Search Engine Optimization 101 for Developers: Part 1

You’ve made a great app and a great website for it, perhaps after being inspired by the innovative work that’s going on in the Ultimate Coder Challenge.  This app has the potential to change the world as we know it; well, maybe at least make you a few bucks. All you have to do is upload this baby to app stores and you’ll be living like Scrooge McDuck, swimming around in a basement full of money! Right? 

It’s not enough to just build an app. In other words, “if you build it, they will NOT come”. You might have the best app ever created for a particular vertical, but if they don’t know about it, it doesn’t do either side any good. The problem is this: you’ve got something that someone needs, and they want what you’ve got. The trick is figuring out how to connect.  

Basically, it’s not enough to upload an app to a consumer platform and walk away. There are many ways to make your app popular, including (but not limited to) advertising (both online and offline), blogging, social networking, the good old fashioned press release, and search engine optimization, or SEO.

Improving the visibility of an app and an app’s related website(s) online falls under the purview of search engine optimization, which basically means that you’re making your website (or app) the best it can possibly be for both users and search engines. The basics of search engine optimization – quality content, good site design, thoughtful social signals, etc. – are basically the same as they are for app store optimization, with a few subtle differences.  In this article, we’re going to go over the basics of search engine optimization, as well as the possible pitfalls that beginner SEOs need to avoid. It’s important to understand what the field of search engine optimization entails, especially as you start to apply these principles to app store optimization (ASO), the practice of making your app rank more highly in app stores, search engines, and wherever customers might be able to find it online.

How search engines find content

It’s probably helpful to go over the basics of how search engines actually discover content on the Web. Search engines are extraordinarily complicated, and this is just a bare bones explanation of how the retrieval process actually works.

Basically, search engines exist to connect users with information. Search engines do this by analyzing words and other content on web pages, placing special emphasis on words that appear on specific locations on the web page: the title, headlines, image attributes, overall content emphasis, outbound and inbound links, etc. More and more, search engines are also looking at social signals that contribute to the site’s overall authority; that is, if a website is linked to from Twitter, or is mentioned on LinkedIn or Pinterest, this is just another signal that gives search engine intuitive clues about what that site is attempting to convey.

When a searcher types what she is looking for into a search engine’s search field, the search engine attempts to match those words – or what it thinks that the user intends to look for – with signals and words from the vast number of webpages that it has analyzed, delivering a list of matches that are organized from what that particular search engine recognizes from most relevant to least relevant. This does not necessarily coincide with what the user deems most relevant; however, the sites placed at the top of the SERPs are the ones that the search engine has ranked according to a wide variety of criteria, including how many other people have actually found that page valuable by clicking on it.

The vast majority of people who search for something via a search engine don’t go past the first page of search results. In fact, studies have shown that the first five to seven search results are the ones that get clicked on the most. More clicks mean more page views, more app exposure, more revenue, and a greater recognition of authority in whatever field the site might be placed in. Obviously, getting a front page search result is an optimal target for anyone who’s looking to get their product, application, or website in front of the people who are interested in it.

Search engine optimization: connecting users to your content

We know how Web search works: you pull up your favorite search engine; you type something into the search field, and boom! You’ve got what you want on the front page. Search engine optimization comes at this from the opposite side of the table. Basically, it’s the practice of making content on the Web accessible and attractive to search engine spiders (software that crawls the Web indexing content for various search engines in order to add it to their searchable index) so users can find it easily in SERPs (search engine result pages).  Making a website as appealing as possible to both search engine and searchers is at the heart of good search engine optimization.

Search engine optimization is a phrase that serves to encompass many different facets of optimization your site. There’s no one magic bullet that makes a site more appealing to searchers and search engines than another site; rather, it’s the sum total of a hundred different thoughtful tweaks and improvements that can boost rankings and bring targeted searchers to what you have to offer.  In addition, while making a website as visible as possible in search results ultimately is best for you and for your targeted end users, it should be noted that focusing too much on those front page results can end up being a detriment to what you really should be focusing on: your targeted demographic and what they need from you in order to find you better.

What’s next?

In this article, we went over the basics of how search engines retrieve data, as well as what search engine optimization is and how it can make a website, blog, or app rank higher in search results. In part two of this article series, we’ll take a look at the practical side of SEO, and what it means to optimize content for search. 

For more complete information about compiler optimizations, see our Optimization Notice.