The ultimate goal of a website is to attract internet visitors. Studies have shown that the majority of people find websites by using one of the major search engines. So if you are considering building a new website or updating an existing one, then search engine optimization (SEO) should be one of your top priorities.
What is SEO anyway? SEO is the activity of optimizing a web page in order to make it more search engine-friendly so that it can get a higher position in search results. It is important to note that although SEO helps to increase traffic to your site, SEO is not advertising. You can be included in paid search results for given keywords but basically the idea behind SEO is to get top placement because your site is relevant to a particular search term, and not because you pay.
SEO is a technical job, and many ready-made solutions offer SEO as one of their features in order to attract your business. However, if you own your own site, and are deciding to hire a SEO specialist, then please beware, as SEO is a big decision that can potentially increase your web traffic, but it can also damage your site and reputation. Before beginning your search for a SEO specialist, it’s a good idea to become an educated consumer and get familiar with how search engines work
Search engines are text-driven and crawl the web looking at particular site items to get an idea what a site is all about. Search engines perform several activities in order to deliver search results – crawling, indexing, processing, calculating relevancy, and retrieving.
Let’s briefly go through these activities. First, search engines crawl the web. This task is performed by a piece of software called a spider. Spiders follow links from one page to another and index everything they find. With so many web sites today, it is impossible for spiders to visit your site everyday so sometimes it may take several months before spiders visit your site again.
Spiders do not see images, movies, script, frames, password-protected pages and directories, so if you have lots of these objects on your site, you need to rethink your site.
After a page is crawled, the next step is to index its content. The indexed page is stored in a database from where it can later be retrieved. Essentially, the process of indexing is identifying the words and expressions that best describe the page and assigning that page to particular keywords.
When a search request comes, the search engine compares the search string with the indexed pages in the database. Since it is likely that more than one page contains the search string, the search engine starts calculating the relevancy of each of the pages in its index to the search string.
There are various algorithms to calculate relevancy. Each of these algorithms has different relative weights for common factors like keyword density, links, or meta-tags. That is why different search engines give different search results pages for the same search string. Also, all major search engines like Yahoo, Google, and MSN periodically change their algorithms and if you want to keep at the top, you also need to adapt your pages to their latest changes.
The last step in search engines’ activity is retrieving the results and simply displaying them in the browser.
Now, if you are hiring a SEO specialist, some useful questions to ask include:
- Can you show me examples of your previous work and share some success stories?
- Do you follow the Google Webmaster Guidelines?
- What kind of results do you expect to see, and in what timeframe? How do you measure your success?
- What are your most important SEO techniques?
- Will you share with me all the changes you make to my site, and provide detailed information about your recommendations and the reasoning behind them?
Please beware of SEOs that claim to guarantee rankings, or allege a “special relationship”, or advertise a “priority submit” to major search engines. For example, there is no priority submit for Google. In fact, the only way to submit a site to Google directly is through their Add URL page or by submitting a Sitemap and you can do this yourself at no cost whatsoever.
One of the basic truths in SEO is that even if you do all the things that are necessary to do, this does not automatically guarantee you top ratings but if you neglect basic rules, this certainly will not go unnoticed.
Good luck and happy SEO’ing.