The 101 on Search Engine Optimization

by Adele Wiejaczka

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SEO is short for Search Engine Optimization and it is the method of obtaining traffic from organic or free search results on different search engines.

Imagine you are a librarian for every book in the world and every day, people ask you to find the book they need. How do you do it? You need a system. You need to know what’s inside every book and how books relate to each other. Your system needs to take in a lot of information and spit out the best answers for patrons’ questions. It’s not an easy job!


Search engines, like Google and Bing, are the librarians of the internet. Their systems collect information about every page on the web, so they can help people to find exactly what they are looking for. Every search engine has a secret recipe called an algorithm for turning all that useful information into search results.

If you own a website, search results matter.

When your pages have higher rankings, they help more people find you. The key to higher rankings is making sure your website has the ingredients search engines need for their recipes. This is called search engine optimization or SEO.

1. Words Matter

As it turns out, most of major ingredients have been identified. First, words matter. Search engines account for every word on the web. This way, when someone types in the keyword “shoe repair”, the search engines can narrow results to only the pages that are about those words.

2. Titles Matter

Second, titles matter. Each page on the web has an official title. You may not ever see it because it’s in the code. Search engines pay a lot of attention to page titles, because they often summarize the page like a book’s title.

3. Links Between Websites Matter

Third, links between websites matter. When one webpage links to another, it is similar to a recommendation telling readers, “this site has good material”. A webpage with several links coming to it can look good to search engines. But some people attempt to deceive search engines by buying or creating bogus links all over the web that point to their own website. Usually, search engines can detect when a site has a lot of them. They account for it by giving links to trustworthy sites more weight in the recipe.

4. The Words that are used in Links Matter

Fourth, the words that are used in links matter, too. If your webpage says “Amazon has lots of books” and the word “books” is linked, search engines can establish that is related to the word “books.” This way, when someone searches for books, that site will rank well.

5. Search Engines Care about Reputation

Lastly, search engines care about reputation. Sites with a consistent record of fresh, engaging content and growing numbers of quality links may be considered rising stars and do well in search rankings.

These are just the basics and the recipes are refined and changed all the time.

Good SEO is about making sure your website has great content that is supported by the ingredients that search engines need for their recipes.


Here are some of the commonly used jargons search engine optimization.

Title Tag

The most important on-page ranking signal is the webpage’s title tag. This should include target keywords which are pertinent to the particular page. It also sums up the content found on the page. Title tags can be found in browser tabs and search engine results.

Meta Description

This describes the content of the webpage to search engines and consists of 160 characters or less. They can be seen under the URL and Title Tag in a rich snippet.


Heading tags are considered titles and subtitles. They separate the content into sections. <h1> is the most important and <h6> the least important. As much as possible, headings may include your target keywords.

Alt Text

This is short for alternative text and it is used to describe an image and placed within the HTML code. Individuals who are visually impaired may use screen readers; the screen readers read the alt text to better understand what the image is about. Alt texts also guide crawlers to properly index images especially when an image does not load on a page.


Though it may appear to be simple, this is no ordinary text file. It contains instructions on which pages to ignore and which to crawl.


This stands for Search Engine Results Page. These pages show the results after searchers enter a query. SERPs show a combination of ads and organic results.


A sitemap is a list of pages on a website. There are two types of sitemaps: XML and HTML. They are not mandatory but they provide search engines with information on how to interpret and potentially better rank websites. The HTML version is usually organized by topics and helps site users navigate a website. The XML version provides crawlers with a list of webpages on a website.

Anchor Text

This is the clickable text in a hyperlink which is intended to provide contextual information to search engines and individuals about what the website being linked to is about. One thing that should be avoided is keyword stuffing the anchor text.

Internal Links vs Inbound Links (Backlinks)

Two types of hyperlinks that differ based on where they are linking to and from are called internal and inbound links. Internal links are those that are within the same domain while inbound links (also known as backlinks) come from other websites.

Disavow Backlinks

When your site has links pointing to it but are of low quality, like SPAM, it is advised to have those links removed. If reaching out is not successful, you can add the URL to a disavow text file. The file is then uploaded to search engines, informing them that inbound links from that specified source should not be considered. Only advanced SEO specialists with technical knowledge should do this.

Canonical URL

When multiple URLs have the same or similar content, an HTML code element (which is the canonical URL) specifies a preferred website URL. This avoids duplicate content issues.

301 redirect

Once a URL changes, the redirect sends web crawlers and visitors to a different URL permanently. This type of redirect is also done to avoid broken links and maintain authority when a page or domain has been renamed.

Schema Markup

A type of code that is put on a website to help search engines present more information on the website’s content. There are several schemas and the common ones include locations, products, events, creative works, products, and embedded objects. Adding this code increases the possibilities of obtaining SERP features like rich snippets.


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