How does SEO work? Do search engines just see how many times a certain word appears on your site? And whoever has the most is ranked as the most relevant to the searcher?

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How does SEO work? Do search engines just see how many times a certain word appears on your site? And whoever has the most is ranked as the most relevant to the searcher?

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> Do search engines just see how many times a certain word appears on your site? And whoever has the most is ranked as the most relevant to the searcher?

This is how things worked in the very early years of the internet pre-Google. Google rose to prominence by coming up with a *much* better way of doing things. They began considering how pages linked to others. If lots of sites link to a particular site, that site is probably one people want to go to a lot. Google’s algorithm considered sites that lots of other sites linked to as “more important” than other websites when searching. This let Google return the types of pages people actually want to visit.

This was, of course, their original idea. Google’s algorithm for search is now both far less open and far more complex. It almost certainly relies, in large part, on very complex statistical models that take in information about websites to try and map the text you submit to a set of sites you’ll click on.

I’m not an expert but I work closely with a team that does SEO for our business, so until someone who is directly involved answers more accurately than me, I can tell you what I know.

In simple terms (because that’s as much as I know):

– Number of clicks on your site is important but not even close to the only measure.

– How long they stay on a page or site

– Who and how many websites link to your website.

– Whether they’ve found/bought what they needed. (measured in many ways including time on the site)

– Your Metadata, the info, words, text written in the background which isn’t seen by visitors to the website but helps directories (Like Google) find out what the website is about, including checking that it makes sense using AI to analyse if it matches what visitors see and whether the text makes sense if it was read.

– Whether your website is unique and you haven’t just copied and pasted info from another website (in which case you would be downgraded as no one needs to read the same text twice while searching on google).

I’m sure there is much more that isn’t coming to mind right now, but off the top of my head, that’s what I remember we focused on.

Also, Google doesn’t reveal how they rank websites so SEO changes constantly as people find new ways to play the system and Google improves their ranking algorithm.

The exact algorithm used by the search engine is a secret, and depends on the search engine itself. Amazon might use a different algorithm in its online store than Google does for its searches.

In any case, the original idea of SEO was pretty much exactly that: stuff as many keywords into your website as you could. Repeating the same word probably won’t get you very far, but using many different relevant keywords would. So, for example, if you sell aquarium products (I use this example because I’ve done a bit of SEO for a company that does exactly that) you would use keywords like: aquarium, fish, tank, freshwater, saltwater, filter, etc.

What people did back in the day was sneak the keywords in with tricks like making them a super small font and colored white against a white background. They did this because it doesn’t look good to a user to arrive at a website and see a big paragraph of nonsense that is pretty obviously designed to manipulate a web search. By hiding the text, the website can still look good and trick the search engine.

Of course, the developers figured out people were doing that and started hard-coding the search engine to ignore text like that. Over time, the algorithms have gotten a lot more advanced, so that the keywords have to be in some kind of context. Some algorithms look for phrases rather than single words. So, one job as part of the SEO process is for a technical writer or copy writer (that’s my job!) to take the given list of keywords and put them into the text in a way that looks *organic*. That is, instead of just, “AQUARIUM! FILTER! FISH TANKS!” I would write text like, “[Company]’s **aquarium filter pads** are designed to keep your **fish tank** crystal clear and keep your **aquarium fish** healthy!” (I wouldn’t bold the keywords or phrases normally: I did it here to show the process.)

The writer’s job is to stuff as many of those important keywords or phrases into the *copy* (the text that goes with a product, like the product description) as possible in a way that still sounds like a normal human being talking to another normal human being. You can’t hide the keywords like you used to, so you have to incorporate them into the text that actual humans will be reading. A good writer will make it so you can barely notice, if you notice at all, that they’ve got a list of words they have to use. Bad writers, or companies that don’t care to hide their SEO, will write copy that sounds like it went through Google translate a few times, so it sounds pretty awkward (if it didn’t *actually* go through a translate program, if the company is based in another country).

Finding those keywords is also a process. There are many online tools designed to help you do it. The very simple version is that you put in your own search for similar products to yours, and you’ll probably have to weed out products that aren’t similar but showed up anyway. The SEO tool looks at the results, especially the top-ranking ones that show up first in the list, and reads the text on the page to find what words all those results have in common. Those are *probably* good candidates for strong keywords.

So, back to aquariums: if you go on Amazon and search for an aquarium filter, you’ll get a lot of results that all feature words like the ones I listed above. You may also find more, like “turtle” or “power filter” or even “polyester” (because many aquarium filter pads are made of polyester). The SEO tool will give a *huge* list of words, many of which aren’t useful at all. The person evaluating the list will do some things to sort the list and figure out which are probably the best words to use, and hand that list to the copy writer (if they aren’t the same person).

Once the copy is written and uploaded to the website, the SEO tool can be used again to track how your website or product is doing in searches, to see how well your keywords are doing. The biggest companies with the most important search engines, like Google and Amazon, are constantly tweaking their search algorithms. Part of that is to improve them, but also to make sure that no one can figure the algorithm out and manipulate it very well for very long. No matter how good your SEO is, you’ll have to redo it every so often. Changes might be that the search engine starts looking for phrases with several words instead of single keywords, or how long the sentence is, or something along those lines. Again, it’s a trade secret: all you can do is use a tool to figure out what is currently working, but not the rules for *why* it works.

Search engines look for particular words but they also look at additional context, from domain name, alt tags on images, using proper HTML best practices for things like headline tags (H1, H2, etc.) to set page content hierarchy, meta tags on the page (text not visible to site viewers, but used by search engines), frequency of page updates (is the content current or not?). But they also look at things like how many inbound links the content has (people link to it if they think it’s useful/good content), how many people click the link when it’s presented in the search results (what displays is those meta tags mentioned, so the better crafted, more descriptive, the more somebody will think page is going to be useful). Now, they even look at things like page load speed/total load in terms of data to help people on mobile.