Search Engine Optimization Defined

Search engine optimization is of interst to all business owners and everyone wants to know how to get to page one.  Of course these days it is about much more that getting to page one.  There is a lot of strategy involved and many moving pieces that must work cohesively in order to foster the best possible return on investment.  Generating “traffic” is a cost and should always be looked at as such until that traffic is converted into a form that helps your business grow.  Below are some basic definitions and elements involved.

The process of improving the volume and quality of traffic to a website via natural placements in the search engine results pages (SERPs).  Optimizing a website involves manipulating content and code in order to increase relevance for specific keywords and decrease various barriers to the indexing behaviors of the search engines.  SEO is a constantly changing strategy that involves continual research about one’s industry, the competition, and most importantly the ongoing algorithm updates/changes.

Some facts and background:
• Webmasters began optimizing sites for search engine placements in the mid nineties as site owners realized the value of their site ranking well.
• Many elements to site rankings (algorithms) were in the actual webmasters control which led to manipulation and ranking abuse.
• Search engines are constantly adapting to improve relevance and quality of the search results for each user.
• Stanford grad students Larry Page and Sergey Brin developed a search engine that relied on a mathematical algorithm to determine relevance and rank for websites.  In 1998 they founded Google.
• Search engines now consider both on page and off page elements.  Google uses over 200 different signals when analyzing a site for determining rankings.

The key elements that a search engines cares about:
• Domain name/Age of domain
• Site structure
• Meta data (titles and tags)
• Unique content & keyword usage
• Internal linking
• Inbound links (votes)
• Digital assets (video, audio, images)

On page and Off page search engine optimization:  On page SEO refers to the elements of the strategy physically performed on the web pages (i.e. structure, code, content, internal linking, meta data such as titles and tags).  Off page SEO refers to the elements performs away from the site such as link building strategies, off page content, etc.)

Best and Worst Practices (White Hat and Black Hat SEO):  Largely due to the lack of information that the general public is given about search engine algorithms (search engines do not disclose details), abuse and manipulation developed over time as ranking became more competitive.  Webmasters would devise tactics to “trick” the search engines and achieve fast rankings at the top of the SERPs.  Many of the Back Hat tactics include:
• Link spamming (link farms, link trading)
• Duplicate content
• Keyword stuffing

The search engines have become more transparent in their disclosure and will publish information on best practices and how to avoid receiving penalties.  The best things to keep in mind is to make sure the site is relevant to the audience, user friendly, and has good use of natural content relevant to the audience.

Keyword Research:  This is generally one of the first steps in an SEO campaign.
• Develop keywords relevant to your industry and target audience
• Use open source tools to help define what keywords are best and how often they are searched
• Use a good mix of broad terms and long tail terms
• Continually monitor results to see what terms are driving the best traffic and conversions
• Make adjustments along the way (adjust focus and on/off page SEO efforts based on your goals)

Some data was sources from Wikipedia.com.

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