When a potential customer is looking for the good or service you sell, you want them to find you before your competition, right? You probably know that more people are turning to the internet to search for goods and services, which is why you have a website. But that’s not enough. If you neglect SEO on your site, your only hope to get ahead of your competition is if they neglect it too.

SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” While SEO is a complicated topic, it can be put simply like this: it is the process of making sure people can find your website easily on search engines like Google.

Say, for example, you are a plumber and you want people to find you when they need a plumber. So, a potential customer goes to Google and searches for “plumbers in Paducah.” Google looks in its catalogue of hundreds of millions of websites, and returns with a page of results that it believes are useful to the user.

The websites Google believes are the best and most useful are at the top of the page. Unfortunately for you, in this example, your competitors are at the top and your website isn’t even on the page. The customer clicks on one of the first five results, goes to a competitor’s website, and then hires them instead of you. Your competitors have done SEO on their websites, where you haven’t.

Obviously, you want to be in those top spots. So, how does Google decide what websites are going to show up first? There are over 200 factors that go into that decision, which make up Google’s “algorithm,” or formula.

By understanding Google’s algorithm, you can make sure your website meets those standards and improve your “ranking,” appearing higher in the search results. This is the essence of SEO.

This algorithm changes around 600 times per year, though, so your SEO tactics must change with it. In recent years, these changes have drastically shifted SEO’s focus.

What are some of those changes? Originally, SEO was based on things like word count, number of keywords in title tags, and other technical factors that computers are more likely to notice than people. In the early days of Google, search engine optimizers would use underhanded technical tricks to fool Google into ranking their website highly. The website might be useless to a real person, but it checked all the boxes for Google. Over time, Google’s algorithm has gotten much smarter and punished these tricks, instead promoting a selection of better, more useful websites.

While Google is more complex than ever before, what it bases rankings on is much simpler: a good experience for real people. Remember, Google’s main goal is to help people find things and answer questions. Google wants to put the best websites in front of its users.

So, what does a good experience look like? There are a lot of factors, but all of them come from one principle: the user didn’t go to Google to be sold to. They came to solve a problem or answer a question.

People are busy, so your website should load fast. They’re often on the go, so it should be easy to use on a phone or tablet, not just computers. The content should thoroughly answer the visitor’s questions in an engaging way. Make sure they don’t need or want to leave your website to find what they’re looking for. And of course, it helps to look good, because people like and trust websites that look good.

Any search engine optimizer worth their salt will tell you the actual value of your website to a real, living user is the single most important aspect of SEO nowadays. You can’t trick Google into thinking you’re the best there is for your topic. You have to actually be the best for your potential customer.