We are fortunate to have a veteran of web development on staff here, so this question, “What is SEO?” never had to be asked. But it should be asked. It is as important a question as “How are my customers finding me?” or “When should I hire a new employee?”Β  This is an article for busy business owners who want to be sure they understand the basics of SEO. It is important for every business owner, and SEO will continue to grow in value until it is “the water we swim in” and no “bad” websites ever show up in search! At the same time, we know you don’t have a lot of time to spend “cracking the books.” So, let’s cover the most important elements of SEO for you today. First of all, SEO stands for “Search Engine Optimization.” This is exactly what it infers: A way to make your web real estate easier to find, and more desirable for search engines. The most widely used search engine is, by far, Google. So in reality, SEO should satisfy what Google wants. So what does Google want? According to Google’s quality guidelines, there are three overall factors. Here is the short version, so you can get back to work:

1) Design & Content – should be really valuable, good, hearty and satisfying information. Keep links to a modest number. Minimize the use of images to tell your story. Why avoid using images as a crutch? Because search engines don’t know what that image is “saying.” For those images, use an “alt” tag to convey that content.

What does Responsive Look Like2) Technical Guidelines – this can be pretty overwhelming for those that don’t build websites for a living. Here are the top priorities: A)Β  Make sure your site works in mobile devices. This is called a “responsive” website – meaning the top navigation links should probably fold up into a little accordian for the touch of a finger. Fonts should not shrink too far, but images should resize to fit the screen width. B) Clearly direct robots to keep away from pages that don’t contain the kind of content people would visit your site to find such as login pages, or archives. Direct the robots via a little text file loaded by FTP to the root of your website. This Wikipedia page has a wide variety of examples you can use as needed, plus instructions. C) Make sure your site loads fast. 40% of visitors abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load! Test your site here.

3) Quality Guidelines – keeping this a clear and simple definition for all non-webmasters out there, what this boils down to is this: Build your site’s information for real people first, then consider search engines. In fact, Google offers a great piece of advice, as follows: “A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you, or to a Google employee. Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”

So that is in a nutshell what you need to think about. Focus on authenticity and transparency. Provide real and valuable information that really addresses a need of fellow humans. If you do this legitimately, Google will find you. You will be ranked appropriately, based on freshness of that information, the quality, the ease of your page to navigate, and understanding website basics.

Oh, and next article in this series, we will review, in layman terms, what SEO is NOT, and what will get you penalized. So, stay honest, my friends!