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What is SEO?
SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is the process by which owners of websites make their content as attractive as possible, in order to make it rank highly in relevant searches on search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo.
The internet is a very, very big place. In fact, it is so big that no one really even knows how big it is. The range of estimates vary widely, but they center on a billion. A billion websites. That's 20 times as many books as the entire collection of the New York Public Library.
Search Engines use automated programs (sometimes called Bots or Spiders) to browse the internet, and then create a gigantic (a billion sites) index of their content. Then they use a number of techniques to figure out which of those billion websites might be the most relevant search results when someone opens up a web browser and types in "Vegetarian Chili Recipes" or "Best Web Hosting for WordPress."
We can divide SEO practices into two general categories: On-page content SEO and off-site SEO activity.
On-page content SEO
The most important aspect of Search Engine Optimization is good on-page content. Search engines want to be able to look at a page and determine what the page is about, and how high-quality that content is likely to be.
Good for SEO
- Single-topic articles between 500 and 1000 words, lots of them, on related subjects.
- Relevant cross-linking between articles as well as links off-site to relevant content.
- Clear keyword use in the title of the page, within section headings, and in the URL.
- Fluently-written and original text. (Yes, they have algorithms that can detect this.)
- Clean HTML markup.
- Structured data when appropriate, such as the FaceBook's Open Graph protocol or schema.org's markup.
- Images with relevant alt text, captions, and file names.
- Semantically named structural markup. For example, labeling menus and footers as such.
Bad for SEO
- Broken or incomplete markup.
- Accidentally hiding content from search engines through Flash or AJAX features.
- Deliberately hiding content from humans through things like hidden text and same-color backgrounds.
- Outdated page structures, such as using tables for layout.
Off-site SEO activity
Search engines analyze your on-page content to determine what it is about and if it is likely to be of high quality. How do they determine that it is relevant? Primarily, by looking at who else links to it, and how they do so.
When one website links to another website, search engines consider it a "vote" in favor of that website. They consider it a small sign that at least one person thinks that this webpage is worth looking at. The more links a site gets, the more credible it appears to be. On top of that, the more credible a site gets, the more its votes (links) count. If a very famous site links to your blog, that does more for your SEO than if a little-known site does so.
Social media activity has an impact as well. If a lot of people share a link on Facebook, and then a lot of other people like that link, search engines consider this a sign that the link refers to a high-quality site that people want to see.
How can good hosting help SEO?
Search engines want to deliver excellent, highly relevant content, regardless of where it is hosted. There's no magic that a hosting company can do, but there are a handful of ways in which your hosting platform can help your SEO.
Speed - Increasingly, search engines care about speed. They want pages to load as quickly as possible. Most of the speed improvements possible for "normal" content websites come from code, not hardware. If you don't have a great handle on how to (for example) optimize queries on a WordPress site, or how to use a Content Delivery Network, you'll get a lot more improvement from that than from trying to buy your way into a faster website by getting onto a faster host.
On the other hand, some of the best, fastest hosting platforms also provide a number of tools and tricks for speeding up database queries and code execution. The difference between a standard WordPress install running on a discount host and an optimized WordPress deployment on a high-quality development platform can be astounding.
Stability - Outages have a very bad impact on SEO. A good web host will maintain a very high level of uptime. Additionally, if you ever do make it to top of Google, or get a mention on the front page of BuzzFeed, you need your website to not buckle under the weight of a sudden influx of traffic.
Ease of Management - Ultimately, SEO is about creating good content and helping the world find it. If you are spending so much time dealing with your web host, chasing down bugs and tweaking settings, that you lose focus on the important part of your business, you'll fall behind. The best web host for SEO is the one that will get out of your way and let you do your job.
Despite its status as a mysterious strategy for marketing a website, search engine optimization is actually not that difficult to complete on your own - you just need to know the right fields to edit and the right keywords to put in there.
Below are some of the most important areas of your website to edit as you are optimizing your website for success in the search engines.
Title tag: In search engine optimization, your title tag is one of the most important areas to tweak for ranking improvements of your website. A general rule of thumb for title tag optimization is to start the tag with the most important, most generic keyword phrase you want the page to rank for (“Web Hosting” or “Funny T-shirts”, for instance) and then add a descriptive phrase or series for keywords (“For Wordpress Websites” or “For Adults And Children”) to further describe the topic of the page.
Be sure to include your brand name in the title tag also and try to limit the number of characters to between 50 and 70 characters in length.
Content Headings: On the Internet, content headings and subheadings break up the text on a webpage. There are user benefits to this because it can make text easier on the eyes and help users to scan a page of information to read more efficiently.
However, optimizing your content headings with keywords can also provide benefits to help your pages rank better in the search engines. Consider writing your page headings and content subheadings with your target keyword phrases as close to the front of the headings as possible.
For example, “Web Hosting For Wordpress: Reviews And Rankings Of The Best Web Hosts” or “Funny T-shirts: The Most Popular Funny Shirts For Adults And Children!”.
Internal Linking: Most search engines crawl the links included in the content of your website and use the text of the links as a way to better understand the topic of a webpage.
If your website is about a specific topic (web hosting or t-shirts, for example), it is a good idea for your SEO campaign to add links to your pages about “Wordpress Web Hosting” or “Funny T-shirts” in articles, blog posts, or other pieces of content where you talk about “Wordpress” or “funny” items.