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Home      SEO Intro

SEO Intro

Introduction to Search Engine Optimization

Search Engine Optimization (now commonly known under its acronym name,SEO) is a complex set of measures and procedures whose objective is the improvement of the number and quality of visits to a Web page from search engines through unpaid ("natural," "organic") search results, as against the logically broader domain of Search Engine Marketing (abbreviated SEM), which involves paid inclusions and pay per click (PPC) advertisement in addition to SEO. The higher a site ranks on a search results page, the larger the number of visitors that will be lead to the site by the search engine. SEO can be used for all types of search, including image search, video search, news search, blog search, local search, as well as industry-specific vertical searches, some or all of which may be relevant to and profit-making for a particular website. This brief SEO Intro will give you a very general introductory overview of SEO and its methods.

At Search Benefit, we believe in ethical, legitimate SEO techniques that have been proven effective and meet best practice criteria and bring lasting results. Call 617-997-1654 to discuss your Search Engine Optimization needs.

SEO is a powerful marketing method which bases itself entirely on the search engine’s usage by customers entering keywords. To prime a Web page for search engine love, its content and its HTML code, scripts and links must all be optimized to make your pages highly findable via search. SEO comes in a variety of flavors and stages: domain name selection, Website review, competitive analysis, market analysis, keyword strategy, content strategy, copywriting and content production, SEO-based Web Design, SEO Web Development, link building, and so on. Again, the services may be either standalone or part of a larger campaign. SEO may require alterations to a site’s HTML and other codes, and so its methodology is directly relevant to website development. The term "search engine friendly" applies to website design, Web page menus, content management systems (CMS), images, videos, shopping carts, and other elements that have been optimized for the purpose of search engine exposure.

There is a whole other range of stratagems that come under the headings of gray hat and black hat SEO and "spamdexing." Search Benefit does not engage in any of them, does not recommend them and warns its clients against them as potentially dangerous and ruinous. Such "hacker" tactics include but are not limited to link farms, domain farms, keyword stuffing and article spinning. These tend to cheapen both the relevance of search results and the user experience provided by the search engines. Sites using these deceptive techniques (sometimes unwittingly, by dint of hiring a shady SEO firm) are blacklisted by and removed from the search indexes of most reputable search engines. These days, Google, Yahoo! and Bing make it easy for anyone (for your competition, for example) to report the use of search engine spam and deception directly to the search engines themselves. Such reports are handled and acted upon institutionally, and can cause tremendous reversals of online fortunes.

SEO: History and Present

Around the mid 1990s, with the advent of search engines sorting out and cataloging the World Wide Web, the need to upgrade and redo Web pages in an effort to increase their rankings in search engines came as a fresh imperative to webmasters and content providers. Early on, all a webmaster needed to do was submit the address of a page, or URL, to the various search engines which would send a crawler to that page, derive links to other pages from it, and retrieve the information to be indexed. that the crawler or "spider" downloaded the page and stored it on the search engine's server, where another program, the indexer, extracted various data from the page, such as the whole words it contains, their on-page placement and relative weight, the pattern of links and their location on the page, all of which were inserted into a scheduler to be drawn upon in the future. Site owners began to acknowledge the value of having their sites highly visible in the search results, thereby creating opportunities for both white hat and black hat SEO practitioners. Danny Sullivan, an industry analyst, claims that the phrase "Search Engine Optimization" probably came into existence in 1997.

The early, relatively primitive search algorithms depended on information that the webmaster provided, such as the keyword meta tag, or the index files in search engines like ALIWEB (still around at aliweb.com). Meta tags served as a guide to each page's content but using them to index and rank pages was soon found to be unreliable because the webmaster's choice of keywords in meta tags could potentially give a false picture of the site's true content. Imprecise, unfinished and contradictory data in meta tags could and did cause pages to rank for irrelevant searches. Web content providers also manipulated a number of features within the HTML source of a page in an attempt to rank highly in search engines.

By being so contingent on on-page features such as keyword density, all within the control of a webmaster, early search engines were vulnerable to ranking manipulation and results distortion. They had to adapt accordingly, to make certain that their results pages displayed the most relevant search results. To avoid the problem of scurrilous webmasters inserting misleading information and debasing the value of search, which would lead to huge loss of users going over to competing search engines to find better alternatives, the search engines by and by came up with increasingly complex algorithms to thwart such malpractices.

