Adam Szczepański

Systems Architect

Get seen online. What you need to know about SEO

PortalsTechnology

Having adjusted your website to modern users’ needs (by adopting the PWA standard, among other things), you should think about getting it seen. In other words, optimizing your website so that it performs well in internet searches.

You may give this job to an external agency or entrust it to your own team. In either case, you’ll do better if you have some basic knowledge of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and can have an informed opinion on the proposed changes to your site.

No matter if you’ve googled this title, clicked on a social media link, or are a regular reader of our blog, you’ve confirmed the magic of SEO. How? By clicking on the link to this article. It’s SEO in action. To get to know its mechanics, let’s begin with basic SEO terminology. Understanding SEO terms and a bit about how the process works is crucial to understanding why a good-quality website is about more than valuable content.

To start with, we’ll answer the big question:

What is SEO?

In a nutshell, SEO is a way of preparing a website so that it:

  • Is easy to find in search engine results, i.e. when a user is looking for content related to the website.
  • Is accessible, friendly, and clear – especially for visual- or hearing-impaired users.
  • Works efficiently and doesn’t cause errors.
  • Contains high-quality, relevant content.
  • Facilitates content analysis and indexation by bots (i.e. web crawlers, or automated programs that search engines use to scan websites).

Indexing ensures users can find your website

Content is your website’s most important component, but even the best content does not deliver value if the recipient is unable to find it! Thus, we need to tell the world that our website exists – which means it must be indexed by popular search engines.

Among online search engines, Google is the unquestioned leader. But we should also bear in mind Yahoo! and Microsoft’s Bing. These alternatives are popular in some countries, including the US and Japan. Users who appreciate online security and privacy are making DuckDuckGo a search engine to be reckoned with. If you want your website to reach users in Russia, it should be indexed with Yandex, a very popular search engine in that country. Internationally known search engines are not available in China; thus, Chinese users go for Baidu and other local solutions.

How do internet search engines work?

Each of the search engines has a system known as a robot, bot, or crawler. It simulates user behavior on a website. It regularly browses all the websites indexed by the search engine, assessing each site’s content and value.

Bots will also note all links found in a given website. If your page is linked back to another site that has been indexed, the bot may put it in the search engine's base before you manually index your website. You should not skip manual indexation, though – it’s always a much faster and more secure solution. Websites can be indexed via a search engine’s administration console:

  • Google: Google Search Console
  • Bing, Yahoo!, and DuckDuckGo: Bing Webmaster Tools
  • Yandex: Yandex.Webmaster
  • Baidu: Baidu Passport

Website positioning algorithms in search engines are continuously evolving and adjusting both to new technologies (e.g. PWA-type websites), and changing internet usage trends (e.g. Google switching to mobile-first indexing). That is why website SEO is a continuous process. Any changes in this area should be watched closely, just as any dips in the number of your website hits should get a firm reaction.

Having indexed a page for the first time, the bot will visit it regularly to check how two of the three SEO aspects explained below (on-page and technical) have been implemented. The bot will analyze everything that affects how the content is presented to the user. After analyzing its findings, the search engine algorithm will estimate where to position your page in the search results. What are some of the factors affecting your site’s ranking?

  • The quality and length of the page content.
  • How key phrases are used in the text.
  • Whether the code is excessively complex (which would be bad).
  • How the keywords, page title and summary, and other meta descriptions relate to the search term.
  • Page accessibility, including for persons with disabilities.
  • The technical quality of the page, e.g. efficiency, script errors, intrusive ads and pop-ups, etc.

Website quality is predominantly assessed in terms of mobile performance, especially by Google.

Three aspects of SEO

Search engines’ development teams are reluctant to share how website assessment algorithms work; the more you know about the algorithm, the easier it is to manipulate it. Nevertheless – apart from the quality of the website itself (i.e. on-page and technical SEO) – page recognition is an important consideration. This is determined by how many and what kinds of websites reference (i.e. link to) your website. This parameter is defined by the third aspect of SEO – off-page SEO.

At this point, let’s examine each aspect.

On-Page SEO

On-page SEO ensures the website code is written well and has good, properly tagged content. This is what copywriters and front-end developers focus on. Their work guarantees that:

  • Page content does not blur and is not missing.
  • Website navigation is simple.
  • Code complies with recognized standards, such as W3C and WCAG.
  • Pages load quickly; preferably, only visible elements and those which users will need are loaded. There are a variety of techniques, like lazy loading, that make this possible.
  • Bots can find corresponding links for subpages and know which websites not to visit. Developers will use proper tagging (e.g. index vs. noindex, follow vs. nofollow) to ensure this happens.
  • By entering the appropriate keywords or search phrases in the search engine, users can find the website. And the site’s description in the search results should be informative (e.g. by using Open Graph meta tags, schema.org descriptions, etc.) and visually appealing. It should make people want to visit the site.

Technical SEO

The most important technical tasks are page security and stable, error-free script performance. It can also be useful to inform bots of the location of the content on our website and which subpages not to visit. The sitemap and the robots.txt file are used for that.

Next, you should focus on eliminating any duplicated content and inform the bot of any alternative language versions of the website. This, along with on-page SEO, will demonstrate that your site’s content is well prepared.

Remember, a website’s position in search results is not determined solely by content quality. Technical quality matters as well. While browsing your website, bots will also test its load time(s), size in kilobytes, and complexity (measured in the number of HTML tags used). Special attention is paid to mobile performance, as mobile devices generate over 50% of website hits.

It should be noted that good technical quality is a result of teamwork, not just of the copywriters and front-end developers who are responsible for content, appropriate page tagging, and visual presentation. The work of back-end developers and server administrators is equally significant. They provide efficient systems to deliver the data displayed on the website; this comes from databases and other sources, e.g. external system integrations. They also ensure proper server configuration, which can both increase the site’s efficiency (e.g. through content caching) and minimize the likelihood of redirect chains and dead links.

Off-Page SEO

The third aspect of SEO refers to the internet at large rather than the site itself. It rests on the assumption that if users find the content of your website interesting, they will link to it in blogs, forums, posts, social media, and other websites. The more references that bots can identify, the better reputation ‘score’ your website will have in the search engine. This, in turn, translates directly into better positions in search results.

It is not only links that count. If a given search engine is able to associate your brand with your website, the very mention of the brand, say by a popular blogger, will affect your website rank. Google is smart and can do useful tricks. ;)

How to influence Off-Page SEO

First of all, provide a fast-loading website, full of interesting and useful content. Any user finding it will be eager to share it with others, particularly if the page has conveniently-placed Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter share buttons.

When you own a page like this, the only thing you should do is encourage users to visit it (which means advertising it, another part of off-page SEO). Using a professional service for help with this is highly recommended.

Your SEO journey is only beginning

SEO is a living and evolving topic; search engine algorithms are subject to frequent changes. Search engine developers strive to deliver content that caters to the tastes and needs of their users, so they must frequently modify crawlers to mirror current browsing behaviors. Factors affecting website positioning are plentiful and any attempt at discussing every last one of them is like tilting at windmills. What is most important for SEO today, may be meaningless next week (just like page metatags or PageRank). If you want to take care of your site’s SEO, know the basics and keep up to date.