This booklet should function as a quick guide to best practices for search engine optimization (SEO) within Indiana State University. This book is not an exhaustive manual; rather it is a starting point for common SEO practices, giving practical tips and helpful hits, referring readers to more in-depth sources for more information. While this booklet will answer most (and the most common) questions about SEO, the goal is to present the University’s sanctioned SEO practices, not answer every question.
What is SEO?
Search engine optimization (or SEO) is the practice of making a website as efficient as possible so that it will gain high ranking on search engine results pages (SERPs). Various elements on and off webpages contribute to search engine page ranking. Adhering to a set of proven best practices will dramatically improve search engine rankings and site consumer-friendliness.
How do search engines work?
Think of the World Wide Web as a library. Each book is a website, each page is a webpage. In an old-school library, the books are organized based on a numerical system that tells the librarian which book is where and what it’s about. In a search engine, all the websites and webpages are organized based on what keywords the site contains. The search engine sends out robots (also called spiders), that behave like assistant librarians and “crawl” each website’s content to determine what they’re about and how helpful the site is. When someone types a word into the search box of an engine like Bing or Google, the search engine retrieves content based on matches between the searcher’s keywords and the entire database of keyword-organized websites. Then, like a good librarian, the search engine returns with the content it deems most relevant to the searcher’s needs.
The big picture
At the beginning of SEO, when search engines were brand new, the idea was to climb to the top of SERPs as quickly as possible. The top-ranking pages got the most clicks, therefore making the most money. People took advantage of the system, writing nonsense content filled with as many keywords as possible and employing all kinds of other black hat (wrong) SEO tactics to get the most clicks. As search engines became more sophisticated, these sites were knocked off SERPs in favor of sites with good content and high customer value. People continue to find ways to exploit search engines, and search engine creators frequently change the rules and devise more stringent requirements to combat this.
The Key to SEO
The good news is that there is a foolproof way to make sure a website stays on the good side of search engines. The key is customer service. Creating a website that caters to the customer in every way, from helpful, well-written content to easy-to- navigate site organization, never fails to impress search engines. The original goal of search engines was to make all kinds of information easily accessible to consumers. If providing useful information to seekers is the main goal of a website, search engines will rank it well.