DEFINITION of 'SEO (Search Engine Optimization)'

The practice of drawing the greatest amount of traffic possible to a website by strategically pushing it toward the top of the results list of a search engine. SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is used by businesses and individuals to maximize the visibility of their websites in order to boost business, and often hire an SEO specialist to implement the function correctly.

BREAKING DOWN 'SEO (Search Engine Optimization)'

What Is SEO?

SEO is a type of digital marketing that focuses specifically on driving a website higher in search results on sites such as Google, Yahoo!, and Bing. Search engines are the most common vehicle in bringing organic (non-paid) traffic to a website, which makes SEO highly competitive: A successful strategy can bring a business a high level of exposure, and an unsuccessful one can spell disaster.

Search engines can often see through an attempt to cater to the search engine instead of the user, and will rank the site lower as a result. This process, called cloaking, uses all the necessary key words and strategies to make a site look information-rich and valuable on the surface in order to attract attention, but doesn't actually have value for the user.

How is SEO Accomplished?

The first search engines were relatively ineffective, as they couldn't do much more than search for pages that included specific key words. Search engines have evolved over time, and are complex enough to use hundreds of factors in their algorithms.

Search Engine Optimization, or simply SEO, when successfully implemented, uses a combination of hundreds of methods to draw users to a website, including the following:

  • Use key words, or widely used phrases related to your site's purpose. When a user types a phrase into a search engine, the search engine combs through the sites that use that phrase.
  • Consistently update and maintain your site. Sites that haven't produced new content in a while will be seen as less relevant, and any broken links or similar flaws will bring down a site's ranking.
  • Don't display your company's name or other important marketing material as part of an image, as the text in an image won't be included in a search engine's indexed results.
  • Pay attention to the basic usability and design of your website. Search engines take into account the website's hierarchical structure and ease of navigation, as well as the quality of information available. Simpler sites with clear, concise and useful language tend to rank higher in search results.
  • Find ways to have other websites link to yours. A search engine views this as an indication that your site is valuable enough to be referenced by others. The higher ranked the site that links to you, the better.

SEO specialists study the ever-changing trends and algorithms used by search engines and modify their approaches in order to stay ahead of the curve. It's possible for an individual to use basic SEO techniques to successfully drive business to a website, but it is often advisable to hire an SEO specialist, especially as the site grows more complex and its popularity increases.

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