“What is SEO?” This question is the most popular one on SEO forums and blogs. Replies to it are usually rather indistinct and unclear. So, let’s try to make the whole concept easier to comprehend.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is a method of increasing website’s popularity and improving search engine result rankings. Search engines are by far the most popular source of new visitors for websites.
There are several SEO approaches and tools, and it is not easy to choose the one suitable for you and your website. There are various services, both free and paid (and some of them are very expensive), however, there is no guarantee that even paid services will turn out to be effective for you either. SEO becomes a very competitive and complex environment, which is getting even more complex day by day, especially if you look at the latest pagerank (PR) updates of the Google search engine.
Nevertheless, there are two key approaches to increasing page rankings in search engines that should be reviewed separately. These two approaches are called an On-Page optimization and an Off-Page optimization.
The best way to explain the difference between the two is to say that the On-Page method includes manipulating everything that is posted on your website (its entire content), while the Off-Page method covers influencing all the external sources of information that point to your website one way or another. Let's take a closer look at both, shall we?
A page title is an important factor for search engines. The info contained between the <head></head> tags displays page name to users and to search engines. You should give unique and relevant titles not only for the main page but for all pages of your website. Attempt to place the most important keywords into the page title. Many website owners don't bother to do so, therefore, you can use this for your benefit.
The contents of the <title> tag is the page name in the search results. The search words that you entered in the search bar will be marked as bold in the search results; it helps users find relevant websites.
Certain bullet points on the use of the <title> tag:
Search engines are not humans and they regard websites in a different way. Your website is digested as text that contains a ton of code called tags, meta tags, etc. In addition to the <title> tag where you can write only one phrase, a meta description tag allows you to place lots of additional details. It is crucial that you place keywords in the description tag as search engines place higher importance on info contained in meta tags.
Meta-tags are important because the search engines can use them as snippets (brief description of your website).
Heading tags (<h1>, <h2>, <h3>, etc) are used to format headings of website contents. There are six tag numbers (<h1> is for the most important information, and the remaining delimit information lower in importance). The <h1> doesn’t have to be different in formatting from any other heading type, but search engines would still consider the enclosed information as the most important of all other headings.
Certain bullet points on the use of the <H> tags:
Images appear to be the simplest elements of the website, but even they can be optimized by the use of the <alt> tag. This tag is to display the text in place of an image in case the image itself cannot be loaded. It provides descriptions for images in case users cannot see them for any reason. It also provides an opportunity to promote your keywords by feeding them through the ALT tag to search engines as they index information within the ALT tag.
The robots.txt file provides search engines with information on which sections of your website are available for indexing. This file is usually located in the root directory of your website.
In the above example, for instance, access to the folder called "classified/advert" and its sub directories is denied for all search engine robots (indicated by the star *). Please note, however, that these instructions may not be followed by less scrupulous robots, therefore, if you need to protect the contents of a certain directory, use other means such as user authentication and folder permissions, etc.
When you use the <rel= "nofollow"> parameter, search engine robots are directed to not go to links marked with it. The rel="nofollow" attribute is to be added to the anchor text of a link.
You may be wondering how this may help you. The answer is quite straightforward. If you run a blog on your website, visitors commenting on your entries can leave links to their websites, and that is something you don't want to see happen especially if your website has high PR. The Nofollow attribute guarantees that you do not endorse spammer websites or share your website's pagerank and reputation with such doubtful websites.
A sitemap is a file that contains links to all or most important pages on your website. This file is a very handy tool for promoting your website and for facilitating access of search engines to your website content. Make sure you have a sitemap for your website, and update it regularly, preferably automatically. There are services on the Web that will help you create your sitemap file and populate it with links, and scripts that will keep your sitemap current.
Off-page optimization is a number of various techniques and methods of accumulating as much positive feedback, external links, and references to your website as possible. Below are some of the off-page optimization methods:
The best approach is to determine a comprehensive balanced combination of on-page and off-page methods to achieve the targets of increasing your website rankings among major search engines. Obviously, choosing and following the right SEO strategy is a job best suited for professional SEO experts. However, you should know at least the basics of SEO to be able to monitor work results of such experts.
It is often the case that website owners mix up two different concepts, SEO and SMO. SMO stands for Social Media Optimization (or Social SEO, and viral marketing is a strategy closely related to SMO), which can be defined as an approach to maximize traffic to a target website from activities in social networks. Since social media are going through the roof of popularity these days, many professional optimizers put a bulk of effort on SMO hoping to achieve quick and noticeable results (and they do in short term). However, since SMO is only one (but rather notable) aspect of SEO, it is beneficial in the long term to utilize other SEO techniques in addition to viral marketing. The reason behind this idea is that the results of SMO tend to wear off quickly after the end of an SMO campaign, whereas on-page optimization effects just build on and on with time producing the long-term effect.
There is another dimension of SEO you should be aware of. It is related to various ethics aspects of search engine optimization. Specialists recognize two general approaches from the ethical standpoint, a white hat approach, and a black hat approach. The white hat approach is the most effective one and preferential in long term as it is an approach with legitimate tactics and strategies. It is basically doing things by the book, using legitimate quality sources, creating great content, avoiding gray or black tactics such as spam, hidden text, or promotion via keywords that can boost ratings in immediate future but hurt them badly in mid- to long-term. White hat SEO takes time, effort, and patience, and it is an ongoing process, not a short-term project. Only the systematic approach can guarantee constantly improving ratings and popularity of your website.The disadvantages of this method are a direct result of the approach. White hat SEO is generally more expensive because of its ongoing nature, and is more time-consuming. However, you will undoubtedly be rewarded by following these tactics as black hat tactics can easily bring your website to its knees and get it banned by most prominent search engines, so be careful. Black hat style allows attaining the results much faster. It includes hiding promotional texts from the human eye (this text is still visible to search engine bots), inserting irrelevant, but popular, keywords to attract a ton of one-time visitors, using doorways, spamming old unattended forums with messages with links to your website, etc., etc. There are tons of black hat methods, many of which are balancing on the ethical-unethical threshold. The result of black hat SEO is that you will pay the money, see the ratings boosted and many new visitors coming. Then, all of a sudden, your website is reduced in ratings and/or is banned by search engines because they discover the evidence of use of inappropriate technologies.
We have given you a very general overview of the SEO concept. We encourage you to read more on the subject (e.g., SEO forums like www.seochat.com), and find the right specialists for your SEO program. Even in our day and age, when the caveat emptor (Latin for 'buyer beware') principle should be a thing of the past, it never hurts to know more about SEO. After all, it is your corporate website or personal project that needs proper promotion and specialist attention. Make sure you choose you own targeted approach to promote the website in the most efficient way possible. One thing is vital to keep in mind, and that is, efficient and effective SEO is a combination of hard work, knowledge, and patience. Good luck!
Author: Emily S.
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