We’re going to begin a short series to help you learn more about search engine optimization (SEO). SEO is a critical component to any website that depends on traffic from search engines to grow and expand its reach. This is especially critical for businesses that depend on a steady flow of traffic to sustain their pipeline. Today, we’ll look at:

  1. What is Search Engine Optimization?
  2. How to approach your site from an SEO Point-of-View

In follow up posts, we’ll look at key factors in optimizing your site for search engines and then dig deeper into the key components of a search engine optimization campaign.

What Is Search Engine Optimization?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of increasing traffic to your website from “natural” or “organic” listings in search engines. Search engines, such as Google and Bing, have computer programs that go through the Internet and index all of the content they can find. Then users can search this information to find pages relevant to a particular topic.

The search engines each have their own secret recipe (a.k.a. search algorithm) for ranking the pages and deciding which pages to list first. While search engines are very protective of their “secret recipes,” we do know many of the factors they look at. We can use that information to better communicate the relevance and importance of a webpage for a particular topic.

What SEO Is Not

It is important to note that website owners do not pay the search engines to be listed in these “organic” search results. Website owners can pay to be in the sponsored ads (“Pay Per Click” ads) that run along the side and top of the page, but the main “organic” listings are not paid.

How to Approach Your Site from an SEO Point-of-View

SEO Is Not Just a Project, But A Way Of Life

It is important to remember that SEO is not a single project that you do and then forget. It is a way of life for your website. Search engines are constantly updating and tweaking their “secret recipes” to try to produce better search results. Search engines also want to make sure that websites are fresh and relevant. Sites that don’t change are stale and will likely fall in the search rankings over time. So, it is important once the initial site optimization is complete to continue to grow and develop your website, keeping it fresh and relevant.

Understanding the Search Engines’ Goals Helps You Understand SEO

To begin, you need to understand the goals of search engines. Their goal is to drive more searches and get more traffic. So they want to provide the best, most relevant search results they can. They know that the better results and experience their searchers have, the more their searchers will use them.

Google shared their philosophy in an article entitled “Ten things we know to be true.” Their first point is “Focus on the user and all else will follow.” This is great advice and should be at the center of your search engine strategy.

White Hat v. Black Hat: Which Is Better?

There are many “Black Hat” techniques out there to try to artificially boost your search engine rankings. Black Hat techniques, while not necessarily illegal, go against Google’s and other search engines’ guidelines. These include techniques such as buying links from link farms, keyword stuffing, showing different content to search engines than to users (a.k.a. cloaking), and other attempts at gaming the system.

However, these are really short-term oriented and can backfire on you. In a recent update from Google codenamed Panda, many websites using these techniques drastically lost their search ranking and so their traffic dried up. There were even websites that went out of business because of it. Ultimately, these Black Hat techniques fail to put the user at the center of your strategy.

We firmly believe that the best long-term strategy is to take a “White Hat” approach and focus on your audience by providing the best quality content you can to meet their needs. Instead of investing your time trying to trick or game the system, invest your time in producing a quality website with quality content. Both you and your audience win.

Now that we've got a high-level overview of SEO, next week we’ll look at some of the key factors for optimizing your site.