What is SEO?

This video presentation from The Video Marketing Explain-a-thon sponsored by SEOMOZ, Wistia, and Others May 2013.

Search engine optimization, commonly known as SEO, boosts a Web site’s prominence in search engine results. Some knowledge of a search engine’s algorithm — in other words, how the engine determines where results appear in a given search — is generally required in order to optimize a site. SEO takes advantage of a positive feedback loop inherent in most search engines: The more visitors a site has, the more prominent it becomes in search results (i.e., the higher its ranking); the higher a site’s ranking, the more visitors it tends to have.

 

Both the editorial content and the HTML code of a site may need to be adjusted in the optimization process. One popular editorial strategy is to repeat certain words in a site’s content, so that searches involving those words lead users to the site in question. From a coding perspective, it is important to make a site as easy as possible for search engines to index. SEO can also involve marketing efforts meant to maximize the number of links from other sites to the site being optimized.

 

Though SEO can be a legitimate way to increase the online presence of a company, organization, or individual, the technique also has a dark side. “Black hat SEO” is a term used to describe tactics deemed unethical and/or destructive by search engines. Examples of black hat methods include keyword stuffing (inordinate repetition of certain words or phrases) and link farms (multiple sites conspire to boost each other’s inbound-link total). Fortunately for users, most search engines’ algorithms now detect and penalize black hat activity.

 

Since it is essential for major search engines, such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo!, to resist manipulation of the black hat variety, such companies take great care not to disclose key elements of their algorithms. Google, which remains the worldwide leader in search, reportedly uses more than 200 factors in ranking sites. Such a complex system is intended not only to return high-quality results to users, but also to be impenetrable for would-be black hats.

 

A number of “white hat” SEO techniques represent healthy site maintenance and are a good idea regardless of whether they improve a site’s ranking. These include linking between a site’s pages, using keywords relevant to a site’s primary subject, and keeping a site current, since updates can bring search engines back to sites they previously “crawled” (collected data from).

 

While Google and its competitors have created highly sophisticated algorithms, search engines are still just computer programs. Their assessment of sites’ relevance focuses on text and code rather than visual elements such as video and design. In addition, Flash movies, content protected by a password, and JavaScript may not come to a search engine’s attention. The engine may therefore fail to consider such elements when calculating a site’s relevance.

 

As mentioned previously, search engines keep the details of their algorithms a secret. Nonetheless, certain differences between engines have come to light over the years. Yahoo! and Bing focus on content keywords, where Google places a great deal of value on links. (This is not to say, however, that Google finds keywords unimportant.) Yahoo! shows little, if any, preference for older sites, while Google considers them more valuable than newer ones.

 

True to their name, keywords are crucial to SEO. A site’s decision to emphasize certain words or phrases is usually based on several factors, including what users are most likely to search for, which keywords its competitors employ, and which words best reflect the site’s identity. Multiword phrases are generally the way to go; even unusual words, like myxomatosis, bring up hundreds of thousands of Google results. A phrase like “eco-friendly latex paint” makes a better keyword for SEO. Analytics programs can reveal what kinds of searches bring users to a given site. This information, in turn, helps a site owner determine which phrases to use as keywords.

 

Though keyword density is no longer as important in SEO as it once was, it still deserves attention. The goal is to repeat keywords enough to achieve a significant density level. Opinions vary on what that level should be; one rule of thumb suggests that between 3 and 7 percent of content should consist of two or three major keywords, while minor keywords make up 1 to 2 percent. In all, five to 10 keywords are reasonable to optimize for; a longer list can lead to diminishing returns.

 

A final note on keywords: Placement matters. Keywords carry additional weight if they appear in the URL or title of a Web page, in section headings, or in a page’s earlier paragraphs. Yahoo! in particular gives special consideration to keywords in the URL. It pays, therefore, to be specific when selecting a domain name. If your business is based in Seattle and deals with milk paint, it is better to choose www.seattlemilkpaint.com than a more generic URL like www.ecofriendlypaint.com.

 

Among major search engines, Google is known for valuing quality inbound links, also known as backlinks. If The New York Times links to your site, its prominence in search results will rise accordingly. Amassing a large number of less prestigious backlinks can also move your site up in the rankings; after all, few of us will be lucky enough to garner the Times’ attention. In general, it is best to collect backlinks from sites with content relevant to one’s own site. The owner of a Seattle-based milk paint shop might prefer a backlink from www.lowimpactpaints.com to one from the American Milk Council (although the latter can’t hurt).

 

Though the fundamentals are easy to outline, SEO is a complex art, and one that is mastered over time. Furthermore, SEO’s effectiveness as a marketing technique depends on the nature of the site being optimized. The quality of a site, the extent to which its owner can analyze the traffic it receives, and its conversion rate (how many visitors actually give the company business, donate to the organization, etc.) can be just as significant in online marketing. The question of how important SEO can be in a world of increasingly personalized search (iGoogle is one example) remains unresolved, but it still behooves any site owner to learn and practice SEO techniques.

 

SEO is short for search engine optimization. In simple terms, it is the method of constructing, changing, and engineering a website so that it is easily picked up by the major search engines. This will also determine how highly a site is ranked within the search engine listings (search results page or SERP). The reason it is important to learn how to SEO, or to hire someone to do the job for you, is obvious; in the near future marketing and internet marketing will not be considered two different topics. Without an SEO strategy in place, your website will not rank well, and may not rank at all; effectively being invisible.

There is no way for the search engine employees to physically visit each website and decide how to classify and rank them; millions of webpages are added to the Internet each day . For this reason, software is used to do the job of finding and indexing websites and webpages for the search engines. While appearance and design are important when visitors arrive to your website, search engines do not take note of these things. Text is what they are looking at. Text is what tells them what your website about, and where it should be placed within their listings. In the future search engines will be able to better index and categorize pictures and videos, but for now TEXT is king.Because of this fact, keywords are an important part of SEO. Keywords are a word, or sting of words that are used throughout the site to help the search engine be able to easily determine what the website is about. Choosing the correct keywords is key, as selecting keywords that are widely used exposes your site to lots of competition. The best of both worlds would be to find keywords that are highly searched for, yet not overly used.

Much debate has gone on about the proper density of these keywords. The general agreed upon range is somewhere between three and seven percent. It is also advantageous to have keywords in the website URL, as this sends a clear message to the search engines, as well as others that are searching for specific information.

Links are also important, particularly backlinks. These are links from some other website to yours. The higher the sites that are linking to you rank, the higher your site will. The more times this is done, the more important your site will seem to the search engine. Receiving backlinks can occur naturally, or can be a part of a collaborative effort, such as link swapping.

Learning how to SEO becomes increasingly difficult over time. This is because about the time that one feels that he or she has it figured out, new technology changes the rules of the game. For this reason, those that have little knowledge of SEO, yet are serious about owning a high ranking site, should considering hiring a SEO firm or professional that guarantees results.

 


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