What Is Search-Engine Optimization? The Basics of SEO

Recently a long-time business associate of mine asked, “Why in the world are you doing SEO? You’re a writer.” I laughed at first but, after thinking about it, realized that some people in the advertising business (and other businesses) still don’t understand what search-engine optimization is all about.

SEO is, yes, mostly writing.

That’s because Google and other search engines are continually sifting through the text on your website in order to determine what your pages are about. It’s the main way they determine your SERP (search engine results page) rank. And ultimately the way your website is found in organic search results–organic, meaning the way a search engine naturally finds you, without you driving traffic to your site through web advertising or word-of-mouth, etc.

Great organic search results are vital to a business, as the attention span of consumers get shorter and shorter every day. Rarely will a consumer even venture to search page two in their quest to find a product or company online.

So, how does search-engine optimization begin? Well, with thorough research. That’s key. Keywords and keyphrases, to be exact. You have to be a bit of an experimental slooth to determine the optimal words to use on a website. Google and other sites offer keyword tools to help you learn which words people are actually searching for. You shouldn’t use the interesting, and possibly quirky, words you might coin. You want to use the terms and phrases people are actually searching for. Then, code those words into your website’s pages so search engines can find them. I’m simplifying the process, of course, because there’s a lot of strategy that goes into SEO, particularly in choosing keywords.

Now, back to the writing part. The thing Google (and other search engines) values most is your title. That’s the text at the very top of your page (possibly invisible), the text that is bookmarked and also appears in blue on a search engine results page. Therefore, you’ll want to incorporate your main keywords into this title, and place them first–even before your company name. Unless your company name is Coke or McDonald’s. Or some other well-known brand.

Next in importance is the “meta tag,” the black text underneath that blue title that tells searchers more about your site. Prioritize your most important keywords there, as well. Then, search engines will scan your website’s HTML text for those same keywords. They give most value to what’s coded as h1 (your main headline) then h2, h3, h4 (subheads), then the rest of your html copy. Note: the text on your site must be in HTML fonts, or they won’t be recognized.

Search engines also give good rank to pages that are updated often, which is why blogs and news can do well, and to backlinks, such as articles that link back to your site. All of which is writing. Yes, writing.

It surprises me when I see prominent businesses, especially advertising agencies, that use “Home” in the title of their …