Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is a set of best practices for getting a website or page ranked as highly as possible in one of the top search engines. SEOs (people who do search engine optimization) like to refer to “search engines” in the generic sense to be democratic, but in reality, Google is the search engine that is targeted most often. If a web page is ranked as the top result in Google, a similar ranking will very likely follow in Yahoo and Bing.
SEO is a constantly moving target. Many tips and concepts that worked famously two or three years ago have either diminished in effectiveness, or are even counterproductive to implement at this point. Unfortunately, no one in the SEO world has the last word on what works and what doesn’t with 100% authority. The reason is simple: search engines use proprietary algorithms (computational rules and procedures) for deciding which pages command higher rankings in search results. If everyone knew how Google’s algorithm worked, everyone would game the system. All we can do from the outside is draw from years of experience, looking at different properties of high ranking websites and trying to find commonalities.
One of the most consistent features of pages on the first page of Google is a relatively large number of inbound links. Suppose you wrote the world’s greatest blog post on container gardening. Theoretically, outstanding content gets circulated more than average or mediocre content. So, when other home and garden sites address the topic of container gardening, they might reference your article in the form of a link, and your post could wind up with thousands of links pointing to it. When you look up “iPhone” in Google, the top result is almost always Apple, since the vast majority of iPhone-related content has links to Apple’s website.
Some webmasters and Internet marketers take the reductionist view that links are the only factor that really matters in SEO. On the opposite extreme, some blogging gurus insist that all that matters is writing good content, implying that Google’s search results are a meritocracy. Both arguments have serious flaws.
SEO complements any traffic-building strategy
SEO and other forms of traffic building aren’t mutually exclusive. An effective social media strategy can help you attract any number of natural links that are great for SEO. For instance, if you’re followed by an A-list blogger on Facebook, and you post a status update mentioning some article that you just wrote on your blog, she might check out the article and link to it from her blog. That has may have considerable SEO value. One link from a blog that Google highly respects can be worth dozens of links from smaller sites in the same niche.
Ranking well in the search engines can also lower the cost and reduce the risk of buying traffic. Sites that rank well in Google for a particular keyword can often get away with lower bids in AdWords for that keyword. Furthermore, if you can get on the first page of Google, buying a Google ad gives you two spots on the same page: one in the organic search results, and another in the paid results. This might seem redundant, but having a second result on the page can increase the number of visitors to your site via search by 20%. Try doing a search on a highly popular brand name like Apple or Microsoft, and you’ll often see them the organic and paid results simultaneously.