SEO basics: backlinks, relevancy and pertinence
As we saw last time, one of the first things to do when you make a website is to ensure that search engines, like Google, Yahoo and Bing, know your site exists. Although search engines routinely scour the Internet to update their databases with new sites and pages, this process isn't instantaneous: the fact that you have chosen to make a free website (or to make a pro website for that matter) doesn't mean you'll instantly appear in search engine results once it's online. And it won't make a difference whether you use a free website maker or have invested huge sums of money in expensive website builder software and hosting – search engines will include your website in their results pages when they're good and ready.
Though submitting you website and its sitemap* to search engines is one part of ensuring your site gets listed as quickly as possible, being listed is only the first step on the road to search engine success: it's one thing to figure in Google's database, and quite another to get to the number one spot, on the very first page. One of the ways to get there is to build backlinks.
What are backlinks?
Put simply, backlinks are interconnections between different web pages to make it easier to navigate through and between different sources of content. Clicking a backlink within a web page will open another page. While the term originally referred exclusively to this fundamental way of navigating content on the Internet, these days it's also a very important factor in calculating search engine results page (SERP) standings for a website.
We already discussed the importance of website visibility on the Internet, and how it's one thing to be online, but quite another to get found in search engine results. Getting good search engine results for a website involves a lot of work, and one of the most important things to concentrate on to improve your website visibility is the number - and quality - of backlinks. The more backlinks a website has, and the better "quality" those links are, the higher a website is likely to rank in search engine results.
As search engines rely on mathematical algorithms to calculate what sites to display for any given search term, they use backlinks as an important factor in ranking websites: it's a logical way to determine results, and makes it a whole lot easier for the software that powers search engines to calculate them.
What do backlinks have to do with my website being on the first page of Google?
Every link towards a website (or rather, every “dofollow” link) adds credibility, or importance, to it. By way of analogy, imagine you're visiting a city for the first time and need to send some postcards: if you ask a 5 year-old, or a tourist, for directions to the nearest post office, you're unlikely to give as much weight or credibility to their answer as you would to directions provided by a police officer or a tour guide. Each person has provided what they believe to be pertinent and relevant directions, but that doesn't mean the directions they gave you are correct.
If their answers differed, you'll have to make a decision: which way do you go? In other words, who is most likely to have provided the most correct answer?
Search engine results: relevancy and pertinence
Search engines need to make decisions just like this every time they provide results for a given search term. The results need to be relevant for the search term, which is fairly easy to calculate using semantic content analysis (among other things). But the results also need to be pertinent for you, and that is unbelievably hard, given that they aren't endowed with ESP.
Sometimes, making a relevant and pertinent decision is easy. If you search for “un.org”, it's pretty likely that you want to head to the website of the UN. A link to the UN website is clearly both relevant to the search term used (the link to the website is identical to the search term), and pertinent: based on a “best guess”, it seems pretty obvious that the UN website is what you were actually searching for. Placing the UN website in first place on the results page seems like a no-brainer.
On the other hand, if you search for the term “international relations”, the website of the United Nations is just one of many sites that might interest you. You may in fact be trying to track down your cousin in Albania, and you can't really blame Google, Yahoo or Bing if they didn't figure that out straight away prefer to give you a link to the UN website rather than list your cousin's Facebook page.
Understanding the relationship between backlinks and search engine results is critical for improving search engine ranking. And though I don't have an Albanian cousin, or any particular connection to the UN or even to its website, I'll do my best to explain how backlinks are used to calculate relevancy and pertinence for search engine results next time, and just how you can use that knowledge to improve the search engine ranking of your website.
* All doomby websites have a sitemap that's generated automatically and updated whenever new pages are added to the site. To locate your sitemap, just add “sitemap.xml” to the end of your site's address (for example, the doomby sitemap is located at http://www.emyspot.com/sitemap.xml)