NEWS FLASH: Everyone who’s ever had a website wants people to find it. And that’s pretty much where the trouble begins.

Because chances are that your website isn’t the only website to do whatever your website thinks it’s doing. In fact, there are probably THOUSANDS of websites trying to do the same thing. The Internet is a pretty big place.

How big is it?

About 12 million petabytes and counting.

If you don’t know how big a petabyte is, consider yourself lucky. But you won’t be for long. Do you remember those old floppy discs that used to hold a megabyte and we thought they were awesome? Well, a petabyte is roughly equal to a billion of those. Yeah. And it’s doubling in size every 2 years.

So, let’s say your website sells shoe inserts, and you want people to find it. Well, if you Google “shoe inserts,” not will you suddenly realize how susceptible you are to suggestion, but you’ll also find that there are roughly 14,300,000 results. And that’s for SHOE INSERTS. Imagine what it’s like for something people actually want, like “pudding” or “sex toys.”

With all that competition, you probably think your poor shoe insert website is doomed, huh? Well it’s not. Because search engine optimization can save your site from ranking at the bottom of those 14,300,000 results. It’s better known as SEO.

Some people think search engine optimization is some kind of weird Interweb voodoo that makes crappy sites rank at the top of page one every time. But those people are wrong, and you should shun them with the best of your shunning ability. The truth is that SEO is just a configuration that allows your site to get the best ranking it can.

Here’s how it works

A search engine (can we just say Google? I mean, does anyone REALLY use Bing?) sends out little programs called “spiders” (eek!) that crawl the Interwebs from link to link, looking for content to catalog. They parse your site’s content, and send it back to the search engine. The search engine then processes it using top secret algorithms that are guarded by demons from the dark dimension or something. In effect, the search engine is actually imagining search terms people might use. This allows it to rank all of the results, and then save all of it in case some weirdo actually uses those terms. In other words, it basically runs a bunch of simulations like that computer in the movie “War Games,” but doesn’t come to the conclusion that humans are just stupid.

This is why you don’t have to wait when you Google “grandma’s pistachio monkey wax.” Because the search engine EXPECTED you to do it, and was already ready with 4,660,000 results (no kidding).

So how does the search engine figure out its rankings? How does it know which is the BEST “grandma’s pistachio monkey wax” result, and which is the worst? The answer is simple: Nobody knows.

What do you mean “nobody knows?”

Before you get all angry, just remember that it’s hard to be honest. It’s also hard for a computer to figure out what’s good and bad and rank accordingly. Remember when I said the algorithms were guarded by demons from the dark dimension? You thought I was kidding? Those algorithms are the crown jewels of the Internet. They are what made Google into the Silicon Valley behemoth it is today.

In the early days of the Internet, search engines were seriously stupid. They could be easily fooled by putting a bunch of search terms in white type at the bottom of a white page. This is what search engine optimization USED to be. Then Google got smart and started changing their ranking parameters every month (it was known as “the Google dance”). This caused SEO experts to lose their minds on a regular basis.

Nowadays, Google’s ranking system is so smart, it’s probably close to deciding that humans are obsolete and killing us all. Search engine optimization is no longer about tricking people into clicking on your site by accident, but rather ensuring that people get what they are searching for.

Here’s where the magic happens

It’s a simple concept, but it can be complex in execution. For example, your shoe inserts website has to help people who are looking for shoe inserts to find it by using the term “shoe inserts” in copy enough for the search engine to pick up that you are all about shoe inserts. As a result of having written that sentence, there’s actually a fair chance that this article will rank in a search for (dare I say it again?) “shoe inserts.”

But there’s more to it than just loading your text with search terms. For example, you can achieve better rankings by focusing pages on individual topics or adding “hidden” metatext to your pages. And, of course, there’s the fact that using a search term like “shoe insert” too many times will actually work against your ranking.

What Google is striving for is balance and accuracy. But mostly accuracy. The truth is that the BEST thing you can do for your search engine optimization (notice how many times I’ve typed that here?) is have people come to your site and stay there. Literally. Google sees what users choose from its listings, and then sees how long they remain on the site and how many pages they visit. The idea being that if you don’t like what you get, then you’ll leave, or “bounce.”

This is where “sticky” content comes in. Sticky content is what causes users to forget what they were doing and stare mindlessly at your website. It might be that your site has many types of shoe insert (note – this is actually read differently than “shoe inserts” because it’s not plural) to peruse, or that your home page has a video of a hippopotamus dancing with a unicorn. Whatever it is that gets people to stay. The more clicks your site gets, and the longer people browse your site, the better you’ll do in your SEO rankings.

So what does all this mean?

It means that search engine optimization strategy should be part of your overall website marketing strategy. Being competitive in the digital arena takes more than just quality shoe inserts. Content is important, and you need to focus on the experience your users have in seeking, finding, and browsing your site. But mostly, it means that you should hire an agency that has real SEO experience. I can think of one. 😉

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