What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
SEO is the practice of improving and promoting a web site in order to increase the number of visitors the site receives from search engines. There are many aspects to SEO, from the words on your page to the way other sites link to you on the web. Sometimes SEO is simply a matter of making sure your site is structured in a way that search engines understand.
Search Engine Optimization isn't just about "engines." It's about making your site better for people too. At SEOmoz we believe these principles go hand in hand.
This guide is designed to describe all areas of SEO - from discovery of the terms and phrases (keywords) that generate traffic, to making a site search engine friendly, to building the links and marketing the unique value of the site/organization's offerings. Don't worry, if you are confused about this stuff, you are not alone.
Why does my website need SEO?
The majority of web traffic is driven by the major commercial search engines - Google, Bing and Yahoo!. Although social media and other types of traffic can generate visits to your website, search engines are the primary method of navigation for most Internet users. This is true whether your site provides content, services, products, information or just about anything else.
Search engines are unique in that they provided targeted traffic - people looking for what you offer. Search engines are the roadways that makes this happen. If your site cannot be found by search engines or your content cannot be put into their databases, you miss out on incredible opportunities available to websites provided via search.
Search queries, the words that users type into the search box, carry extraordinary value. Experience has shown that search engine traffic can make (or break) an organization's success. Targeted visitors to a website can provide publicity, revenue, and exposure like no other channel of marketing. Investing in SEO, whether through time or finances, can have an exceptional rate of return compared to other types of marketing and promotion.
Why can't the search engines figure out my site without SEO?
Search engines are smart, but they still need help. The major engines are always working towards improving their technology to crawl the web more deeply and return better results to users. However, there is a limit to how search engines can operate. Whereas the right SEO can net you thousands of visitors and attention, the wrong moves can hide or bury your site deep in the search results where visibility is minimal.
In addition to making content available to search engines, SEO also helps boost rankings so that content will be placed where searchers will more readily find it. The Internet is becoming increasingly competitive, and those companies who perform SEO will have a decided advantage in visitors and customers.
Can I do SEO for myself?
The world of SEO is complex, but most people can easily understand the basics. Even a small amount of knowledge can make a big difference. For the most part, SEO education is free and available on the web, including guides like this. Combine this with a little practice and you are well on your way to becoming a guru.
Depending on your time commitment, willingness to learn, and complexity of your website(s), you may decide you need an expert to handle things for you. Firms that practice SEO can vary; some have a highly specialized focus, while others take a more broad and general approach. Optimizing a web site for search engines can require looking at so many unique elements that many practitioners of SEO (SEOs) consider themselves to be in the broad field of optimization and website strategy.
Still, even in this case, it's good to have a firm grasp of the core concepts.
How much of this article do I need to read?
If you are serious about improving search traffic and are unfamiliar with SEO, we recommend reading this guide front-to-back. It's short and easy to understand. There's a printable PDF version for those who'd prefer, and dozens of linked-to resources on other sites and pages that are worthy of your attention. Because you've given us your attention, we've attempted to remain faithful to Mr. William Strunk's famous quote:
"A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts."
Every section of this guide is critical to understanding the most effective practices of search engine optimization.