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An Introduction to SEO

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and is both a science as well as an art form. If all of the rules of the game were known, such as the rules of chess, then strategy and tactics would merely be a matter of math and science. However, SEO has an unfair disadvantage and that is that it is trying to win a game that without definitive knowledge of all the rules and, to complicate the task further, the rules are constantly changing. Add to that the fact that SEO tactics vary from search engine to search engine (Google is different from Yahoo and they are both different from MSN) and you have recipe that caters to the pro. For that very reason you see many businesses simply choose to outsource their SEO efforts rather than trying to tame the wild beast themselves.

SEO, while different for every search engine, does have some very generic and universally appropriate rules. To understand SEO you have to think like a search engine and try to understand their goal of providing great search results to the user so that the user will continue to use their search engine. That is why the rules of SEO are always changing and unknown. No search engine is going to publish its “formula” for SEO only to let the others steal it. Likewise, the search engines are always modifying their “formula” and testing the results, thus, the rules of the game are always changing. Many things, however, are straightforward and consistent. Links and quality, authoritative content are the cornerstones of good SEO efforts.

How else is Google (or any other search engine) supposed to rate whether your site is valuable or not if not by looking at your sites “popularity” among your industry and/or niche and the Internet as a whole? So how is this “popularity” calculated? It is determined by a variety of factors, but most of them come down to the links pointing to your site.

A link, or backlink, is one of those HTML hyperlinks that you see all over the Internet that same something like, “for more information on foreclosures, click here” and the ‘click here’ text will be underlined (usually, but not always) and when you click on it a new windows opens up and your browser goes to that site. A backlink is merely a link on another site that points ‘back’ to your site.

So, for example, if you have a foreclosure site and you publish an article on your blog that is well written and full of great information, you may find other related sites may create a link back to your article for their readers to view. The authority of that site (in other words, is it CNN or just Aunt Bett’s blog – obviously Google is going to pay much more attention to a link from CNN) has a lot to do with how much value that backlink has to your site in Google’s (or any other search engine’s) eyes. Beyond authority, there is also relevance. A site that creates a link back to you might be highly authoritative (like ESPN, for example), but a link from ESPN to your foreclosure site, while helpful, is not really relevant. So, when it comes to links, there are lots of factors: the sheer number of links, the quality or authority of the linking site and the relevance of the linking site.

Another way that Google, and other search engines, determine your popularity, or authority, is to look at what you offer. Simply put, how much do you have and how good is your content? Content is king on the Internet – you’ve surely heard that. And it is true. All of the search engines love sites that have a lot of content, good quality content, relevant content to their niche and content that is frequently being enhanced or expanded upon.

There are many “tools” of the SEO trade, but in general, they all come back to these two topics – either link building or content manipulation. Content can be very wide in format – so don’t just think of articles or written text. Videos, audios, podcasts, RSS feeds – the list goes on and on – are all different forms of content and they are all tools in the SEO toolbag. Likewise, there is a huge arsenal of link building tools as well – everything from directory submissions, to one-way links to reciprocal links, article marketing for anchor text and link building and many, many more.

SEO, therefore, is the practice of examining these various factors that affect how your site appears in the SERPs (search engine results pages) and then making alterations to your site or your marketing efforts for your site to ideally position your business on page #1. The first steps of any SEO endeavor will be to analyze your site and its goals and objectives. SEO is primarily done at the keyword level, so it is very important for anyone looking to enhance your SEO efforts that they understand what keywords your business is trying to rank for. From that an SEO expert will begin to analyze how well your site is doing and how realistic your goals are. A good SEO expert will not just take what you give them, but also make their own set of independent recommendations based upon your site, your products, traffic estimates and your business objectives. They will analyze all relevant information, including your budget and timeframe, and then come up with a strategy that is tailored for your individual site. While some aspects of SEO are basic, many are quite complicated. If you choose to pursue SEO for your site on your own, be prepared to commit to a long-term educational process and one that really has no end, as stated above, because the rules are always changing. Many times, unless you’re already intimately familiar with core SEO principles, you will like be better off seeking the assistance of a specialized SEO expert.

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