Understanding Search Engine Optimization – Cutting Through the SEO Jargon

Search Engine Optimization is the process of improving a site’s ranking in search engine results pages. The higher a site’s search engine ranking, the more traffic it will receive from users searching for keywords and phrases relevant to that site. This makes good SEO a vital part of any web strategy.

An understanding of basic SEO terms and technologies is important to anyone with a web site. Like many computer-related topics, SEO has its own vocabulary. In order for you to understand the basics of SEO, you first need to cut through the jargon.

White Hat SEO

Search engines recommend a number of techniques and strategies which site owners can use to boost their rankings on search engine results pages. These techniques are called “white hat SEO,” and they always conform to search engines’ guidelines.

A white hat SEO strategy provides the best long-term results and relies on creating great content which will also appeal to users.

Black Hat SEO

Some site owners seek to improve their rankings using deception and other techniques search engines disapprove of. These tactics, called “black hat SEO,” often include designing sites that show search engines one set of pages while redirecting people using browsers to another.

Most search engines penalize the use of black hat SEO, even going so far as to ban sites that use them. No matter how a search engine might penalize a site using black hat SEO, the end result is that any gain in search engine ranking from black hat tactics is temporary.

On-Site SEO

On-site SEO consists of those practices site owners follow on their own sites in order to improve their positioning in search engine results. Having a good site structure and hosting original, keyword-driven content are the two most important elements for solid on-site SEO.

Off-Site SEO

Off-site SEO consists of those strategies used by site owners outside of their own sites to improve their search engine ranking. Encouraging well-known and trusted sites to link to them is one important tool site owners use to improve their off-site SEO.

Keyword

A keyword is an informative word that captures the essence of a topic. When a search engine analyzes a web page, it tries to associate that page with the keywords found on it. When a user searches for one of these keywords, the search engine returns a link to that page in its results. 

Keywords are at the heart of how search engines work and are thus at the heart of SEO. When site owners look to maximize their sites’ positioning on search engine results pages, they first choose a list of appropriate keywords upon which to build their efforts.

Keyword Density

Keyword density is the number of times a keyword appears on a page, as compared to the total number of words on that page. In the past, the higher a keyword’s density, the more likely a search engine was to consider that page relevant to the keyword. Search engines today use sophisticated algorithms to determine if a page is truly relevant to the keywords found on it.

Very high keyword density is often a sign of black hat SEO and is commonly referred to as “keyword spam.” Search engines are likely to penalize a site if they suspect it of keyword spamming.

Organic Traffic

Organic traffic comes from users who click on a link to a site they see on a search engine’s results page. It consists entirely of visits from people who actively searched for keywords found on that site. Growing a site’s organic traffic is the reason site owners practice SEO.

Backlink

A backlink is an incoming link to a web site. Whenever a site links to another, the site being linked to is said to have a backlink from the first site.

Backlinks from trusted sites are a critical part of off-site SEO because search engines give a high ranking to those sites which receive links from popular, trusted sources.

Meta Tag

A meta tag is a hidden element found on a web page that provides information about the page to browsers and search engines. This information might consist of a brief description of the page, a list of keywords the site owners believe are relevant, and the software used to create the page.

In the early days of the web, search engines relied heavily on the information provided in a page’s meta tags. Unfortunately, many site owners abused meta tags by stuffing them with inappropriate keywords. Because of this abuse, most search engines now ignore meta tags completely.

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