a good place to start for this, and having your link shared on these media will help your ranking to a degree (especially Google+) but it isn’t weighted nearly as heavily as having your site directly linked to.
So once again it comes down to building relationships, being helpful in general, and scratching other people’s backs hoping they scratch yours. And remember that the people you want to be friends with are the ones already successful where you want to be. So in the same way you look to snuggle up to people with lots of followers on social media sites, you want to search the queries you’re hoping to show up for and start talking to the people showing up at the top of the page. (Do you have anything they want?)
(For the specifics of how Google ranks pages, go here. Notice what’s riiiiight up there at the top.)
In the same way that there is one commandment in the Bible from which all the others come, the no-no’s of SEO have their own master no-no; don’t try to get all trickydick with Google because it is the trickiest of the dicks. If you exploit a method google uses to rank pages, they will eventually figure out how to remedy the problem, and will screw you long time. And when they do blacklist you, it’s almost impossible to recover. You can submit an appeal, but you’ll probably be better off starting from scratch. This goes for obvious tactics like keyword spamming to more clever ones like buying links. (If those selling links get caught and you’ve done business with them, the employees who fathered the poor software you’re abusing will come upon you with great vengeance.) I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to get ahold of Google for any kind of support for which you’re not paying, but their staff literally could not care about you any less. They may exist to serve you as a user, but like government employees of virtually all stripes their money doesn’t come DIRECTLY from your hand, so you are seen as an unnecessary inconvenience. And since ego-stroking is out of the question, you’d better just keep your head down.
Also, you’ve probably noticed a downside to all of this is that Google is, in a way, forcing pages to have content in order to be indexed fairly, even if the owners don’t have any particular use for generating it… like… a musician for example. But the silver lining here is that you can get ahead of your competition by having it yourself. So if you can find a use for writing at all, try not to neglect blogging.
P.S. If this is a topic that you really want to dive into and stay up-to-date on, keep tabs on moz, which authored the articles this post is based on, http://searchenginewatch.com/, and http://searchengineland.com/.