Search Engine Optimization: An Introduction

Posted by in Home Business, Marketing, Online Business, Search Engine Optimization

This article is lengthy, but after reading it you will be better prepared to make informed online marketing decisions.  If you have questions that aren’t addressed in this article, please contact us.

It’s called “search engine optimization”, and no doubt it’s a phrase you’ve heard once or thrice over the last few years.  Search engine optimization, of course, is the process of making your website appear more relevant for a particular search term.  By appearing more relevant Google, Yahoo, and Bing will rank you higher in their organic search listings.  This, of course, helps build  a steady supply of qualified traffic which increases your conversion rates.


Doing what I do for a living I encounter a lot of home/small business owners.  It’s my job to help educate a home business owner/small business owner about what their options are in terms of online advertising.  It’s also my job to ensure that they have the most information possible regarding their marketing programs.

One thing that I have encountered a lot is people telling me that their website is “optimized”.  Every time someone tells me this I can’t help but ask the obvious question: how do you know you are optimized?

What a Search Engine Looks for in a Relevant Website

If there is one thing you take away from this article, let it be this: a search engine’s entire success is based entirely on its ability to return relevant results. This means that it will always attempt to find the best possible websites to show to its users.

With that in mind, what exactly does a search engine look for when deciding if something is relevant or not?

Google/Yahoo/Bing look at two things when determining the relevancy of your website: on-site factors (your actual website itself) and off-page factors (your websites online reputation).

Determining if Your Website is Considered Relevant

Remember this: your website only accounts for about 15% of what search engine optimization (SEO) is. In other words, the search engines are far more concerned about what people on the web think about your website as opposed to what your website has to say about itself.  If you’re confused, don’t worry- we’ll elaborate on that in just a moment.

Many businesses that I speak to on a regular basis tell me that their website is being optimized/is optimized, yet 9 times out of 10, it’s only the on-site factors that have been optimized.  That’s akin to saying your car has been winterized because you put winter windshield washer fluid in it.  That’s not true SEO, and it is highly unlikely the on-site optimization alone will get your website ranked on the first page for even a half-competitive keyword/market combination.

Regardless, that 15% is still an important 15%.  Here’s a high-level overview of what a search engine looks for to determine relevancy:

  • Page title - The title of the page. The page title should have the keyphrase you want to rank for in it, but it should appear natural as opposed to forced.  This should be no greater than 60 characters long.
  • Page description - A user-defined description of the page. If you don’t define a description the search engine will build one automatically by pulling text from the page itself.  This should be no greater than 160 characters long.
  • META Tags - Keywords that are used to define your website. These used to have much greater significance about 10+ years ago.
  • Appropriate use of header tags - Header tags are pieces of HTML code that emphasize certain portions of text. They range from H1 to H6 and each look different.  For example, the text “Determining if Your Website is Considered Relevant” is an H3 tag, whereas the text “What a Search Engine Looks for in a Relevant Website” is an H2 tag.
  • Page content - The actual text on the website. Bear in mind that a search engine cannot “read” an image, video, audio file, etc.  It can only read text.  The search engine “reads” the text and finds keywords and phrases contained within it.
  • Website structure - How your website is built. This refers to things such as the navigation structure (is your website easy to navigate), website URL’s ( is better than, etc.), and the overall ease of use of the website.
  • XML/Static Sitemap - A virtual directory of your website.  A static sitemap is an actual page that showcases all of the pages on your site (check out our sitemap for an example).  An XML sitemap is a sitemap that only the search engines will access that basically says the same thing.

Building Your Websites Online Reputation

Remember earlier when I talked about your websites online reputation?  This is about 85% of what SEO truly is.  Your websites “online reputation” is really just a fancy way of saying “having other websites link to yours.” Links are how Google/Yahoo/Bing measure the flow of reputation, and having high-quality websites linking to yours helps boost your websites authority (aka relevancy) with the search engines.

As we now know, the more relevant you are, the higher the search engines will rank you.

The theory behind the use of links as a measure of relevancy is simple: if other high-quality, authoritative, relevant sites are linking to you then there is a good probability that your website is also authoritative and relevant.

Be aware that Google/Yahoo/Bing know the difference between a high-quality link and a link obtained from spamming or other inappropriate behaviours.  These behaviours include buying links, stuffing links into page footers, having links match the background colour, etc.

Link building is the single most important part of SEO.  If you are having SEO done, or are considering it, make sure that the company is building links and find out where those links are coming from.

Having links from poor-quality sources can actually hurt your ranking or get your website removed from the search results completely.

To Summarize this Article

How your website functions and looks is important to SEO, but it’s actually a minor piece of the puzzle compared to having quality inbound links to your website.

In the next article (to be published Monday, March 28 2011) I will go into further detail, including the differences between similar keywords (Home Business Calgary and Calgary Home Business, for example), link building strategies, and more.