I am being asked lately a lot about the facts behind search engine optimization (SEO), how it works, what it does, why is it needed and (most above all) why do price ranges between various SEO providers vary drastically. In this article, I will try to describe, in a brief overview, the various ways that SEO is achieved via the various approaches that I know about on the web. In brief, SEO is the process of refactoring a website in order to score higher on search engines on certain key search terms. By achieving higher scores, websites appear first when the search term in question is queried. Various search engines perform different scoring techniques while evaluating websites including what is known as On-Site and Off-Site scoring.
In SEO, there are two main phases involved to achieve a higher score. These two phases are:
- On-Site Optimization: this involves techniques that increase the website score within pages of the website itself. This covers various techniques such as page titles, keywords, page content, keyword distribution, inter-page linkage, inter-website-page linkage, etc. The main purpose from on-site optimization is to provide enough content related to the keyword in question. This content must, at least, overweigh the competition in other websites.
- Off-Site Optimization: this involves techniques that increase the website score by using links (outgoing and incoming) to other websites related to the keyword in question. The main idea here is to get the search engine to evaulate the website, in general, and pages, in particular, as a reference for the keyword in question. Website and Page Popularity are important topics within this part of the SEO process.
Search engines evaluate websites and website pages in different ways. In this article, we will be using Google as an example. Google evaluates websites using a very (and I mean very) complicated formula. The approach that Google uses, though, is very simple although the formula itself is complicated. The list below describes a broad overview of the evaluation process.
- Google starts by scoring each page independently
- Keyword distribution and keyword density within the page are evaluated.
- The page content is used to determine the relevance of the page with respect to the keywords involved.
- Each page is scored separately at first.
- Once all pages are scored, Google moves on to determine the website score by combining the scores of each page based on a determined weight per page. In this formula, the way that the website is interlinked (linked from pages within the website to other pages within the same website) are major players in increasing the weight of a certain page over the weight of other pages.
At this point, the On-Site score is determined. What remains is the Off-Site score. This is done as follows (in brief of course):
- Google determines links from within pages of the website to external pages in other websites. Each link is followed and the score of that page is determined as well. This affects the score of the page itself to a minor extent.
- Google then determines links from other websites to the pages of the website in question. Incoming links affect the score of the pages to a major extent (Google considers incoming links as referrals and, as such, they are taken into severe consideration just like someone asking your references about your work 😉 The scores of the referral pages are highly considered. As such, the higher the score of these pages the higher the score that your website will accumulate.
- It is worth noting that the content of the pages that you refer to or that refer to you is also important. For example, having a link from a forum related to cars to a website that sells cars is considered relevant while a link from a forum discussing politics to a website selling cars is not considered as relevant.
Another factor in determining the
website score is the website age. Similar to normal life, the older the
person, the wiser he/she is assumed to be. The same applies to websites.
Websites that have been providing a certain content for years are
considered more relevant than websites that started providing the
content recently. This does not mean, however, that age is superior. Age
is just another factor that search engines like Google take into
consideration while determining website scores.
How Do Various SEO Providers Work?
As described above, a major factor in determining the website score is in either content, or links, or both. SEO providers follow one of the following three approaches. For each approach, I will describe the approach itself as well as a brief overview about the hardness involved in providing it along with the advantages and disadvantages of that approach.
- SEO Based on Content Only: in this approach, SEO providers emphasize on website content to achieve a high score. This usually involves restructuring websites to include forums, blogs, articles, resources, etc. that are related to the keywords in question. This also involves generating website pages (sometimes reaching thousands) in order to achieve a high score. Advantages of this approach are a long lasting effect since outweighing a high score requires generating more content than the content involved. Search engines pay close attention to cloning (websites copying others) and, as such, outweighing a high scoring website is very tough since it requires generating more content without cloning / copying the existing website content. Disadvantages of this approach is the time required to generate this content as well as the complexity of linking the website pages internally in a way to produce the required score.
- SEO Based on Links Only: in this approach, SEO providers emphasize on generating links (usually external ones) that point to your website for the sole purpose of achieving the high score in question. Usually, providers of this approach are websites that already have a website or a network of websites with content related to your website. SEO, in this approach, is usually leased on a yearly (or monthly) basis. Advantages of this approach are the very fast result that they provide. The disadvantage is usually when competitors buy the same service from your SEO provider. This usually leads to imposing increasing costs (like a bid or so) where you and your competition bid to gain the linking website. Another disadvantage is that the effect will cease to exist as soon as your SEO lease is stopped and the links are removed.
- SEO Based on Content and Links: This is usually the best approach for SEO providers and the most effective and long lasting. It combines both approaches described above and usually incurs the highest cost among all approaches.
Which Approach Is Better For Me?
The answer to this question is simple. Look at your competition and determine their score (your SEO provider should be able to do that easily for you prior to signing the contract). Based on the score and the competitive analysis, you will be able to determine the points of strength for your competition. If links can outweigh the competition, you can go for the link approach and work as you go (by yourself) on the website content to ensure a long lasting effect later on. If your competition is heavily based on content, links might not be enough since the competition might also generate links to their website and, thus, lead to your score decreasing drastically in a very short period of time. In this case, you can either move forward with the content approach or both approaches.
In all cases, you must always pay attention to what type of contract you are signing. Ask your SEO provider to explain to you the process that they follow. If they refuse to do so (claiming this is a secret recipe), don’t sign any contract since this usually means that your provider is spamming and cheating search engines to get you a higher score. If you ever cheat or spam, search engines like Google will sooner or later discover your cheat and will ban your website from ever being indexed again.