A Small Business Guide to the Web: SEO

This is the start of an occasional series on web development buzzwords. In each article we’ll take time to help demystify the tech jargon, and explain what these terms mean in plain language. In this installment we’ll tackle one of the most ubiquitous, and perhaps most misunderstood terms, SEO.

SEO is short for Search Engine Optimization. It refers to practices and strategies designed to help boost your site’s ranking in search results. Search engines want to provide their users with the most relevant results. To determine a site’s relevance they look at its content, and at what other sites are linking to it. The higher the relevance, the higher the ranking.

A False Path

Maybe you’ve seen SEO sold like a type of cure-all shortcut to the top of the search results. If only you wrangle your code in just the right way, the promise goes, you’ll be up to your eyeballs in traffic. It all sounds so enticing, but that’s not how it works. SEO isn’t a feature to tack onto a site, and there’s no magic code to get a number one ranking. In fact certain methods used to try and artificially boost page rank can even get a site banned from search results. If you encounter services that promise to deliver a certain page rank, be skeptical.

A Better Approach


It’s really all about the content. Remember, users will only find search results useful if they are able to find what they’re looking for. Accordingly sites with highly relevant, helpful content are ranked higher in search results. To improve your place in the results, start by populating your site with well written, useful information. Consider adding a blog with regular posts, relevant to your industry. Good content will improve your ranking, and make it more likely that others will link to your site as well, further increasing its relevance. By definition, however, this is not a quick fix. It may take time to start seeing results, but be persistent and your audience will grow.

If you’re not sure where to start with content, A Book Apart has some great resources available.


Sites also need to be properly coded, to take full advantage of their content. Text should be cleanly, and appropriately marked up. <title> and <meta> tags should be populated. Images should have alt text describing what they are. Important text shouldn’t be rendered as images, preventing search engines from reading it. The site should be responsive (a term we will cover in a later post) to avoid low marks on mobile search ranking.

In many cases optimizing a site’s code is a simpler fix that can be addressed incrementally, but all the optimization in the world won’t make much of a difference if you have sparse, poor quality content. At its root, improving your page rank doesn’t lie in clever coding tricks designed for search engines, but in consistently providing content that’s great for people. Over time your efforts will pay off.

Further Reading

Steps to a Google-friendly site

Google’s Search Engine Starter Guide (PDF)

If you liked this article you can read more in the series here