You don't get the privilege of speaking to customers via organic search until the search engines understand what you’re saying.
Organic search is like speaking through a translator. The search engines' algorithms are the gating factors that decide which sites will have a chance to speak to which searchers.
People searching Google know what they're looking for. They ask Google to find it for them using a cryptic search phrase. From these few words, the search engines analyze relevance, intent and historical preference, and deliver a search results page with 10 organic search options.
Searchers decide based on those 10 links which site most closely meets their needs, and away they go. If Google doesn't consider your site relevant or important enough to include in those 10 links, you don't even get considered as an option by searchers. Period. Each time this happens is a lost opportunity to reach new customers or to market to those who already know your brand.
Businesses can improve their chances of success by understanding how to influence the process. That's what SEO is all about.
The search engines use software programs called crawlers to follow links and index content. If content can't be crawled to via these crawler programs, that content does not exist for that search engine. Content that doesn't exist can't be ranked or displayed to customers. Consequently, the first of three pillars of SEO is technical optimization to ensure a site is optimally crawlable and indexable by search engines.
Once engines know your valuable content exists, how do they know what that content is all about? Other algorithms come into play to analyze the search engines' content. They look at how closely the content relates to the words searchers are using and where those words are used on the page and in the source code. This is the well-known second pillar of SEO: content optimization.
When the content has been indexed and relevance has been determined, the last step becomes a popularity contest. The engines analyze a series of linking and social signals algorithmically to determine the quantity and quality of sites endorsing each page of content. This third pillar of SEO is known as link building.
By using the three pillars of SEO, businesses can design their sites to be user-friendly, focus on the brand, and also communicate in ways that search engines understand and value. Achieving this combination is the key to reaching customers via organic search.
Jill Kocher is a seasoned SEO professional and all-around technogeek. By day, she manages Resource Interactive’s SEO practice here in Chicago and serves as contributing editor at Practical eCommerce. By night, Jill landscapes her home in the far northern suburbs of Chicagoland while enjoying a glass of wine and thinking about SEO some more. Family discussion centers primarily around SEO, analytics, social media, mobile apps, android, iOS, how-was-your-day and cats.