Internship at Digital Marketing Firm in DC Area

Week 1 Blog: Background of Search Engines and Keywords

This blog will focus on my evolving and growing understanding of SEO and general web development.

Entering my internship, my basic understanding of SEO or search engine optimization was restricted to the idea that search engines rank web pages and that higher ranked web pages would gain more attention. However that was only a scratch on the surface of the world of SEO. While my initial impression was not wrong, SEO was much more than just ranking.

Before diving into technical details of SEO, I wanted a brief understanding behind search engines. The three most known search engines in the US are Google, Bing and Yahoo!. Google takes up about 90% of the searches in the US market and is a leading search engine internationally, only falling short slightly of more local search engines (Baidu in China, Naver in South Korea, Yandex in Russia).

Most search engines use some mathematical algorithm to calculate the rank of links. The best known is PageRank developed by Google founder Larry Page. It is a probability distribution that a series of random clicks will arrive at a given website. Thus it is a function of the strength and quality of inbound links. Strength with regard to the number of other sites linking back to the webpage and quality with regard to authority of the referencing link (.gov links for example have high authority). Other algorithms include IBM’s CLEVER project and Klienberg’s HITS algorithm.

These algorithms have induced a cat and mouse game between search engines and web developers. Search engines want to deliver the most relevant result to their users and thus are constantly updating their algorithms. Web developers want the most awareness of their website and are constantly modifying their pages to achieve the best rank within the search engine.

So how exactly does one optimize a website for search engines? This brings me to my week 1 topic: keywords. Search engines send out “spiders” or bots that will “crawl” through a website using links and they index the webpage storing key information in databases.  Search engines seek to deliver the most relevant content to their users. Thus, websites are ranked based on their relevancy through keyword. Any search is usually composed of 3-7 key words. The relevance of your website to those keywords determines the website importance and thus the ranking. As a website owner, I would want to attract my target audience by using those keywords. If I were a company advertising my fluency in content management systems, then I would be sure to include keywords such as Drupal, WordPress or Joomla.

Once the keywords are known, I want to optimize my website for that. This can be done through including keywords in the title, text and metadata. More specific keywords will distinguish you from others. Rather than “make website” as a keyword phrase, “Drupal developer” or “WordPress Developer” is much better. While the former might be searched more often, the latter  shows a clear interest and intention. A user looking for a WordPress Developer in DC is much more likely to thoroughly examine a site than just a user looking for website maker.    However, keyword importance does not merit the abuse of keywords through random insertion into a website or spamming the content with the keyword. Keyword density no longer plays a part in the search engine algorithms but rather is used to look for relevancy. Keywords should be placed in the title to clearly declare what the page is about and in the URL.

Google Adwords’ Keyword Tool is a great resource for viewing the market for keywords. It displays keyword searches, their frequency, demand volume and other data. In summary, SEO begins with identifying keywords for your site that will attract the most relevant desired visitors.