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Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of ranking your website in the search engines. Typically, when people speak of ranking their websites, they are referencing primarily their site’s ranking in Google, which is the largest search engine. Google sends about 63% of the Internet’s traffic, followed by Bing, and then, distantly by Yahoo.

Google ranking used to be much easier to achieve and maintain than it is now. Part of the reason for that has been the growth in number of blog and websites online, as well as Google’s own continuous adjustments to their ranking algorithm. The newest update, Hummingbird, changes the algorithm again. The Hummingbird update will move the rankings factors from keywords to search queries, and will also make use of semantically related content matching.

What this means is that the rules of SEO are changing- again. Yet there are steps you can take to improve your site so that you have a good foundation upon which to build traffic, authority, and ranking.

The three main categories of actions you can take are on-page, content based, and off-page.

On-page SEO refers to various technical and on-site factors which impact your SEO. An example of a few of these are domain URL, presence of top-level extension, domain age, site title, site name, and site description. These are all factors that you will want to consider when setting up your site for the first time or when you are tweaking it to be more search engine friendly.

Domain URL refers to the actual words in your domain name. It used to be that you could easily rank your exact match domain names- that is, domains where the keywords appeared in the domain name. So, if you wanted to rank for “Best New York Pizza”, you would register the exact match domain of This exact match domaining was popular for a while, but then became less effective. Your domain URL now wants to be a larger container of your overall business concept. It also wants to be a top-level domain (.com, .net, .org)

Domain age refers to how old your domain is and may also take into account how long the domain is registered for. Older, more established domains tend to rank better. It seems that registering your domain names for longer time frames (that is, five years rather than one year) may also confer some advantage.

Site title, site name, and site description are all ways that you can help Google understand what your site is about. All three should include relevant words describing the concept of what you do. This does want to be something you spend some time on, as the site description will be what appears in the search engines and encourages searchers to click.

This completes the on-page factors that we’ll be covering in this post.

In terms of content-based factors, the three main ones to consider are relevance of content, freshness of content, and whether the content answers some kind of question or concern.

Relevance of content refers to how “on-target” the content is for your intended audience. In 99% of the cases, sites that have relevant content rank better than sites that don’t. You can sometimes digress or go off on tangents in your site content (this, after all, is what creates your blog personality) but make this an exception rather than a rule if you want to get and keep search engine rankings.

[tbpquotable]Relevant content rules. [/tbpquotable]

The second element in this content category is that of freshness- and freshness is really a measure of how recently you updated the content on your blog. Regularly updated and newer content tends to trump older content. Regularly creating new content is the only way to improve your rankings over time. A blog that you abandon will never help you rank, in most cases. So you need to create and produce content regularly if you want to be visible in the search engines.

[tbpquotable]Fresh content is yummy.[/tbpquotable]

The third element, whether your content answers some kind of question, is the newest piece in this group. Now, Google will be giving preferential treatment to content which answers questions or answers queries by those in the target audience. To the extent you can make your content helpful, useful, and practical, you will benefit from this new focus.

This completes the content factors.

Finally we come to the off-page factors. Off-page factors refer to processes that are happening away from your main website, within the Internet at large, but which have impact on your website. The biggest factor in this category is backlinks.

Backlinks (you can also think of them as “links back”) are the links that come back to your website and content from other sites on the web. You get a backlink when you post a blog post on your Facebook business page, or when you tweet your blog post link on Twitter. You also gain backlinks when you write articles that are published online (if your biography includes your website URL) and also when you guest-blog. You can also gain backlinks by submitting videos to YouTube, or podcasts to Itunes.

In short, backlinks are any links that come back to your site for your targeted topic areas. Quality backlinks are one of the most important off-page SEO factors. They are what help make your content visible both to real people and to the search engines.

Backlinks are, in fact, one element of what enables your site to grow its traffic, as measured by visitors.

The Internet is a large and vast place, and backlinks help your site be found and seen.

So when you are looking to improve your SEO, be sure to remember that you can impact your SEO by changing your on-page factors, your content factors, and your off-page factors. Having a relevant and focused site, along with a high number of quality backlinks will help your site be found and enjoyed by the people you most want to reach.