The Fundamentals of Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

By Justin Kerr
February 13, 2013

Table of Contents

Search engine optimization (or "SEO") is the process of adjusting elements on your Web site to make it easy for search engines and Web directories to find and index your site's content. SEO involves a number of best practices which have evolved over time as the Web and search engines changed to support new types of content and the Internet's burgeoning growth. Your end goal for SEO is to achieve good "organic search results" on key search terms that tie into your organization's Web site objectives. Although many services purport to propel your keywords to the top of search results, the path to effective SEO is paved with strategy, work and an understanding of the fundamentals.

Cheesy But True

The first thing to know about good SEO is that it requires an ongoing commitment. Just like that schmaltzy saying, "It's the journey, not the destination," so SEO is a process that stretches on through the lifetime of your Web site. Although initial SEO setup may take more time than periodic SEO tasks, effective search engine optimization calls for regular updates, analysis and application of best practices as new content is added to the site.

Looking Into a Black Box

Another essential thing to understand about SEO is that search results are entirely determined by super-secret algorithms and processes that companies like Google use to index and then display Web site links and related information. No one outside of Google understands exactly how Google's methods work, and all SEO methods are, essentially, taking a shot in the dark. Despite this, best practices have emerged based on Google's explicit recommendations and results gleaned through trial and error. Still, this is a dynamic environment, with Google and others constantly updating their search methods to yield better results and punish those who try to game the system.

It's the Content, Stupid!

The No. 1 way to support good search engine optimization is to publish high-quality, relevant content. There is nothing that Google and other search engines like more than new content of high interest to their users. Regularly publishing updates that contain original writing or media will absolutely help search results for your site. This publishing activity comes at some cost, but labors are eased by proper planning (e.g. an editorial calendar) and site venues designed to easily feature new content, like blog and press release areas.

Craft a Strategy

When planning for search engine optimization, it's important to think like your customers. Your goal should be to have your URLs appear high in organic search results for specific terms: the types of terms your prospective clientele would be likely to use when conducting searches. Massive volumes have been written about effective keyword strategies, with resources freely available all over the Web. Once target search phrases are determined, they should be consistently applied in related content areas on the site throughout Web page elements. (Examples of these are listed below.)

Measure Your Results

Without analysis of Web site usage, it's impossible to determine the effectiveness of your search engine optimization. Google Analytics is the most popular — and free — method for implementing analysis of Web site usage and the effectiveness of search engine optimization. This, along with other tools from Google (in particular, Google's Webmaster Tools) and other providers of analysis and support services, provides plenty of ways to determine the effectiveness of your SEO.