Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the volume or quality of traffic to a web site or a web page (such as a blog) from search engines via "natural" or un-paid ("organic" or "algorithmic") search results as opposed to other forms of search engine marketing (SEM) which may deal with paid inclusion. The theory is that the earlier (or higher) a site appears in the search results list, the more visitors it will receive from the search engine. SEO may target different kinds of search, including image search, local search, video search and industry-specific vertical search engines. This gives a web site web presence. As an Internet marketing strategy, SEO considers how search engines work and what people search for. Optimizing a website primarily involves editing its content and HTML and associated coding to both increase its relevance to specific keywords and to remove barriers to the indexing activities of search engines.
The acronym "SEO" can refer to "search engine optimizers," a term adopted by an industry of consultants who carry out optimization projects on behalf of clients, and by employees who perform SEO services in-house. Search engine optimizers may offer SEO as a stand-alone service or as a part of a broader marketing campaign. Because effective SEO may require changes to the HTML source code of a site, SEO tactics may be incorporated into web site development and design. The term "search engine friendly" may be used to describe web site designs, menus, content management systems, images, videos, shopping carts, and other elements that have been optimized for the purpose of search engine exposure. Another class of techniques, known as black hat SEO or spamdexing, use methods such as link farms, keyword stuffing and article spinning that degrade both the relevance of search results and the user-experience of search engines. Search engines look for sites that employ these techniques in order to remove them from their indices.
Webmasters and content providers began optimizing sites for search engines in the mid-1990s, as the first search engines were cataloging the early Web. Initially, all a webmaster needed to do was submit the address of a page, or URL, to the various engines which would send a "spider" to "crawl" that page, extract links to other pages from it, and return information found on the page to be indexed. The process involves a search engine spider downloading a page and storing it on the search engine's own server, where a second program, known as an indexer, extracts various information about the page, such as the words it contains and where these are located, as well as any weight for specific words, and all links the page contains, which are then placed into a scheduler for crawling at a later date. Site owners started to recognize the value of having their sites highly ranked and visible in search engine results, creating an opportunity for both white hat and black hat SEO practitioners.
According to industry analyst Danny Sullivan, the phrase "search engine optimization" probably came into use in 1997. Early versions of search algorithms relied on webmaster-provided information such as the keyword meta tag, or index files in engines like ALIWEB. Meta tags provide a guide to each page's content. Using meta data to index pages was found to be less than reliable, however, because the webmaster's choice of keywords in the meta tag could potentially be an inaccurate representation of the site's actual content. Inaccurate, incomplete, and inconsistent data in meta tags could and did cause pages to rank for irrelevant searches. Web content providers also manipulated a number of attributes within the HTML source of a page in an attempt to rank well in search engines.
Many SEOs and other agencies and consultants provide useful services for website owners, including:
- Review of your site content or structure
- Content development
- Management of online business development campaigns
- Keyword research
- SEO training
- Expertise in specific markets and geographies.