What the heck is SEO? Part 1: Links
This is the first installment in a series we'll be doing on Search Engine Optimization (SEO). While most SEO principles apply across all major search engines, we'll be using Google as the default since it currently processes around 2/3s of all online searches - more than 4x as many as it's closest competitor, Yahoo. We'll start with the basics and then discuss the effect of recent paradigm shifts in SEO.
We talk with a lot of doctors on a daily basis here at DoctorBase and one of the topics that comes up in almost every conversation is SEO. It's quite important to your success at bringing in new patients from the Internet. It's also quite important to understand what, exactly, goes into SEO because of the prevalence of online marketers who will prey on your lack of SEO-knowledge to sell you empty promises like "guaranteeing you #1 on Google."
The first topic we want to discuss is link building. The original idea behind the dominant search engine on the web, Google, was based on this simple principle back in the late-1990s. It's called Page Rank, and it's an algorithm that assigns a weight to each page on the web based on the weight of the other pages to which it's linked. Quite simply, the more links on other pages that point to your page ("inbound links"), the higher your Page Rank will rise. And, since the algorithm takes into account the weight of all pages on the Internet, a larger site (with a larger weight) that links to your page will increase your Page Rank even more. Since page rank is still a factor in how Google displays search results today, the more inbound links to your page will increase your page's rank in Google's search results. (Here's a more in-depth explanation, including math, pictures, and even some greek...)
Naturally, this has lead to some nefarious types trying to game Google's algorithm through the practice of link-farming. This is where a black-hat online marketer builds a bunch of websites that serve no other purpose than to be a holding place for links to pages that will pay (or exchange links) for inclusion. Google frowns on this practice, and has evolved it's algorithm to combat link-farming. (More on this later in the series.) So, don't fall victim to an online marketer selling you a bucket of links in order to improve your SEO - Google is smarter than your average link-farm and you'll be wasting your money.
So what's the proper way to build inbound links to your page? Get them from trusted, reputable websites that offer real content to people. If a colleague or referring doctor has a website, ask them to give you a referral link. If a friend writes a blog, ask them to give you a shout out with a link in one of their posts. And, if you have profiles on any social sites that allow for you to include a link to your page, include it! There are plenty of ways to build links to your page in a legitimate, white-hat fashion that will improve your search ranking on Google…you just need to do it.