The Heart of SEO
SEO is ever changing… right?
The topic of “SEO” is an eternally ongoing cause for much buzz and discussion, something you read about SEO two or three years ago may not even be valid today. This is because it is a continuously evolving, highly mercurial and complex story. If you go online and you want to learn more about SEO, you can prepare yourself for nearly endless discussions, research, opinions, and trends. Even the use of the word “SEO” has evolved and perhaps even become a little derogatory in more recent times because of the tendency of some people who do SEO to do it the wrong way.
As such not much information about SEO is evergreen in nature, yet fascinatingly enough, the heart and soul of SEO is “eternal” and as far as we know will never change. Understanding these core principles of SEO will well prepare you for almost any change that will happen in the landscape.
So here’s a key that will never rust – The answer to the question, “what is the heart of SEO?”
The “What” and the “How” of search engines
Imagine for a second, two concentric circles, the inside is what search engines are trying to achieve, the outside is how they achieve this — The What never changes, it is constant and firm, the centre circle remains rigid, however the How is constantly in a state of flux or evolution.
Looking something like this:
I will explain SEO in terms of those two circles, let’s start with the core / heart of SEO, the intent of search engines.
What is the purpose and intent of search engines?
Why do search engines exist? What are they trying to achieve? They want to sift through the countless number of sites on the internet and index them (arrange them into particular categories) that can be searched via query, to draw an analogy, imagine a vast library of books, except they are in complete disarray, randomly all over the place, referring to each other, and talking about an almost infinite array of topics, a search engine is like a librarian who goes through each and every book, analyses what it is about, what other books it is linking to, and then arranges all of that information so that when you ask it a question, it can present to you a list of answers.
But it wouldn’t be a very good librarian if you go to it asking for a copy of Harry Potter and it gives you a copy of Twilight would it? Because the result it gives you is inappropriate, this is the first issue that search engines need to solve, relevance, search engines take your query and firstly determine what results are relevant to what you are asking.
To continue on with the library analogy, if you asked the search engine for something less specific, like “an inspirational novel”, well, now it has quite a tough job, there may be very many inspirational books, but which one should it return to you first? One would hope it will first return the most inspirational book, then the second most, then the third, etc. in search this is referred to as ranking, or quality I.E once something is determined as being relevant, how to you rank them up against each other and which one do you return in the top position?
So put quite simply, the intention of search engines is to return A) the most appropriate and B) the best (highest quality) result to your query.
This is really good for user satisfaction, think about it, we are all treated like kings by search engines. No matter what we ask them they strive to return the most appropriate and best answer to our questions.
In our diagram, what was just described is the heart of SEO. Relevance and ranking, not matter what other changes occur, you can bet that they are simply trying to achieve that goal better.
How do search engines strive to achieve this goal?
Going back to our librarian analogy, it would be impossible for a librarian to manually review millions or billions of books to build a library index, similarly, search engines must look for an automated method of achieving their goal, for this they use algorithms.
A search engine algorithm is a set of computer programs that are used to evaluate the quality and content of a site, currently Google’s algorithm has over 200 ranking factors, which means they use over 200 factors to determine the relevance and quality of websites. Google is also constantly updating and improving their organic search algorithms, with about 500-600 changes per year.
The search engine algorithm itself is the “highly mercurial” part of this story spoken of earlier. Search engines are constantly changing and updating their algorithms to try to achieve their goal better, this is the “changing” part of the landscape of SEO.
However, and this is the main point, although the how is constantly changing, the what never does.
What does this mean for me, a person doing SEO?
So I want my site to rank highly in Google for a competitive keyword. Fair enough, so does everyone else. But then I need to ask myself, when I Google this keyword, is my website the best and most relevant result for this query? If I were Google, thinking of user satisfaction, would I rank this website above the others? Is the user experience the best?
Quite simply, what I need to do is try to make my site the best and most appropriate result for people searching for my product, service, or content, while maintaining a general understanding of how search engines work to determine my sites’ worth. In other words, build a great website, that deeply solves for user intent, and do it in a search engine friendly way.
Some great websites have genuinely not performed well in search engines because of technical reasons, but for the most part, search engines are on your side in this regard, as they refine their techniques, SEO will require less and less technical expertise, and other sites that aren’t as good as yours but currently rank better because they use the “how” to their advantage in an inappropriate way will slowly be whittled down by search engine algorithm evolution, particularly spam algorithm updates.
Many SEO’s go astray because they are too busy chasing the algorithms that search engines use to rank websites. They are so focused on reaching the top of the ranking that they forget the heart of SEO and the intention of search engines: to return the best and most relevant results of their users’ queries. This may sound ridiculously simple but is your site genuinely better than your competitors’ site? Do you have on your site, genuinely, the most appropriate result for the keywords you are trying to target? Until you answer these affirmatively, don’t waste your time chasing the search engine algorithm because as soon as they update it again you will watch your rankings fall.
The possible future
We can’t fully foresee the future of SEO, but we can give some predictions based on historical evolution. Perhaps one day SEO will all be about the what (I.E the how won’t really matter anymore because they have done it so incredibly well) but at the moment there is still some room for knowledge of the how.
But that knowledge must be used wisely.