If you are a website or business owner, chances are you have come across the term SEO. You may already have a vague idea about it being necessary for your website to succeed and for more money to come in.
Other than that vague notion of what it is, you know next to nothing about SEO. If that is the case, then read on!
What is SEO exactly?
SEO is short for search engine optimization, which is a set of processes and activities that would give your website better visibility (or higher ranks) in search results. That means that when people search for topics or sites related to you and your business on search engines such as Google or Bing, good SEO would help ensure that your site shows up on the first page of the search results. While that has been pretty painless to say and understand, explaining just what it involves can be a little bit more tricky.
Why You Should Pay Attention to SEO
SEO takes advantage of the fact that a majority of Internet users use a search engine to find out what they want to know. In fact, a comScore report reveals that there were 18.2 billion searches made in the month of December 2011 alone. SEO helps you be found when your customers and potential buyers sit down in front of a computer and searches for things related to your business. It is a common belief that if your website does not come up in the first 10 pages of search results, then it is practically invisible. Conversely, the higher ranking your website has, the more visitors it is going to get from search engines.
SEO is generally a very challenging process to understand and carry out. This is because you cannot pay to influence organic search results (meaning you can’t buy a higher rank), but instead you would need to know more about how search engines work and what ranking factors are considered important.
And achieving that is not going to be easy.
There are two very simple reasons why understanding SEO has been very elusive for most business and website owners. One is that nobody is sure just what factors are important. Even the SEO experts do not know what Google’s algorithm really takes into consideration when it ranks websites. There are clues and hints, though, that you can discern from observing, experimenting and generally tweaking your Web pages. But all of this is largely guesswork and good luck.
The second reason why different people see and do SEO differently is because like anything on the World Wide Web, SEO and what works change constantly. For example, you may get great rankings from having a lot of links from other websites to yours in the past, but now, that tactic simply just does not work anymore. So it is not enough to just try and find out what works, you have to continually and constantly do so to stay relevant.
The History of SEO
If you take an SEO professional from five or ten years ago into a time machine to the present, you would find that he or she would not be able to successfully rank a website high using the techniques that he or she knew.
SEO started simply enough. In the mid-1990s, it was as simple as submitting your website’s URL. The search engine spiders would then crawl that page and create a cache for it including a number of information such as the words it contains and other links for future indexing. It was simple cataloguing system. It was around 1997 when the phrase “search engine optimization” was first used, according to Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land.
Then came the era of meta tags. Meta tags allowed webmasters to specify the keywords that they are targeting, and the search engines such as ALIWEB would take it at face value. The only trouble is that meta tags were easily faked and manipulated, so much so that a lot of pages came up on top of unrelated searches. Keyword density, or the number of times a particular keyword appears in your page, was also open to ranking manipulation and abuse.
It soon became obvious that because ranking factors were much too easily manipulated, search engines were useless in helping you find what you want. So search engines responded with more complex algorithms to somewhat give more relevant results.
Stanford University graduate students Sergey Brin and Larry Page forayed into the online world by introducing Backrub. Backrub was a search engine that calculated the PageRank of a certain site and ranked it accordingly. In 1998, they launched Google. Google, as a search engine, did not only rely on what webmasters wrote on their pages, but also on other factors such as the PageRank and the incoming links, making it harder to manipulate ranking on the search engine.
More than a decade later, Google has been introducing changes after changes to its algorithm, making sure to stamp out unscrupulous practices aimed at manipulating search results. Like other search engines, Google increasingly made more complex changes to their algorithms, most of which are kept secret. The most famous and more recent of which is Google’s Panda Update that penalized sites with thin content.
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SEO might be a very difficult process to master, but it pays to take the time to learn more about it. This article only gave you what you need to know about what SEO is, but does not even begin to help you understand the different processes related to it, or how to go about it.
You could also hire outside services to do SEO for you, but you would still need to be familiar with SEO concepts and ranking factors to make sure that you are not throwing money away.
Chris Barnwell works for SEO Inc., a locally owned search engine optimization company located in sunny Southern California. For over 13 years they have specialized in creating both fundamental and advanced SEO/SEM solutions for both corporate and small business clients.