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SEO is one of the best methods that can be used as a competitive advantage. It’s all about growing your audience and getting your message out there so that your content can affect more people. But a lot of people don’t actually know how to take this and implement it, get it working on their blogs so that they can get better visibility in the search engines and hopefully get more traffic.

Search engine optimization is managing your whole online presence. Traffic sources can be paid or free. To get a proper grasp of SEO, it is important to understand how Google works. It uses a spider and query software to serve up relevant results.

People have tried to game the system and reverse engineer how Google ranks websites. To combat this, Google has implemented three algorithm updates: the Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird, each of which will be examined. The key to it all is not to try to game the system but to become the sort of website Google can trust and then you will be rewarded with high rankings.

If you’re new to SEO, all of these concepts might be too much to understand now. But when you’re done with this quick search engine optimization guide, everything will be clear to you.

What is search engine optimization?

The definition of search engine optimization has expanded over time. It is ‘driving highly qualified, organic ‘free’ traffic from a group of sites by following best practice.’

Search engine optimization is all about optimizing your website and its placement in how it appears in the different search engines. In search engines, a whole lot of different listings can come up. It could be Google Maps, it could be other review type websites, press releases, videos, social media sites. It’s managing your whole online presence and the way that you appear in the organic search. The organic search is the bit you don’t pay for.

The way that Google is starting to pull in a lot of different results and a lot of different web pages, you want to think about optimizing all of these different properties. That is where search engine optimization has started to expand its definition.

Paid and free traffic sources

There are different ways to increase traffic through to a site. Oftentimes it’s through paid traffic, by investing money, either advertising on Facebook or Google AdWords. One way to drive traffic is to go down the paid route.

The other way people often say is ‘free’. But it’s not really free because you’re investing time. That’s the same with social media. You’re investing time into that. It might be free but you’re investing your time. Also with SEO, you can get a lot of benefits from it but it does take a bit of time and effort. However, you can get some really great rewards as Google starts to love you and you gain some visibility.

SEO has changed

Previously, when people thought about SEO, they thought it was just about choosing the right keywords and putting those keywords in the title tag and the description and a couple of times on the page. They thought, by stuffing that keyword in there and sending a few links at my site, I’m going to rank really well.

That used to be the case, but the game has really started to change and Google has started to evolve as the market has become more competitive. They’re getting smarter about it. The definition now of search engine optimization really is optimizing our placement and visibility in the organic search.

How Google works – its spider

To understand the way Google works, imagine a little guy as the Google spider. He crawls around the web looking to discover different pages. He’s a little robot and is called the search engine spider.

This little robot will visit a web page. Once it gets to the web page it will try to crawl all throughout your site to discover all of the pages on your site. The whole purpose of this spider is to find as many pages on the internet as it can. The way it jumps from one page to the next is through a link.

A lot of blogs are set up in WordPress which is great. It means it is very easy for Google’s spider to navigate your website because everything is very easily linked together. The spider jumps around from website to website and page to page from the links as one page links to another page. That is effectively what forms the fabric of the web, the idea of the links between pages.

The little guy tries to discover as many pages as he can. He then goes back and notifies Google’s indexing software and says, right, here are all of the pages out there on the web. He doesn’t discriminate, he doesn’t say which is a good page and which is a bad page.

Google’s query software

That is the job of a different part of Google, their query software. This says, we’ve got a list of all the pages out there on the web. We’ve got billions and billions of pages to choose from. The question then becomes, how do we decide when to serve up the most relevant page? Someone will go to Google and type in a particular keyword. They may have a problem or a something they’re looking to answer and they’ll type that into Google. Google has to make the decision, what is going to be the best and most relevant information that I can serve up to them?

For Google it is absolutely critically important that they serve the best results because they know if they can serve great results through to the end user, people will keep coming back to Google and using Google again and again. If the search results start to deliver very poor results, people would stop using Google as much.

Google relevant results

Google is very good in serving relevant results.

Google serves relevant results

That is really where Google came out from the rest of the competition and started serving up these very relevant results and people kept on coming back. Google learned, if people are coming back, we now have all of these eyeballs, all of these users and visitors. We can sell advertising around these pages and we can make money from that. That is how Google is monetizing what it is they’re doing.

It works similarly for a blog. Sometimes some people will build up an audience and then they’ll try to sell advertising. It’s the same as Google is trying to do. They know they need to serve up the best and most relevant result because that keeps people coming back, they get more eyeballs and then they can make more money by selling more advertising space.

Trying to game the system

How do they determine what is the best and most relevant result? Google has been constantly updating and evolving over time. People started to figure out how Google was ranking websites. They would reverse engineer it. In the past it was as easy as thinking about, right, what keyword do I want to start ranking for or have my website come up for? Then you would try to squish that keyword into the title and the description and a couple of times on the page. Then you might get some back links and get those pointing back to your website. That was enough to rank.

However, now that more competition has made an appearance, people started to realize, we can game this here, I can reverse engineer how Google ranks, give Google exactly what they want and then start to come up for everything. The problem was, when that started to happen, the quality of the search results page started to go down. Google obviously doesn’t want that, because if it goes down, they will lose users. So they want to keep the results as high quality as possible.

Google’s algorithm updates

They started coming out with these different algorithm updates. They are things like Panda and Penguin and most recently Hummingbird. Each one of these algorithm updates really tried to focus in on an area where people had started to game the search engines. Where they had figured out what Google was looking for and people started giving them that, Google then started to introduce these algorithms to try to plug those loopholes.

The Panda algorithm update

Google Panda update

Panda is a real game-changer.

The Panda algorithm update was all about what is happening on your page. Some bloggers got hit because they were putting loads of advertisements on their website. You’d land on a blog and above the fold they’d have a very big advertisement and you’d have to scroll half way down the page to try to get to get to the content. Google determined, we think that is a poor user experience and we’re not going to rank sites as well if they’re very ad heavy.

Having ads is ok, but if you go completely over the top and you just stuff it with ads, that’s not good and it takes away from the user experience. That’s one of the things Panda looked for.

The Penguin algorithm update

Then there was Penguin. That was all about back links. People started to realize, I can go and do some article marketing, or I can get some really low quality guest posts or use lots of different strategies for building links. They would build links back to the website all with exactly the same text. It might point to your website and say: ‘blogging secrets’ or something like that. Let’s say that was the keyword you wanted to rank for or: ‘how to make money on your blog’.

People tried to get as many links as they could pointing to their website with that specific keyword. But again, Google said, that’s not natural. It’s not natural to have all of your links pointing at your website with exactly the same anchor text or exactly the same phrase. So that is when they came out with Penguin to try to fix up some of the link spam that was out there.

The Hummingbird algorithm update

Finally there is the Hummingbird which is the most recent. Hummingbird focuses on thinking about what the intention of the user is and making sure that they’re serving up relevant results based on the intention.

Become a website Google can trust

Google has been evolving and they’ll continue to evolve. But at the core of it, they want to find websites that they can trust. Trying to game the search engines now is not the best way to go. To do excellent SEO, you want to follow Google’s best practice. Keep your users at top of mind and make sure you’re delivering great, relevant content to them. Where you can, follow Google’s best practice and then in turn you’ll get rewarded with high rankings. Google is really looking for websites they can trust.

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