Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Year of Knowledge: SEO

So, today is Techie Tuesday. While I love almost all things technology-related (iPhones and iPads, blogs, tweets, and Facebook, and anything that makes my life more organized!), I often don't understand how it works or why it works. There are some things I may not be using at their optimum potential! So Tuesday is my day to learn about the wonderful world of technology. So let's start with something I've heard a lot about, but don't completely understand: SEO.

SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is a hot-button word in today's online world. Those who know how to use SEO can pretty much write themselves a check, there is so much work out there. So what, exactly, is it?

Back in the day, we'll call it the 90s, when this little thing called the internet was just starting to take off, companies were working hard to find ways to keep track of all of these web pages that were being developed. If they could be categorized, it would make slogging through literally millions of web pages a little easier. Welcome into existence web crawlers. These programs were designed to "crawl" through the web pages, looking for specific words or phrases, and indexing them based on these search parameters. They would then list these pages in order of who used the words or phrases you were looking for the most. It's called a relevance search and involves incredibly complicated math that I will not go into here, but it made academic research (its original intent) much easier.

By the end of the 90s, some forward-thinking business people realized that, the higher up a page was ranked in this index, the more traffic it received. Think about it. How often have you Googled something and gone beyond the first or second page? So they created a marketing strategy called Search Engine Optimization, or SEO.

The way SEO works is by using common words and phrases within the text, and sometimes even within the HTML source code, to get the attention of the crawlers. The more often it is used and the "higher" up (title, first paragraph, pictures, etc.) on the page it is, the higher it will be ranked by the crawlers. So if, for example, you were selling a better mousetrap, you would use the word "mousetrap" everywhere - in your title, several times within the opening paragraphs as well as throughout the text, and have a picture (or 2 or 3) of a mousetrap that is labeled "mousetrap." Simple, right?

Well, not exactly. Like anything in marketing (or in life, really), SEO can be both good and bad. White hat SEO is when you use this technique smartly, fairly, and ethically. Black hat SEO is creating pages specifically to get a higher traffic count with no redeeming information. Often, these pages have their words heavily embedded into the HTML source code. It's unethical, and sites have been blocked from big search engines, such as Google and Yahoo!, just for doing it.

Although many marketing companies, especially those who specialize in online marketing, know how to and often do use SEO, even they will say it should never be the only tool in your marketing tool box. SEO will help to get some traffic through the door, but most sites actually get MORE traffic from being linked from other sites. Plus, once they get there, you should probably have something worth seeing, or you won't have return viewers!

So the next time you read an article, or a job description, that mentions SEO, you will now know a little bit more about it. It's not as big and techie and as scary as it sounds.

Thanks to Yahoo! and Google for all of the information I found (after slugging through a gazillion ad sites!) on SEO.

1 comment:

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