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Introduction to Search Engine Optimization

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Article by Carsten Cumbrowski, August 27th 2006

Table of Contents

Introduction to SEO

The business of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is about improving, via technical means, the ranking of a website in the organic, free SERPs (Search Engine Results Page) at major search engines. This requires a deep understanding of the complicated ranking algorithms that modern search engines use.

Search engine ranking algorithms change constantly. This means that the ranking of a page in any of the search engines can change at any time. This change occurs not only because another page is doing a better job, but also because the change in "weight" of any of the ranking factors that determine a page's position in the SERP can cause your page to be deemed more or less relevant.

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What is Search Engine Optimization and where did it come from?

It is said that the term "Search Engine Optimization" was coined by Bruce Clay, an SEO veteran and expert. SEO, as an industry, is fairly new, gaining importance and size only during recent years. The practice of SEO has been around since the first "crawler" based search engine was launched on the Internet using mathematical algorithms rather than human editorial votes to determine page rankings.

As both the complexity of the algorithms and the amount of competition on the Internet increased, the "art" of SEO evolved from a "geeky" past time hobby of webmasters to a multi-billion dollar business. The simple fact is how your commercial website is represented in the major search engines can be a factor that can make your online venture or ecommerce website a success or a failure.

SEO is in its core primarily reverse engineering of a search engine's ranking algorithms. It also takes into consideration what is most relevant in the website code, along with off-site marketing efforts.

Ranking factors in your SEO efforts can be interpreted in a lot of ways. Some considerations are simple exploits of mathematical nature like "How often does keyword 'xyz' appear in the page content?" Other considerations are basic questions like "Should I add a useful 'title' to each page instead of no title or use the same title for all of the pages?"

Several SEO tactics are vulnerable or "deceptive" and often simple exploits of weaknesses in an algorithm. Search engine providers are aware of this and put guidelines in place that state which methods and techniques they consider "wrong" and/or a violation of their Terms of Service. Penalties - from de-ranking to complete removal from a search engine index (ban) - can be the result of a webmaster's violation (intended or accidental!) of these guidelines.

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Black Hat / White Hat and the Search Engines

People who employ methods and techniques that violate clearly all or most search engine guidelines are called "Black Hat" SEOs, as opposed to "White Hat" SEOs, who use only methods allowed by search engines.

"Gray Hat" SEOs mostly use "White Hat" methods, but break a "minor" rule once in a while or "interpret" vaguely formulated rules to their own benefit. Most believe that some of the rules stated by search engines are written vaguely on purpose to give some room for interpretation (on a case by case basis), because some methods considered "Black Hat" can be used for valid reasons, but they are only valid if used to a certain extent.

Check the search engine guidelines to make sure, that you employ only techniques not considered SPAM by the search engines ("Black Hat SEO"). Using those methods can cause a BAN of your entire site from the search engine that detects your "cheating." Spammy methods are techniques like cloaking, keyword stuffing, hidden text and artificial link building

One of the most ugly methods are the creation of so called "Scraper Sites". Scraper sites are literally sites that show "scraped" content from other sources, like SERPS, RSS Feeds, Blogs and other Web Sites. The scraper "mashes up" and "scrambles" the content as good as he can to circumvent the search engines duplicate content filters. Only as much as absolutely necessary is done on the site which consists usually of thousands and more auto-generated pages. Nothing is done by hand, because the poor converting pages that litter all engines indexes are only profitable if you generate a lot of them.

You don't have to cheat to get better rankings by the search engines. There are many things you can do without violating any rules and guidelines. This is called "White Hat SEO" and the resources below will help you with your efforts. They will assist you in configuring your website(s) for optimal SEO by various search engines.

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SEO Outsourcing

You may want to consider outsourcing this complex job to a professional search engine optimization company. Be careful, though! There are a lot of black sheeps on the Internet who promise a lot for a very low price and who can cause more harm than good to your business. Make sure to check the background of potential companies and check references.

Buyer's Guide to SEO Firms

over 100 search engine optimization firms profiled - including handy comparison chart and index by clients. Plus tips on how much to pay, estimating ROI, and avoiding dangerous practices that can hurt your rankings. Download your copy instantly here.
Save $149.00! if you buy it together with the Paid Search Agencies (PPC) Buyers Guide.

You can also find Search Engine Optimization Companies at the SEO Consultants Directory.

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Stay up to date about new developments in SEO and SEM

It is very important, and now also very easy, to stay up to date on recent events and developments in SEO.

Just sign-up for my Aggregated SEO News (RSS Feed)Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Marketing (SEM) Aggregated News.

I have aggregated the most important sources of news and information about SEO and SEM into a single and convenient RSS Feed so you don't have to go out and search for good sources and subscribe to dozen of individual feeds. You can see the latest news in my RSS Feed at this page to your right.

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Internet Radio and SEO Podcasts

Also listen to the "Daily Search Cast" radio show with Danny Sullivan from Search Engine Watch (SEW) at WebmasterRadio.FM, the free Internet radio for webmasters and Internet marketers. You can find links to various format options and show information at the WebmasterRadio info-block at the bottom of this page. The SEO-related Podcasts of WebmasterRadio shows can be found at the section for SEO Podcasts and Videos.

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Tradeshow and Industry Events Calendar

Attending an SEO tradeshow can be very rewarding for your SEO/SEM and Internet marketing efforts. You will meet the "who's who" in the industry and gain new insight at the keynote sessions. Subscribe to my Public Internet Marketing Events Calendar powered by Google Calendar.

Add the calendar to your Add this public Calendar to your Google Calendar or use my Google Calendar Feeds Important Industry Events Public Google Calendar FeedImportant Industry Events Public Apple iCal Feed.
To see which events I have currently listed check my List of Important Industry Events.

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PageRank™ and Page Rank?!

I have noticed that there is a lot of confusion about the terms PageRankô and Page Rank. It might surprise you to learn that the terms actually mean two very different, but related, things. Related to this are also debates about the little "Green Bar" representing a scale from 0 to 10 labeled "PageRank" displayed (optional) in the Google Browser Toolbar, in particular the accuracy of its value. This confusion and debate led me to write an Article titled: Page Rank and PageRank(tm) - Toolbar PR and Actual PR. You should check it out.

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SEO Copywriting , Web Analytics & Tracking

The search engines' use of mathematical algorithms to determine "value" and "importance" of a page (rather than human editorial votes) created a phenomenon unique to the Internet: SEO copywriting.

It is already hard enough to produce good content and working sales copies that turns prospects into customers. SEO copywriting has the same purpose classic copywriting had - and still has today in the offline world - but another layer of complexity is added that must be mastered as well: writing good copy for search engines and their ranking algorithms.

SEO copywriting has to perform double duty. It is tough to produce something that pleases human readers as well as the search engine ranking algorithms. You can find SEO Copywriting Resources here. Internet and SEO copywriting books are also available.

Tracking the source of traffic to your website and the behavior of visitors is important. "Not knowing" is the marketer's worst enemy.

Having proper tracking in place and making good use of relevant web analytics e-metrics are key to measure and evaluate the success of any of your Internet marketing efforts and effectiveness of your website to convert prospects to customers. This is vital to every type of business operation and not limited to retail.

You can find a very good list of Tracking and Web Analytics resources and Analytics Books on my site. Even if you have a tracking and analytics solution in use already it is worth your time to check the collection of resources. It provides guides, how-to's and research material for beginners and experts in web analytics.

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SEO Resources

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©2006 Carsten Cumbrowski

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