Extra assignment, since I missed a lecture again. This will be somewhat long and tedious, not to mention technical, so if you want to read the short version, it can be found in my earlier post. Anyway, here goes.
According to Wikipedia, Search engine optimization (SEO) is “the process of improving the visibility of a website or a web page in search engines’ “natural,” or un-paid (“organic” or “algorithmic”), search results”. This is a good place to start the analysis, even though it’s a quite simplified statement. What this actually means, is that SEO is meant to result in one’s website being “higher up”, or as early as possible, in the list of pages a search engine comes up with as a result of a search made on a certain word or phrase. In general, the higher up a site is on the list, the more visitors it gets, which is obviously important for the creator of the site. Thus, SEO is important for anyone who wants to be seen on the Internet, or wants to control what is seen. SEO is in effect an Internet marketing strategy, which takes into account how search engines work, what people search for and with what words and phrases, and which search engines are preferred by the target audience.
A short(ish) history of SEO follows.
SEO started in the 1990’s, when webmasters and content providers started optimizing the content of their websites to give more, both in relevance and amount, results on the search engines of the day. These were primarily Altavista (presently owned by Yahoo) and Infoseek (which presently doesn’t exist). The algorithms controlling these search engines were quite primitive when comparing to the search engines of today, basing the search results on, early on webmaster provided, metadata about the site in question, primarily keywords. Keywords were also at some point taken from the content of the pages, but this was easily exploited, as the webmasters were able to fill the code of a page with the keywords they wanted to be found with.
Then we arrive at the point, where one usually arrives when discussing search engines and which seems like a cataclysmic event, where the creators of Google created a more complex algorithm in 1998. This algorithm was no longer based solely on metadata provided by the page, but also on other factors, the most important of which was inbound links between sites. They called the number calculated by the algorithm “PageRank“. PageRank made it harder for webmasters to manipulate the search engines, but true nerds as they were, they came up with a way to do it eventually.
Alas, the companies behind the largest search engines were also stuffed with true nerds. By 2004, the largest search engines had developed systems of ranking websites that used hundreds of different signals, and in 2007 Google used more than 200 signals for a site. Nowadays the search engine providers don’t disclose how the algorithms work, which, added to their complexity, has made abusing them much much harder. It still happens though, since some parts of how the algorithms work are known to webmasters.
Back to the actual subject
The point of this post is, however, not to say that SEO is per se wrong. Abusing the search engines on the other hand is. SEO is completely natural, and when done “ethically” helps Internet users find what they are actually looking for.
How does one then get one’s site noticed? How to optimize the search results?
If one is a company and money is not an issue, the largest search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo!…) provide a paid service, which ensures that one’s site is found on the search engine on certain keywords. This does however not ensure any particular rank for the site. Ranking is based on, among other things, the interlinkedness of the page in question, and how often it is visited. Pages ranked high among the search results usually include Wikipedia, large companies, official institutions, blogs, twitter and such. Obviously Facebook. Thus, if one wants to get noticed on the Internet, one should google some other names, and check which sites pop up, and start using these. They will of course be Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, some much used blog site etc. Cross linking between pages on one’s own site also affects the ranking of a certain page.
White hats and black hats
There are two types of SEO, as classified by industry commentators. White hat and black hat. White hat SEO is essentially methods of optimization which conform to the guidelines and involves no deception. The latter is a very important point, since search engine guidelines are not all encompassing. No deception means that the content which the search engine ranks is the same content which the user sees. White hat SEO is therefore considered more about making content available to users, than tricking search engines, and is the preferred way to market oneself. White hat SEO also does not result in bans from search engines.
Black hat SEO on the other hand is the very opposite. It aims at improving ranking by methods disapproved by the search engines, or involves deception. Some black hat methods include using hidden or invisible text and giving different sites for a human user and a search engine. Black hat SEO may result in the lowering of a site’s rank, or the removal altogether of the site from a search engine’s list of results.
Conclusions and endnotes
Even though every aspect of SEO wasn’t discussed here, I believe I made a pretty good overview of what it is all about. Of course, this focused more on the technical and more businesslike aspects of the phenomenon than private ones. All the same, the point is, one should use SEO, but think of how one uses it and to what ends. One would do well to remember that SEO is very important for a private person as well, not only for companies, since it may affect future employment, the success of an academic career and a myriad of other things. So, to sum up, keep in mind that everything is not OK on the Internet, but everything stays there!
That might be enough for this time, bye!