SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation. The field of SEO is a broad and complex one that requires several different technical and soft skills. Successful SEO workers have an understanding of the technical aspects of web design, the underlying design of the main search-engine ranking algorithms, and the ways that humans interact with search engines.
SEO involves optimising your website and its content to ensure that search-engine spiders can successfully index your content and interpret it, and that your content appears prominently near the top of the search results for the right kinds of queries.
How Users Interact with Search Engines
There are three main types of search query that are entered by web users. They are navigational, informational and transactional. The two that most business owners should be interested in are the informational and transactional queries. Transactional queries are queries where the user has a clear idea of their intent — they want to buy something or find a specific file to download. Informational queries are queries where the user wants to learn something or is looking for a solution to a problem.
Transactional searchers are the most appealing for most business owners, but you cannot afford to ignore informational queries. If you have a content site or a blog attached to your business website, then optimising your content to attract informational searchers is a good idea. Once you have drawn searchers to your site with valuable information, you can attempt to convert them to RSS feed or email subscribers, and continue to engage with them over several weeks or months, nurturing your relationship with them until they are ready to convert to paying customers.
Building a Website That Ranks Well
Google and Bing are the two biggest search engines in the western world today, and both of those search engines have sophisticated spiders that are capable of indexing a wide range of content. During the early days of SEO, search spiders were quite primitive, and struggled to parse even fairly simple mark-up. This is no longer the case. Today, webmasters do not have to design specifically for search engines, although it is still important to design pages that validate according to W3C standards.
Google in particular rewards websites that load quickly and feature accessible, responsive designs. If your site looks good in a mobile browser as well as on a desktop PC, then you can be confident that your site meets Google's technical requirements.
The next thing to consider is content. Over the last two years, Google has focused on improving its algorithms to recognize low-quality, duplicate content. Websites that feature copy-and-pasted press releases or plagiarised articles, or have a lot of duplicate content in the form of product descriptions or information syndicated from other sources (even with consent from the original publisher), will suffer penalties in the rankings. Google wants to see original content. It is better to have a handful of unique pages than hundreds of pages of duplicate content.
Networking and Links
Traditionally, link building was an important part of SEO. Even today, having incoming links is a good thing, but the emphasis now is on quality over quantity. Old-fashioned practices such as buying links from blog networks or using press releases and article marketing to acquire a large number of links are now frowned upon. This became clearly apparent with the last round of Google updates, which saw the search engine penalise websites which had unnatural-looking link profiles. Link building is still an important part of search engine optimisation, but website owners are encouraged to focus on acquiring high-quality links from authoritative sources rather than emphasising quantity or trying to artificially manipulate SEO-related metrics such as page rank and domain authority.