Understanding SEO: The Basics

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Understanding SEO: The Basics

Most people have at least heard of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), but I would venture a guess that most of them think SEO is a magic trick that web gurus do between trips to the coffee machine. That impression can be forgiven as SEO is a complex and challenging field that is often shrouded in mystery. However, unravelling what SEO is and does can be the secret to unlocking profits you may have been missing out on.

To start at the beginning, SEO is about improve search engine rankings organically. In simple terms, when someone types a phrase into the search bar and hits enter, you want your website to be on the first page, or even better, near the top of the first page without paying the search engine to put it there.

How close your website is to the top of the first page is its ranking. So, the first result will be ranking #1, the second will be ranking #2, etc. The fact that you're not paying for your website to appear there is the organically part. It must get there by itself, or to put it another way, on its own merits. But how?

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There are multiple ways to get a website to appear at the top of the list of search results. Some of these methods are legitimate and some of them are deceptive, dishonest or unethical. The legitimate ways are called "white hat methods" and the dishonest ways are called "black hat methods".

Black hat methods get quick results but have poor outcomes. For example, tricking the search engine's legions of crawlers into believing that your website is linked to some other, very important websites by hiding links to these sites behind the text might bring quick results, but after a while the crawlers will wise up, tell the search engine you're a trickster and you'll be penalised and not rank.

Having your website penalised for bad backlinks is bad news. It's expensive too. Not only will it cost you traffic and customers while your site is sitting way back in the rankings where no one ever looks, you will have to pay to have your website - and its reputation - repaired. You may even have to pay a fine before the search engine will consider your site again.

White hat methods take a little longer, but they follow the rules set by search engines for what can and can't be done to improve a site's ranking. That is, white hat methods work on building your site's reputation legitimately and improving its merit in the eyes of the crawlers reporting back to their search engine boss.

Now, before creating the impression of an underground network of armoured spiders, let's clear up the concept of a crawler. A crawler is a piece of code that the search engine sends out through the network of connections and servers that makes up the internet. This little piece of code is designed to ask questions about the websites it finds and send the answers back to the search engine.

What those answers are determines where the search engine decides to put your website when it receives a related search query. What really matters to the search engine is much the same as what matters to you or me when asking a question. Is the website relevant to the query? Is it authentic? Is it credible? Is it useful? If any of those answers are no, the website has little chance of ranking.

The SEO techniques that go into making a website relevant, authentic, credible and useful in the eyes of the search engine are multitudinous, but the key is content. A website that has content that is relevant and valuable to the reader is a website that will generally rank better than a website that is stuffed full of key words and backlinks but makes little sense.

Search engines and their crawlers are remarkably intelligent and always evolving. SEO that respects that is SEO that works.

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