What Is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) aims to draw the greatest amount of traffic possible to a website by bringing it to the top of a search engine's results. SEO is used by businesses and individuals to maximize the visibility of their websites and content to boost traffic and, therefore, business. Companies often hire SEO specialists to implement such strategies to boost organic traffic. Organic traffic arrives at a website naturally and not as a result of paid search efforts, such as pay-per-click (PPC).

Key Takeaways:

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a method used to place a URL or website at the top of a search engine's results.
  • SEO is a method used by businesses and individuals to maximize the visibility of their websites and their company.
  • Search engines use keywords and phrases, algorithms, website updates, and the hierarchical structure of a website, and the clarity of language to rank websites.

How Search Engine Optimization Works (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.

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 keywords and strategies to make a site look information-rich and valuable on the surface to attract attention but doesn't actually offer value for the user.

SEO: Basic Strategies

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

When successfully implemented, SEO uses a combination of methods and strategies to draw users to a website. They include the following:

  • Use of keywords or widely used phrases related to a site's purpose. When a user types a phrase into a search engine, the search engine combs through the sites that contain that phrase.
  • Consistent website updates. Sites that haven't produced new content in a while will be seen as less relevant. Any broken links or similar flaws will bring down a site's ranking.

Attention must be paid to the basic usability and design of a website. Search engines take into account the website's hierarchical structure and ease of navigation and the quality of information and content it contains. Simpler sites with clear, concise, and useful language tend to rank higher in search results.

If you are optimizing a website, have other websites link to yours (linkbacks). 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.

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.

SEO Specialists vs. Generalists

Individuals who focus on maximizing the organic traffic to a website study the ever-changing trends and algorithms used by search engines. They then modify their approaches to stay ahead of the curve. It's often advisable for websites to hire an SEO specialist rather than use a generalist to handle such efforts, particularly as a site grows more complex and its popularity increases.