…and yes, social media does affect SEO. To better understand how SEO works, let’s look at the story of Billy Joe Awesome and his Pappy’s Comb.
Billy Joe Awesome needs a new comb to stroke his cherished mullet. The houndstooth-patterned mullet comb that Pappy gave him was lost in what his family members now call the “Squirrel Incident”.
Hoping to replace Pappy’s comb and regain his family’s respect, Billy Joe goes to Google.com and types “houndstooth mullet comb” in the search box. Moments later, Google magically presents Billy Joe with a list of pages about houndstooth mullet combs.
Delighted, Billy Joe Awesome clicks the first link, finds the perfect comb, pays for it via PayPal, and restores his reputation as the only guy in town with a mullet sheen brought on by the expertly-milled teeth of a houndstooth mullet comb.
What can we learn from Billy Joe Awesome?
This story leaves me asking a few questions:
- How did Google decide which web pages would show up in the list?
- How did the first website get to the top of the list?
- Where can I get my hands on a houndstooth mullet comb?
The process of answering the first two questions is called SEO, or Search Engine Optimization. Let’s look at these questions one at a time.
Question 1: How does Google decide which web pages would show up in the list?
Answer: As soon as Billy Joe Awesome typed “houndstooth mullet comb” into the search box, Google went to work behind the scenes looking for pages on the internet with the phrase “houndstooth mullet comb”. The pages with the the best content make the list.
In other words, these pages are the most relevant to the search phrase.
Question 2: How does the first website get to the top of a search result?
Answer: After finding the most relevant pages, Google decides which page is the most important, via an instantaneous and always-evolving series of algorithmic calculations. That doesn’t mean much to Billy Joe Awesome — he just wants to know where to get his coveted comb. The importance of a page within a search engine’s system is determined by how many other relevant pages link to that page.
Question 3: Where can I get my hands on a houndstooth mullet comb?
Sadly, the houndstooth mullet comb does not yet exist. When it does I will link to it here.
Relevance and Importance
Among the hundreds of variables a search engine examines when deciding who to list at the top of a search results page, the two main things considered are.
For Billy Joe Awesome, Relevance to him means finding a website with houndstooth mullet combs similar to the one he lost. In the same way, Relevance for search engines is measured by how the content on your page (text, images, links, rich media) relates to the keywords being searched for.
While it is “important” to work the knots out of Billy Joe Awesome’s mullet before Sunday’s big family reunion, Importance within the context of SEO is measured by how many other relevant web pages give links to your page. The best links come from other important pages and contain relevant text in the middle of relevant content.
How does Social Media affect SEO?
Social Media helps build the importance of a given web page by generating organic relevant links from social networks to your website. Every time someone shares a link from your site, Google sees that as a “vote” for your website.
The more interaction between your website and social sites the more links generated, meaning your site is more likely to show up on search results pages.
Google has also started integrating Twitter into some search results, giving yet another reason to join the tweeting masses.
No one knows exactly how much weight is given to social links, but if you’re getting natural non-spammy exposure to your content on social media, it helps.
When creating content for your website consider these questions:
- How relevant is the content on your page to what a potential customer might use in a search box?
- How important is your page compared to your competitors’ relevant pages?
- Have you shared your website’s content on popular social websites?
- Could Billy Joe Awesome find your website if he was looking for your products or services?
- Should you try to corner the houndstooth mullet comb market?
Super Secret SEO knowledge
The exact formula used for deciding who shows up where in search results is only known by the search engine creators themselves. Here are some of the other known factors taken into consideration by search engines like Google when analyzing a website.
- Is your website mobile-friendly
- How fast does your website load?
- How close are you to the zip code of the person searching?
- Is your website’s code formatted properly so that Google can understand your content?
All of these things, and many more, can affect your performance in search results.
Improving your website’s listing on search results pages may seem like an impossible task. However, a good Search Engine Optimizer can help you beat your competition by keeping a well-trained eye on your website’s search engine performance.
* I originally wrote this piece for Selective Marketing Agency’s blog in 2010 to help clients understand some of the services we offered back then. That company doesn’t exist anymore, so I republished the article here.