Search Analyst Chris Vella of LunaMetrics visited Dr. Rachel Chung’s class, Special Topics: Digital Marketing in the Global Marketplace, on Monday, January 26, to discuss Search Engine Optimization (SEO), or how a site can be properly designed and tagged to gain the highest rankings on search engines.
LunaMetrics, located in the South Side, is a consulting company in marketing and web analytics. The company is also a Google Analytics Certified Partner, meaning they are, “one of a small handful of consultants in the country that Google chose to partner with them in Analytics,” according to LunaMetrics’s website.
To begin the discussion, Vella shared the mission of the Google search engine. He said that Google aims, “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible, and useful,” and he emphasized the importance of the words “organize,” “accessible,” and “useful” in their mission.
He then briefly described how search engines work. The search engine’s Searchbot—Google’s is called Googlebot—continuously searches the web for new pages. It records each page’s content, and it stores that information in the search engine’s index where it can later be recalled for search queries.
According to Vella, once this information has been collected, it must be organized so that the search engine user may access it.
Google uses over 200 ranking factors to determine the order in which sites will be displayed when a user searches for a keyword, according to Vella. Many of these factors are undisclosed to the public.
Some of these factors, Vella said, can be edited by the site administrator in order to improve a page’s ranking. These are called On-Page Ranking Factors.
The first of these that Vella discussed was a site’s HTML code. A site can have a title tag—of about 60 characters—that shows up as the site’s title when it is displayed on a search engine. The title tag should include important keywords, like the site’s name and, if applicable, its geographic location.
Also within the HTML, a site can have a meta description—of about 155 characters—that should include a site’s purpose, as well as an enticement to get users to click the link. This description should give search engine users an idea of what the site contains and why they should follow the link.
“The title tag is for the Searchbot, and the meta description is for the user,” Vella said.
Another On-Page Ranking Factor is the site’s content. Vella explained that if the title tag and the meta description are the title, the content is the story. Search engines read text, so each site should include relevant text about its topics, products, or services.
Next, Vella discussed keywords, which allow search engines to connect users to relevant content. Vella said the best keywords to use are those that are semantically related to the topic. He used the example of chocolate donuts; if you’re creating a website about chocolate donuts, include keywords like bakery, dessert, icing, filling, et cetera.
“They’re not synonyms, per say, but they’re semantically related,” he said.
Next, Vella discussed Off-Page Ranking Factors, or “things you [the site’s administrator] do not directly influence.”
A main Off-Page Ranking Factor is the number of links to a site from other sites. The value of a link is determined by that site’s trustworthiness—if the link is on a reputable site (like The White House’s, for example), it will hold more weight and earn a higher ranking than one from a less trustworthy site (like an independent farmer’s site, for example)—and popularity—as Vella said, “One link on 100 sites is better than 100 links on one site.”
“Keyword rich, optimized content, plus many links from trusted sources, equals high rankings,” Vella said.
Finally, Vella discussed spam and Google’s stance against it. If a site tries to cheat the system or if it offers money or other services in exchange for links to their site on other pages, its ranking will suffer.
Vella’s presentation ended at around the time Chung’s class would have, but he stayed to answer questions from students particularly interested in SEO.