search engine optimizationAnyone who has spent time at a computer will have heard about Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Marketing professionals and website designers are always talking about it; how important it is, ways to improve it, how to track it. But what is it really? And how can you, as a business owner, use it to your best advantage?

At its most basic, SEO is a means of getting your Internet content to appear at the top of search engine results. For example, if a customer goes to an Internet search engine like Google or AltaVista and types in “pet supplies” you would want your pet supply warehouse to appear on the first page of results the customer sees. Where your content appears in the search results is called PageRank. Your website’s SEO will determine where you appear in that PageRank.

How do Search Engines decide the ranking? By use of something called crawlers or spiders. Sometimes you will also hear them referred to as bots. All these terms refer to the same basic thing – automated programs that browse all web content. The spiders send the information to search engines, which then index it. The index is why you get such a quick response when you type a query into a search engine. Spiders continuously scan, and the index is continually updated. This is one of the reasons it is important to regularly add new content on your website.

There are many different approaches to creating good SEO. One of the most important of these approaches is keywords. Keywords are words or phrases in your website content, image names, page titles, descriptions, and site map that show what your business is about. Good keywords will closely match the way a customer would search for you. In the above pet supply warehouse example, good keywords would be: pet supplies, pet supplies in Illinois, pet warehouse, pet food, dog food, etc.  While keyword strategies can get complicated, understanding the basics and applying them to your website content will help your SEO.

Another important factor in SEO is backlinking, or inbound links. When other website pages link back to your website, it makes your website appear more popular to the web spiders, thus giving that page a higher PageRank.  There are numerous ways to get inbound links to your site, including forums, blogs, social media, link swapping (where you agree to post a website’s links or advertisements in exchange for them posting yours), and link baiting (for example, writing on a topic that gets people talking and sharing links to your website). Again, this can get very complicated. To get started, just keep in mind that you should share links to your content when appropriate.

One note of caution: with SEO, more is not necessarily better. It is the quality of your keywords, keyword placement and the quality of your backlinks that determine PageRank. Too many keywords or inappropriate backlinking can lead to the spiders seeing your content as SPAM.

Many businesses understandably hire SEO specialists. However, now that you understand the basics you can work toward improving your PageRank yourself. Pay attention to how you write, how you name your images, and even what you name your links (for example: petstuff.com/products/dog/food is preferable to petstuff.com/product?4599s.html). Choose one aspect of SEO, apply it to your content, and then research another. You’ll see your PageRank improve in no time.