What is SEO, really? You're bound to get a slightly different answer from each person you ask, based on their frame of reference.
Because there are so many aspects of search, and the rules continually change according to algorithm updates designed to prevent manipulation, an entire industry has been built around a gray area that can be overwhelming for some.
For those of us who have been around for a while, some aspects of SEO have never changed. And, a quality website will always have a significantly better chance of performing in search over weaker competitors.
What is a Quality Website?
A quality website means the same to search engines as it would to your business. As the ultimate destination for the brand, a website that delivers a quality user experience not only serves business objectives, but also meets criteria defined by search engines to determine which sites will be presented in SERPs to customers making queries.
Not to be confused with quality score (the variable used to determine display of PPC ads), the quality website is a concept that endorsed and promoted by Google, Bing, and Yahoo.
None of the search engines reference "pagerank" in website guidelines. The search engines do offer insight into what they look for in a website. This is an excellent place to start when planning, optimizing, or evaluating search engine performance of a website.
- Google has come right out to say that it will reward high-quality websites.
- Bing has written about SEO "improving a website" as a sum of all the parts combined.
Yahoo guidelines defer to Bing Webmaster Center for website related topics.
SEO Isn't a Total Mystery
Contrary to popular belief, the search engines provide some guidance to help webmasters address some of the most significant website quality issues.
The guidelines published by the search engines provide an excellent foundation, even for those with little to no search engine optimization expertise. It is important to recognize that off-site activities, like social media, impact search engine performance, and are included in guidance from Google, Bing, and Yahoo.
Basic SEO Guidelines for Google, Bing & Yahoo
The guidelines provided by each search engine are very useful in determining how search engine-friendly a website is, and should become a vital reference for every business or brand with a website.
Google, Bing, and Yahoo each present website guidelines online. The search engines share the same position when it comes to fundamentals of a quality website for search. There are nuances that are not included in these guidelines will be important, such as length of content pages, the proper use of RSS feeds, and proper integration of social media.
Google offers a significant amount of documentation to guide webmasters. And, Google and Bing both provide Webmaster Tools from which to monitor and improve SEO. However, the most mission-critical features are covered by each of the search engines.
Below is a simplified reference chart to facilitate reference and comparison of guidelines across each of the three top search engines.
Every Aspect of the Website Impacts SEO
Everything you touch, add, or modify on the website will either enhance or diminish SEO.
If every person who contributes to the website (whether it be through design, content, meta data, software, or hardware) evaluates their actions accordingly, you should be able to promote a culture of optimization.
You know what they say about assumptions. This is especially true when it comes to websites. Don't assume that the team you work with or hire is familiar with search engine quality guidelines.
Professionals you may consider to be seasoned could be missing a key piece of information that could result in a minor or major impact on search engine performance. Top agencies, web firms, designers, and programmers often operate unaware or uninhibited by basic guidelines set forth by search engines.
In fact, over the years, and even today, well-paid professionals who sincerely believe they are knowledgeable make decisions that go against these guidelines or best practices. Failure to meet basic search engine guidelines can have devastating effects. For example, the website of an international consumer brand disappearing completely from Google for days when the webmaster eliminated the robots.txt file during an upgrade.
Simply put – you must play by the rules if you want to win.
And, perhaps more importantly, it is imperative an experienced person who possesses ample mastery of these topics guide design, content, optimization decisions to enable the website to achieve optimum performance for humans – and search engines.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!