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Home | Online Content | What is SEO?


What is search engine optimization?

     If you’re like most people, when you hear terms like search engine optimization, or SEO for short, you immediately tune out. Either it can’t possibly have any bearing on your life—or, if it does, too bad. You have no idea what it is, and you’re fine with that.

     Except, if you have a Web site, and you actually want people to look at it, SEO has everything to do with you and the success of whatever your Web site is there for.

      SEO is not as complicated as it sounds. Or at least the part that non-computer-geeks need to know isn’t as complicated as it sounds. An initial point of clarification: search engine optimization is something that is done to a Web site, not to a search engine. In short, it means setting up your Web site and everything on it so that it is optimally compatible with search engine criteria. We’ll start with defining what a search engine is.

What’s a search engine?

     Google is a search engine. Yahoo! Search is a search engine. MSN, AOL, and Ask.com are all search engines. A search engine is like an Internet bloodhound. You give it a whiff of what you’re looking for—say you type in ‘cardiologist’ in Google—and it sniffs through thousands and thousands of Web sites looking for the word ‘cardiologist,’ as well as other words that Google knows will also be included in a legitimate cardiology Web site (such heart, EKG, atherosclerosis, etc.).

     Google then lists—or ranks—the Web sites it finds in order of how relevant each site is to the entered search terms. These rankings are called search engine rankings and are displayed on search engine results pages. Of course, Google isn’t always right. Sometimes a highly relevant site is listed on page 8, while useless, content-less sites appear on page 1 of the search engine results pages. Why is that? And, since few people even look past the first page of search results, how can you get your Web site on page 1? Or, in other words, how can you optimize your site for high search engine rankings?
Search engine optimization. SEO simply refers to the various ways you can develop your Web site in order to increase the chances it will appear higher in Google’s—or any other search engine’s— rankings for specific search terms.

     First place would be good, right? If you were a cardiologist, and your site was #1 on Google’s search results pages when somebody typed in ‘cardiologist,’ you’d probably have a booming practice.

     But let’s get back to how Google decides which sites get rewarded with high search engine rankings and which get buried in the back pages. This is where things get complicated. Google (we’ll just use Google as our quintessential search engine) is constantly changing how it ranks Web sites, in an effort to keep those junk sites off its results pages. You know those sites—no useful information, just a bunch of ads. Google hates those sites. It has developed various ways of detecting them and excluding them from search results.

     Again, one thing Google does to determine how well a site matches search terms is to look for those search terms to appear within the site. Type in ‘cardiologist,’ and the search engine looks for that term—what’s called a keyword. Used to be, your Web site could get a good search engine ranking just by using a keyword lots and lots of times.

     For example, on a high ranking for ‘cardiologist’ you might see an article like this:

     “I am a cardiologist who went to school to be a cardiologist with lots of other cardiologists and we learned cardiology. As a cardiologist, I practice cardiology on my cardiology patients. I am a good cardiologist, a cardiologist with brown hair, and a cardiologist who likes doing things other cardiologists like doing when I’m not being a cardiologist with my cardiology patients. Cardiologist cardiologist cardiologist cardiologist.”

     You get the idea. Back in the day, that site might have ranked very high for the ‘cardiologist’ search. Not anymore.

     If Google sees a keyword or keyword phrase (made up of more than one word, like ‘heart surgeon’) used too many times, it concludes the site is bogus and kicks it out of its search results.

     This is bad news for all those people who were able to attract loads of traffic to junk sites full of ads. But it’s good news if you have a legitimate business and you want a legitimate Web site. And, it’s good news for Web copywriters.

     That’s because, even as people keep coming up with tricks, and Google keeps coming up with ways to outsmart them, the experts agree that there’s one thing Google and the other search engines will never cease to love and reward with high keyword rankings.

     And that’s original, unique, high-quality—and, yes, optimized—online content, written for humans, by humans. (Note: ‘Content’ is a catch-all term for all the articles and information—all the writing—you have on your Web site. This is also called Web copy or SEO content.)

     The goal, therefore, is to search engine optimize your Web site for specific keywords and keyword phrases so that when somebody searches for those terms your site is deemed a good match. Optimized online content, then, is content that promotes your search engine ranking for certain search terms through strategic, original Web writing. Today, search engines are so sophisticated that optimized online content must not only include keywords, keyword phrases and expert lingo—but it must be smooth, highly readable and unique.

     A recap: Search engine optimization is something you do to your Web site—and specifically to the content on your site—to enhance your site’s relevancy for keywords and keyword phrases and improve your search engine rankings for those keywords. That way, when someone does a search for the terms for which your site is a good match (they search for ‘Atlanta cardiologist’ and you’re a cardiologist in Atlanta)—your site is listed high on the search engine results pages.

     A high search engine ranking means your Web site will attract more traffic, and that the traffic you get will more often be the traffic you want. In other words, a search engine optimized Web site attracts a high volume of target traffic.

     Further, the best way to get a high search engine ranking is to have a site with many unique content-rich Web pages. This is called organic search engine optimization—in contrast to various tricks that search engines are constantly trying to snuff out. Organic SEO requires optimized Web copy, which is written in a way that’s attractive to search engines and readers alike.

      We discuss the importance of high search engine rankings—in contrast to paying for costly ad space on results pages—more in the next article.


The Hired Gun team includes SEO experts and professional Web writers. Contact us or more information on our professional Web copywriting services, and request a free estimate for your content needs.


          Read the next article: Why are high search engine rankings important?


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