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What is search engine optimization (SEO)?

Search engine optimization (heretofore referred to as SEO) is a way to get your site better listings in a search engine, to be utterly simplistic about it. Proper SEO changes all the time as the search engines themselves change and come up with new ways to find the best sites out there. In some ways it’s a constant battle between the engines that want to return the absolute best search results and the sites that want to get their perhaps not so great results to the top of the list.

SEO is hugely important for any web based business. If you’re not trying to make money you don’t have to be terribly concerned but you sure do need to be optimized if you’re building a business. You need to get your product out there and SEO is how you do it. You make the site as appealing as possible to the search engines and then the people come.

The history of SEO

SEO started as soon as search engines started indexing the web. From very early on webmasters knew, as you would expect, that getting higher listings in the search engines would give them more customers. The difference is that early on it was pretty darn simple. Usually all you needed was a good title and you were all set. It was as the web got more competitive and more money was being tossed around that the battle heated up to the point that nowadays there are specialized companies that do nothing but SEO for their customers. The problem is that people are greedy and sometimes awful and early on the search engines were manipulated into listing terrible sites with little content thanks to a few keywords placed properly. SEO has changed a great deal since then and now it requires far more work to get a good listing.

The search engines battle against SEO tactics

Very early in the development of search engines the programmers foolishly relied on webmasters to provide the relevant information about their sites. Simple tags on a webpage were used by the engine but it was quickly discovered that webmasters would lie and abuse those tags to get better listings for any search term they wanted.

As the search engine companies adapted so did the webmasters and thus a battle that continues to this day started. Site owners are always looking for ways to game the system and artificially inflate their listings while the companies behind the search engines are looking for ways to combat that, filter out the garbage, and provide their users with only the best results possible. Google was best at fighting that battle which is in part why they emerged as the clear leader in the search engine market.

Why you should use SEO

In short, you have no choice but to make use of SEO if you hope to get a web based business off the ground. Unless you have an absolute fortune to spend on advertising the best way for people to find your site is to get there via the search engine. The truth is no matter what kind of website you’re running you need to make use of SEO, even if it’s a simple form of it. If it’s just a simple blog about your life you still want people to read it so you need to cater to the engines and optimize.

It’s not easy to do it on a professional level but there are lots of tutorials online that will teach you the basics. If you’re looking to run a serious business you either need to immerse yourself in SEO and how it works or you need to hire a company that will do it for you and stay on top of the changes in the SEO business.

Black hat SEO techniques

Black hat SEO techniques are those that involve deception and trickery. Wearing the black hat is shorthand for evil and so the sites that get tricky are labeled as evil, essentially. It’s often easier to do the black hat SEO techniques, which is why they’re so common and why search engines like Google have to constantly work to discover the new techniques and modify their algorithms to eliminate them. Sometimes sites are simply pulled from the search engine listings if they’re caught using black hat techniques so take that into consideration if you’re planning on doing so. It can be risky and you can lose your listings with ease. Some black hat SEO techniques include using hidden text and a process called cloaking that manages to differentiate between a human user and a search engine spider and serves different pages to each.

White hat SEO techniques

White hat SEO techniques are simply defined but wide ranging. Put simply, a white hat technique is any kind that conforms to the rules put forth by the search engine. In general the folks that follow the white hat procedures of SEO are the ones that are making a genuinely good site that has usefulness. Here’s a tip: that’s almost always the best way to get your site to the top of the listing.

If what you’ve put into the world is useful, wonderful, creative, and helpful in some way then eventually the search engine is going to get it in the listings and get it high up there. Your SEO will be naturally good, which is why the white hat sites are the ones that the search engines really want in their listings. They’re doing it right and they should be rewarded for that because the content is actually useful.

Using SEO to help you get high in Google listings

Google dominates the search engine market share. Bing is trying to get closer and Yahoo is a distant competitor nowadays and that’s really all there is, at least in the English speaking markets. That’s why it’s so important to get your site good listings in Google. You should make use of SEO in every way you can to do so and you should read up because Google constantly changes their algorithm. The trouble is that Google changes their algorithm almost daily. That’s why the best thing you can do to get high in the Google rankings is to make your site SEO excellent by making your site excellent. If people like the site they’re link to it on their blogs, Twitter posts, etc. That helps your SEO. If your content is good and genuine that pushes up your SEO. Search engine traffic is fantastic but unpredictable so just make a great site.

Methods to increase SEO performance

This one is tough because there are no real tips and tricks to increasing your SEO performance. The best search engines are the ones that are constantly tweaking and changing the way they list sites because they know that there are millions of webmasters out there looking to game the system and cheat them by putting up a crappy website in the hopes of garnering a few clickthroughs.

You know how when you search Google and you almost always get a great result back no matter what you searched for? That’s the key to great SEO. You need to create a great website for whatever topic you’re aiming at. If it’s a store then make sure it looks good, make sure your prices are competitive, and make sure the server is fast. If it’s something simple like a blog then make sure the writing is good, the design is nice, and the content is clear. Make a good site and you get good SEO.

Google and the Panda update to punish SEO cheating

One of the tools websites would use to quickly boost their SEO rankings was to copy content from other sites. It was a quick way to cheat off of someone else’s hard work and capture the good rankings they had gotten by doing so. In 2011 Google released what they called the Panda update, which was designed to punish sites that cheated by duplicating content.

Their algorithm and databases know which site put the content up first so if you’re an original and someone else copies you then they suffer, not you. Now the many cheating sites will be banned from the Google listings or pushed way down, which defeats the purpose of stealing your content. As always, Google and the other search engines work hard to create the absolute best results possible in hopes of giving their surfers great content.

The business of SEO

SEO has become a big business as companies search for an edge to get their sites listed higher. Considering that the search algorithms change so often it’s not really practical for companies (small companies in particular) to try and keep up with every little change. Instead it’s easier to farm that work out and pay a much smaller fee than hiring a full time SEO guy would cost.

The problem with this approach is that even the SEO companies that do it professionally don’t entirely have it covered. In 2010 Google made 500 changes to their search algorithm, a staggering number that no company could really keep up with. Some of those changes are tiny but you might be wasting money if you hire an SEO company to work on your website. You’re probably better off just making a great site and reading up on SEO for a few days.