What Is SEO?

New web users often ask ‘What is SEO?’ It’s a term bandied about in Internet forums, help books and marketing seminars, but for the uninitiated it seems foreign and confusing; SEO help abounds but if you don’t know what it is in the first place, it’s worth stepping back and getting it straight before taking the plunge.

Optimise for Search Engines

At a starting level, SEO means Search Engine Optimisation. Basic SEO is how search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo create the list of sites you’re shown when you type a word or phrase into the search bar. For instance, type in ‘computer’ and you’ll be presented with all sorts of websites describing what computers are, selling computers and components, listing uses for computers etc.

The search engine makes a determination as to a) what sites are relevant for the word(s) you have typed in and b) in what order to list them. This determination is worked out by a hugely involved and complicated algorithm written into the search engine itself. So for the word ‘computer’, the search engine will first look at all the sites which it considers relevant to computers and then display them in an order that it will calculate, based on a series of things.

As you can imagine, having your website be relevant to lots of words or phrases and making it as high up the list of displayed sites as you can is worth huge amounts of money in terms of increased site traffic and by extension increased custom. How websites and companies try to make themselves more relevant and higher up the search listings is by optimising their sites for the search engines; hence, Search Engine Optimisation – SEO.

How Does Search Engine Optimisation Work?

The algorithm each search engine uses is a closely guarded secret, since if it were readily available it would quickly collapse; as everyone would make their sites as high on search and relevancy lists as possible using the algorithm’s criteria as a guide. So for the most part people use an educated guess. Search engine companies like Google do give some hints, especially as to bad practise, and some aspects can be found by trail and error.

SEO writing and consulting companies work hard to find the happy medium between bad practise and getting good relevancy and high listing placements. Various different tactics such as effective use of keywords, Meta tags and external links all help with boosting a site’s ranking (how high up a search listing it comes), and there are a few more ways of doing this as well.

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