Monday, January 17, 2011

What is meant by search engine optimization

Search engine optimization is seen by many as the black art of web development - a murky world of smoke and mirrors that mysteriously helps sites to the top of the rankings for a search engine query.
The reputation is not disputed by many who claim to be experts in it - after all, when you're the Wizard of Oz, it's always handy to have floor-to-ceiling curtains ready to hide the levers from the general public.
In fact, what is meant by search engine optimization (or SEO for short) covers such a wide range of activities that many webmasters might have practised it without even realising.
Have you submitted your site to a search engine or a web directory? Did you make sure that your meta tags contained the words you wanted your page to be found under? Was that an email that you sent to another webmaster asking them to if they wanted to put a link to you on their site?
Then welcome to the club - you're an SEO too! You made an attempt to better your rankings - or, in other words, to optimize for search engines.

Knowing What's What

Of course, the question everyone wants the answer too is: "What is the magic bullet?" What is the one trick which will propel my site to the top of the rankings?
You've probably all received the spam that promises to submit your site to a thousand search engines. Or heard from a local designer that they have a secret tip that they only use on clients' sites. Or picked up the phone to hear a directory promise to increase your "link popularity" for only $50 a month.
The truth is that there is no one solution. There are a number of areas that might help your site and it depends on what business or what area or what language you are operating in as to which combination might be the most effective.
The good news is that the answers to what will really help you are all out there for free. The rest of the articles on this site are a good starter - and they'll lead to more areas that you'll want to research if you really want to reach a good level of knowledge.
I'll go out on a limb here and say that the majority of sites that I come across every day would be able to better their placement for search engine queries with just a couple of simple changes in the way they do things - whether it's ditching frames, changing the Flash intro or altering the image-based site navigation.

So Why Pay Money?

Good question - why pay money for something that you can learn yourself for free? I'll answer it in a couple of different ways:
Firstly, what most people want isn't what most people mean by SEO…
Most reputable SEOs (as opposed to the tricksters who populate your email wastebin) will say that the services they provide are far more than changing words in a HTML document. They ask questions like whether your search terms are the ones that will bring the visitors? And are those visitors, ones that will convert - whether it's goods or information that you are selling? What is your market doing and what alliances can you forge in and around it, to be more competitive? What kind of fresh ideas can perk up your site, its reach and its visibility - and maybe even open up some completely new viewing markets? Would your site benefit from other forms of web visibility like pay-per-click advertising?
That's why many involved in the business prefer now to refer to themselves as being involved in SEM - "search engine marketing".
Secondly, even though all the information is available, experience and knowledge still count for a lot.
Let's look at PHP, for example. The web is filled with tutorials, the entire structure of the language is available on- and off-line and it's a cinch for one person to write their own simple application.
So why do I pay someone to write PHP code for my websites?
Because I know that then it will be done correctly. The coder may well know more efficient short cuts. And, most importantly, I can spend my time more efficiently doing something else that I'm good at.
A lot of SEO (or SEM!) is boring and repetitive. If I do a fair bit of work in the travel arena, for example, it's highly likely that I know what kind of things people are looking for, where they are looking and the relative competitiveness of the area you want your site to be ranked well in.

Keep Swimming

Another misconception about SEO is that it's a one-off job.
To be sure, a basic search-engine-friendly structure for a web site is unlikely to change. But your area of the web is constantly changing. Search engines are changing their algorithms from month to month, competitors are rising and falling, new web sites are arriving on the scene and your customers' tastes and needs are changing with time and the season.
Unless a web site is swimming forwards, its destiny is eventually to drown. A site that is truly optimized for search engines is constantly reinventing itself, creating content, looking at its web logs, and experimenting with new ways of presenting its goods.

A Word of Warning

Nothing is constant in the world of search engine rankings. The popularity of specific search engines waxes and wanes. One technique may work for a while and then be superseded by something new. And every search engine is aware that attempts are made to manipulate their rankings - and they are not happy about it. There are no guarantees, unless you are paying for placement (and that's a whole other story…)
Every change you make to your site to help its rankings carries its own risk. Whether you do it yourself or pay someone to do it for you, take the responsibility to understand the risk/reward relationship for yourself.
Enjoy the rest of the articles. Be successful. And be careful.

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