Have you wanted to learn more about what SEO is and it's importance? In this new interview series, we're diving into questions from an SEO amateur (our PM Regina O'Toole) for our in-house SEO expert, Jeremy Walker. Read on to learn more about the nuances of SEO and tricks we've learned along the way. What is SEO?SEO is optimizing website content for the way it is ranked and presented in search engine results. Primarily we’re talking about Google. Typically about 80% of search traffic comes from Google, so it’s extremely important. Explain the basics of search.In the main results page, Google presents search as “things not links.” They accomplish that through the Knowledge Graph, which is displayed through various elements: 1) a “card” on the top right hand corner of the page, 2) “instant answers: for highly searched content, like a sports team, results show up to the minute information as we see here for the Seattle Mariners schedule. In a branded search you typically get site links as part of the main brand result. First you see the traditional organic result and then links below called site links. Google knows that people searching for a specific brand want to do more than just go to the homepage so they display links the most popular pages. In the context of SEO, this is an opportunity to improve search results. The pieces here in blue or purple are what we call the title tags. This is why it’s important to optimize, because these will be seen as the main headline for the search result or the main headline within site links. And below that, this text here are the description tags. These are optional tags, you don’t have to put them on your site, but if you don’t put them on your site, Google is left to populate that information. This is why there’s benefit to thinking about every page you create and understanding how it’s going to appear in search results. What dictates what pages are included in search results?There are two main building blocks of how search engines make decisions about what shows up in search results: relevance and authorityRelevance means whether your website content is relevant to the keywords being searched. In the past, this was very literal – if your website specifically used the phrase car insurance and somebody searched for auto insurance, your website might not be ranked as highly as those that emphasized auto insurance. Now, search engines are smarter so vehicle, car and auto insurance are all considered the same thing. We call that semantic search. Basically, it comes down to the core content. The second piece is authority. If we cull the whole index of websites pages down to those that are relevant, we have a big problem; we have a million pages with the same content. How do I prioritize those? That’s where it comes to authority. Authority is Google’s way of saying, “if everything has the same content, which sites are the real authorities of that content?” There are several ways that Google looks at that. One is inbound links. If tons of other websites are pointing to your website, then your authority improves. In addition to having content on your website, having people share that content through social media is important. If you are sharing content, Google says not only do we see lots of links pointing to it but there are lots of social media channels where this information is available.Other important contributors to authority are the size and quality of content and the age of the domain. Being around for a long time is important. Google is all about this combination of how much traffic you get, how many different links are pointing to your website, how many different pages you have on your website, and finally, how long you have existed on the web. Essentially, you have to demonstrate that you’re a trustworthy website. In baking the four main rules for successful pastries are...Good ingredients, measured well, never overcooked, and always shared with others. As an SEO expert, what are your top rules?I would say the four main SEO rules are:Rule #1 Make SEO an integral part of your content development efforts. What topics have great opportunity (high search volume and/or low competition)? Within a given topic, what are the critical keywords to consider?Rule #2 Relevance: make it clear! What are we writing the story about? Is it very clear to you, me and the search engines that the targeted keywords are explicitly on the page? Make sure you’re thinking about your title tag, your description tag and the main keywords in your article.Rule #3 Make it easy on search engines. Double-check that the title tag, URL and H1 align. Those are the main things Google uses to understand what your page is about and index it for your targeted keywords.Rule #4Ensure search engines can search your site. There are technical best practices to keep in mind. Your robots.txt and XML sitemap need to be actively managed and updated at least monthly. It’s easier than you think to prevent Google from effectively crawling your site. So either through neglect or inability, you won’t be found. Is optimizing for search engines the same or in any way different than optimizing for users?Google has always said to build your content around the user and we’ll take care of the rest. If we look at nuances, for example, the only time somebody sees a title tag is in search results (it’s the headline for each result). But, the title tag is incredibly important because it tells the search engines what the page is about.For example, the default title tag for a homepage might be simply, “Home.” To someone in the CMS this might make sense, but to a search engine, it means nothing. If it said, “full service digital agency” then Google knows exactly what the page is about. So when we think of users vs. search engines, the title tag is an important distinguishing characteristic. On the other hand, the meta description is only relevant to the user. Search engines don’t use this in indexing but will use this as the copy that supports the headline in search results. Can't I just put the words “crazy cat videos" and "Kardashian" in all my metadata and optimize successfully? That’s what we call Black Hat SEO, trying to trick the search engines to return an unrelated page for a high volume keyword. At one point that actually worked (see J.C. Penney example), but Google put the kibosh on abusing content in 2011 with their Panda algorithm update. The second major way people used to trick the search engines was to buy links to artificially improve their authority. Google pulled link trickery out of the system in 2012 with their Penguin algorithm update.Google continuously revises their algorithm and provided some insight when they formally updated their Webmaster Guidelines in January. Lastly, should I care about Google only or all search engines? From an 80/20 perspective, always start by optimizing according to Google’s best practices. Once you see improvements in Google-driven traffic, start analyzing Bing and Yahoo performance and investigate opportunities unique to these search engines.