If you have a WordPress web site, then you want as many people as possible to visit it, whether it exists for business, institutional, or personal reasons. And the key to maximizing traffic is to rank well on search engine results pages (SERPs). So, in my next three posts (including this one), we’re going to look at the basics of search engine optimization (SEO), the art and science of ranking as high as possible when someone looks for information on a particular subject. This article will offer a high-level beginners overview of the topic for those new to SEO. The next two will explore the issue more in depth.
Google is Still the Only Show in Town
While the future is always uncertain, for now Google is still the undisputed champion of search engines, processing more than 80% of all Internet searches. The runner-up, Microsoft’s Bing, commands around 8% of the market, followed by Yahoo, Ask.com, Dogpile, AOL, and a few others that fight over the scraps the big boys leave behind.
The lesson for you is that, if you want to get noticed, then you have to play the game Google’s way. Fortunately, the search engine giant has strict but fair rules. The key to getting ahead in the SEO game boils down to one thing: quality content. Offer it to your visitors and you’ll gain exposure. Fail to provide it and you’ll be banished to the nether regions of search engine results.
Panda Turns the SEO World Upside Down
As far back as the mid-1990s, web site managers were figuring out ways to show up on the first pages of search engine results. The earliest strategy, and still the most prevalent, was to figure out which terms people were searching for and use those frequently within a favored site.
The problem was that the programs used in those days weren’t very good at distinguishing relevant, well-written content from garbage. Page developers were rigging the game by churning out junk and packing it full of popular search terms to lure visitors in.
Needless to say, this didn’t set well with the search engine companies, whose fortunes rest on how quickly users can find the information they seek. In response, Google hired thousands of Internet users to assist with a major overhaul of its algorithms. These people visited thousands and thousands of web pages and ranked each one according to how helpful its content was to them. Company engineers then set about developing programs that could identify the qualities that the most useful sites had in common, and assign them high rankings on the SERPs. Google called the project Panda, in honor of Navneet Panda, the man in charge of it.
The changes were implemented in February 2011. In April of that year the first major modification of the algorithms, known as Penguin, was released.
It was greeted with praise from some corners and outraged panic from others. But, like it or not, Google has turned the world of SEO upside down, and WordPress users must learn to live with the new rules if their sites are to enjoy decent rankings.
Making Peace With Panda
As mentioned before, Panda’s purpose is to encourage the development of websites that offer unique, helpful content to visitors, while weeding out low-quality ones that use tactics like keyword stuffing, link bombing, and other so-called black hat techniques. However, while it’s fairly easy to understand what not to do, knowing how to optimize a site for high SERP rankings isn’t quite as obvious.
To clear up the confusion, Google has released some guidelines, in the form of questions for web designers and developers to ask themselves about their sites. They fall into three general categories:
- Originality – Does the site provide information that isn’t found elsewhere, or does it duplicate material that’s easily located on other Internet pages? Sites that offer tips, advice, guidelines, or other unique content will rank higher than those that don’t.
- Usefulness – Will visitors derive real value from the site? Are its articles insightful and analytical, or do they only contain surface-level content that’s of limited use to those who read it? Are they grammatically correct and easy to understand, or are they filled with spelling errors and other mistakes that show a lack of proper editing?
- Trustworthiness – Does the content appear to have been written by persons who know what they’re talking about? Are the article well-researched and factually correct, or are they filled with incorrect statements? Would the site be regarded as an authoritative source on the topics it discusses? If it sells products, does it offer a secure, trusted method for conducting debit or credit card transactions?
That in a nutshell is the essence of what good SEO is all about. Next time we’ll look at specific techniques that can raise your site’s Google ranking.