How do people end up on a website? If it’s not from clicking a link on social media, then it’s likely the result of a quick Google search (or Bing, or whatever your preferred choice). The info on your website (and how it’s presented), has a huge influence on how likely you are to appear on a search engine’s results pages.
Today, we’ll go through some SEO basics to help you perform a mini audit of your own website. The better optimized your site is, the more visible it will be to search engines, and the more likely you’ll be to get more organic traffic. Sweet, right? Let’s jump right in!
How organic search results work
First, the basics: A search engine’s main purpose is to connect the searcher with the information they’re looking for. It does this by turning their query into results displayed on a SERP (search engine results page). But you already knew that, right?
As you probably also know, perfect human-search engine interactions are not guaranteed. The search engine usually supplies access to the right information, but on occasion, it might misinterpret what the user is saying and supply wrong or irrelevant information… oops. Although an annoying experience, search engines are only partially to blame for poor retrieval of information. Since searchers are the only sentient beings (a.k.a, humans) in this interaction, surely they’re the ones responsible for successfully communicating with search engines? Well… yes and no.
Search engines like Google are making constant updates and considerable strides to solve this issue. On the SERP, only the websites that contain the most relevant information about the search query will be displayed on the results page. Websites that have the best, most up-to-date information available – and help the user consume that information effectively – will appear higher than other websites on the SERP. Most users won’t go further than the first page of results. Only users in deep research mode will venture to the barren wasteland that is page two and beyond. This means that the higher a website is placed in the results, the higher the likelihood that a user will interact with that website.
The top of the results page is a sought-after, high-traffic area. Many people see it. And where there are people, there are wallets and money. Every time I ask a website owner or client about where they want to appear in the rankings, they will no doubt answer that they want to appear first. Duh.
Influencing where your website appears in search engines
Ever wonder why some companies show up at the top of the search engine rankings organically? A digital marketing subfield was created from the emergence of search engines, with the intent to influence the positioning of websites that appear in the results. It’s called Search Engine Optimization, or SEO for short.
This practice, to those who are new, can seem like the wild, wild west. There are also misconceptions. You’ll hear things like:
“There’s so much guesswork involved!”
“Nobody knows exactly how Google ranks one site over another!”
“It appears to keep changing, with constant algorithm updates!”
“You can’t control it!”
While there is some truth to the updating algorithms – and maybe Google isn’t telling us everything – but the fact remains: the core strategies needed to succeed in SEO have pretty much always been the same. Most of the strategies that worked in the old days are the same strategies that work now. These strategies will continue to work, regardless of any algorithmic changes. Sure, the search engines are the real authority on who determines where websites appear in the search results. But it’s important to remember that you, the website owner, still have power in determining where you appear in the results. It’s all about the user!
Recall Google’s mission statement: “Our mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” This wording suggests that the creation and organization of information within websites (not just on search engines) also matters.
The importance of context and “aboutness”
Because of search engines, websites are not typically consumed in “chronological” order (from home page onwards), unlike other mediums of information, such as books or videos. When searchers come to a website via a search engine, they typically don’t arrive at the site’s home page. They land on the page in the middle of a site, like on a category page, product page, or an article page, because it was most relevant to their search query. This concept is known as Inceptor’s Pyramid.
Given the Inceptor’s Pyramid concept, it’s important to provide searchers with high-level context and “aboutness” regarding the page they are on, and how the information on it relates to surrounding pages on the site.
If a user lands on a page and it’s unclear to them if the said page is related to their search, they’ll look for cues to provide context. They’ll look for cues like, “What section is it in? Could it lead to the actual page I’m looking for?” etc. This means that you should have a level of “aboutness” on every page, as well as provide context. For example, you should answer how one section or page relates to the other section. The Inceptor’s Pyramid relies on context, so it’s impractical to try to organize your website like a book.
In the wild, Moz does an excellent job of providing context and “aboutness” on their Technical SEO category page.
This is a category page deep in the site that will receive all sorts of visitors. To give the user a great experience (and rank highly on SERPs) they have provided the following:
- Aboutness: The topic and definition of the category page, and how it relates to the greater meaning of the topic
- Context: Suggestions about where to start for people with different types of search intent
We’ve seen how the basics of organic search engines work and the concept of ranking. Easy, eh? We’ve also talked about the importance of context and “aboutness” – where things get a little bit more complex, referring to the deeper context and meaning of the information on the site and how it’s presented.
Most importantly, we’ve learned how the information on your pages – and how it relates to information on other pages – plays an important role in telling search engines like Google whether your page is valuable to searchers. So, it’s time for you to do a quick audit of your website and see how well you’re doing.
Once you’ve done that, look out for a sequel to this article. In said sequel, we’ll walk through more concepts (like siloing), my 10 commandments of SEO, and much more!