SEO 101 – What is Search Engine Optimization?

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. Search engines like Google and Bing constantly “crawl” the web and catalogue the web pages and information they come across. When someone tries searching for something, the search engine dips into its database and applies a proprietary algorithm (one of the key ingredients that dictates what results the search engine will show you in response to your search) to serve up what it thinks will be the most relevant results to satisfy the searcher.

Optimizing a site for search engines, SEO, means applying techniques to make the website’s pages easier for the search engines to catalogue, and also promote the site’s relevance to certain search criteria in order to earn prominent placement on the search engines’ results pages. As the majority of searchers will click on a result on the first results page that a search engine displays, earning a spot on the first page can make a very big difference to a company’s online marketing success, not to mention their financial success.

Hey man, it’s organic

The search results the engines produce from their algorithms are referred to as “organic”, or “natural”, search results. Another option to get a prominent listing on a search engine results page (SERP) is to buy ad space on the page. This approach is known as Paid Search, pay-per-click, or PPC. The ads are free, until someone clicks on one. Each click is billed for, based on a price that is determined by a constant, dynamic auction system. Price alone does not allow a company to get a prominent placing, however, as the search engines are still trying to ensure that the results being shown are relevant, regardless of whether they are organic or paid.

With a strong SEO program, companies can be discovered by more people on the search engines because they will appear prominently on more searches, and be included in a wider array of searches. The terms people use to search online are referred to as keywords. A keyword can be a single word or a combination of words, like “restaurant” or “Italian restaurants in Manhattan”.

A rose by any other name…

If you owned an Italian restaurant in Manhattan, you would want your restaurant to show up on the SERPs whenever someone was searching for a restaurant like yours, in your part of town. To do that, you might have to have your site optimized for additional keywords that someone might include in a search that could be satisfied by your business’s website, like best Italian restaurants in manhattan, midtown manhattan restaurants, midtown manhattan Italian food, midtown manhattan Italian dinner, etc.. The point is, a company web site needs to be optimized based on an understanding of how search engines work, and how people search. What keywords are they using to search for what you have to offer?

Reward, and risk

How important is it for a business to be found when someone is using a search engine to research a purchase? Consider this: nearly two-thirds of consumers (61%) use search engines to help them in their product research decisions leading up to purchase. (eConsultancy, July 2010)

Actual online purchasing is also increasing dramatically. Data from comScore reveals that Q4 of 2010 set new records for e-Commerce spending in the U.S. Retail market – over $43 billion dollars. As the internet grows, the number of searches grows too.

If the company website is well-designed and focused, the increase in visitors to the site as a result of a strong SEO strategy can create a significant boost in business. The biggest risk to a company of not developing a search engine optimization plan is that it allows competitors to steal market share. It is difficult for any company to be successful if customers do not know about them, or do not find them when they are in the market for what that company offers. As more and more customers turn to search to find businesses, products and services, either from their computers or their cell phones, a solid search engine optimization strategy is an essential marketing tool.