Stanford University engineering students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, developed "Backrub" (which we all today know and love as Google), a search engine that was constructed around a mathematically controlled algorithm to rate the relative status of Web pages. The numeric measure worked out by the algorithm, PageRank (named after Larry Page as much as for its relation to Web pages) is a function of the quantity and consistency of inbound links. PageRank assesses the probability that a given page will be reached by a Web user who randomly surfs the Internet, following a chain of links from page to page. As a result, PageRank figures out the strength of web pages depending on how often random surfing leads to them.

In 1998, Page and Brin formally established Google, which attracted a faithful following among the growing number of Internet users, who liked its elementary, user-friendly design. Off-page factors (such as PageRank and link analysis) were taken into account alongside on-page factors (such as "keyword frequency," meta tags, headings, links and site structure), adding up to a complex and balanced ranking system that permitted Google to stay ahead of on-page rankings manipulation methods. Even so, the link building arsenal that webmasters had already used to manipulate Inktomi's algorithm was now similarly leveraged with respect to Page Rank, even though the latter proved tougher to tackle. Sites traded, bought and sold links on a pandemic scale, and this led to the creation of thousands of sites dedicated entirely to link spamming, as well as link farms and domain farms and other "black hat" tactics.

By 2004, search engines had integrated a broad gamut of undisclosed factors as variables into their ranking algorithms to combat the effects of link spam. Google has famously announced that it ranks websites based on 200+ variable factors, each given a certain specific weight in the algorithmic computation of rankings. The leading search engines (Google, Yahoo! and Bing), seldom disclose the details of their algorithms, although a number of the SEO industry's top analysts (most notably Rand Fishkin, Bruce Clay, Eric Enge, Michael Gray, John Jerkovich, Peter Kent, Barry Schwartz, Stephan Spencer, Danny Sullivan, Aaron Wall, Jill Whalen and others) have explored and tested a variety of analytical approaches to search engine optimization, and have made known their views and findings in their publications, on their websites and blogs and in public forums (not to mention several books). Advanced SEO analysts also examine patents secured by various search engines to derive insights into how the algorithms may do their work.

Google first began personalizing search results for individual users in 2005. Users logged into Google services began to see results based on personal search histories. In 2008, Bruce Clay pronounced ranking dead because of personalized search, since every individual had different needs, rankings would be different for each user. Even so, the claim seems to have been premature: rankings seem to be alive and well today as ever, although personalization does change the dynamic of search quite a bit. Google and the other major search engines remain a moving target, and SEO changes singnificantly every year. Indeed, Google algorithm undergoes changes practically every week, though not all of them are major. This is just one excellent reason that it pays to hire an SEO professional: following the updates, staying abreast of numerous day-to-day changes in search takes a dedicated pro.

In 2007 Google officially declared its negative stance on "paid links," that is, links acquired for money in order to boost PR. In June 2009 Google disclosed (via its engineer and spokesman Matt Cutts) that they had changed the impact of the rel="nofollow" attribute in links; one of the consequence was that it negated the effects of PageRank sculpting via the use of the nofollow by SEOs,. Under the new system, the usage of nofollow turns out to be a waste of PageRank. To get around this, black-hat SEOs have contrived ways to supplant nofollow with obfuscated JavaScript or through the use of use iFrames and Flash to sculpt PageRank. We do not recommend the use of such deceptive method, mainly because it is just a question of time before Google catches up with such trickery and penalizes its perpetrators, Another reason is that the importance of Page Rank to actual search rankings has itself declined significantly and is no longer decisive.

More recently, in December 2009, Google issued a statement that it will now be personalizing search results for all users, whether or not they are logged into their Google accounts or any of their Google services. Another recent development is Real Time Search, launched in late 2009 in an effort to make search results more timely, and partly in response to Twitter launching its on real time search earlier. This is just one example of how the social networks are currently influencing search. Site owners and webmasters have spent a great deal of time (in some cases many years) on creating authority websites capable of climbing the search rankings to the top. The current dynamic favors fresh content thanks to the continued escalation of the popularity of blogs and social networking websites, putting pressure on site owners and administrators continually to update websites with novel material.

After this SEO Intro, it's time to get your SEO going!

We hope that you have found this SEO Intro informative and interesting. Today, as ever, there are many exciting big issues in search and SEO. Personalized search. Local search. Real time search. Social search. Product search. News search. Understanding how engines combine video, image, news, product results all into the SERPs, and how a business leverage multiple aspects and capabilities of search to get extra mileage out of them. The list goes on and on. Search Benefit's bleeding-edge  SEO Services equip you with all the benefits and advantages of 21st-century Search Engine Optimization. Please call 617-997-1654 to discuss your SEO needs, or use the Contact page to get in touch.