“Search Engine Optimization” is a term that gets thrown a lot. You’ve probably been told that you need to do it. But what does it mean, really? What do you need to know, especially if you’re a busy eCommerce retailer? Let’s get right to it.What is SEO?
SEO is about “pleasing” search engines, such that they rank your page higher on their lists. (Here’s a great infographic that sums it up beautifully.)
Why bother with that?
Well, the higher your PageRank, the more visitors you’ll get to your site. That means more potential customers, more sales, more visibility (and legitimacy) for your brand. All that good stuff.
Sounds good. So how do you “please” a search engine?
That’s the million-dollar question. Learn to answer that, and you’ll get right to the heart of the matter that everybody’s so concerned about.
To “please” a search engine, you’ve got to give it what it’s looking for.
The best way to understand what a search engine looks for is to properly understand what search engines do. What is a search engine’s job, exactly? What does it try to achieve?
A search engine’s job is to provide its users with relevant matches to their queries. SEO, then, is about becoming that relevant match in the “eyes” of Search Engines.
Let’s make sense of this with a simple analogy.
Suppose you just opened a restaurant.
Suppose you sell Thai food. Gourmet Thai food, with a rich, exotic atmosphere. There’s traditional Thai music playing in the background, lots of gorgeous Thai artwork adorning the walls. Maybe you’ve even employed actual Thai waitresses. (We can almost smell the Tom Yum just thinking about it.)
Now imagine that there’s a local nerd (let’s call him Food Geek) who spends all his time wandering around town checking out local restaurants. That’s all he does, every single day! He probably looks like this guy:
Almost every single person in town knows to approach Food Geek when they want to figure out where they ought to eat. “I feel like having something spicy,” they might tell him. “Something exotic.”
The geek whips out his fancy smartphone and scrolls through the massive list he’s made of all his findings. ”You should try Lotus-Feet Thai,” he says.
And they do.
“But that’s unfair,” you think. “Lotus-Feet’s food is bland and tasteless! Why would Food Geek recommend them over us?”
You see, Lotus-Feet Thai has better “SEO”.
A glance at their storefront and you’ll realize why. There’s a little Thai flag hanging by the door (which has a stencil print of a bowl with a pair of chopsticks).The signboard is prominently placed, with a bold typeface screaming “SPICY, EXOTIC THAI FOOD!” Their menu is easier to read, and elegantly summarized on the window – “Pineapple Rice”, “Thai Green Curry” and so forth. They’ve gotten reviews and mentions in popular food magazines.
In contrast, your shop is utterly nondescript. The food is fantastic, but nobody knows about it. There’s nothing about your store that suggests what it might actually be about. In fact, as it turns out, Food Geek did walk past it – several times – but he never once realized that it was a restaurant.This is what your Thai Restaurant looks like.
What a shame, huh? You get less business despite having a better product, simply because the people who want what you’re offering can’t find what they’re looking for.
Make it easy for them to understand your site.
Search Engines are “Internet Geeks” that spend all their time trawling through the web. They attempt to infer, at a “glance”, what your website is about.
If you were running a brick-and-mortar store, you’d want it to be as easy as possible for people to figure out what you’re selling. It’s exactly the same for a website.
(Rare exception: When you’re selling something so hyper-exclusive that you want sales to be purely word-of-mouth.)
Fundamentally, the principle guiding good SEO is simply… good sense. There are people out there searching for whatever it is you’re selling. You want to make it easier for them to find your store, which sells what they want. That is all!
To figure out how to conduct SEO, all you need to do is to determine how to make it easier for website pages to be understood.
At the basic level, it’s remarkably intuitive – a more descriptive title like “How To Make Spicy Green Curry” works better than “Curry”. Even if you learn nothing else about SEO, you can improve your PageRank just by improving your the titles of your pages and posts.
“Will this help others understand my website?”
That’s the magic question that you need to ask yourself every time you make any change or adjustment to your site. (Once you’ve practiced it for a while, you’ll internalize it altogether.)
Here’s a relevant video by Google, in which Matt Cutts (who works for the Search Quality group in Google, specializing in SEO issues) goes through websites and talks about what the sites can do to improve their SEO. Enjoy!