Search engine optimisation (SEO) has become an essential tool to surviving in the crowded, competitive and ever-changing online world.
SEO seeks to understand how search services such as Google rank the relevance of a web page according to given search terms, and to use this to tweak content to boost a page’s visibility to potential visitors.
Back in its heady first days, the unruly fledgling Worldwide Web was an essentially ‘flat’ place. Anyone able to post a web page had as much chance of attracting traffic as pretty much anyone else. Early search engines trawled the web, indexing page titles, metadata tags and keywords to create huge catalogues of online data. They did this however, based entirely on data provided by the site itself.
All of that changed with the arrival of the Google search engine in the late 1990s. Google is different because it ranks its search results not but matching keywords to search terms but by the number of links pointing to a relevant Website and, increasingly, the strength and nature of those links. It instantly provided a ‘topography’ to the web based on perceived relevance, with the most popular sites on top. The Internet suddenly became a much more competitive place.
Today Google remains the king of search engines, responsible for upwards of 75% of web searches in all countries worldwide, and SEO, the art and science of analysing how Google treats online data and customising web content to take advantage of this, has become an indispensable business skill.
Unfortunately, many SEO practitioners have become involved in an ‘arms race’ with Google’s engineers, sailing close to the wind in what the search engine considers good practice in cultivating inbound links, while Google’s coders have become increasingly sophisticated at detecting spurious or ‘farmed’ links. Often months of SEO work can be undone by a relatively minor algorithm tweak.
Good SEO practitioners understand that to modern search engines like Google, relevance is not just about the number of inbound links a page boasts, but about the quality of those links.
They have also understood the message of the burgeoning social web of the last 10 years, that the power of the Internet lies in not only in its technology, but in the human connection it enables. Google, Facebook and Twitter work well because real, living people care enough about good content to connect to it.
Writer: Jonathan Davis