Websites That Get Traffic; the Basics of SEO (part I)

Whether you live in Seattle or Boston, search engine optimization, or SEO, is a critical factor in your site's success. Before beginning the search engine optimization process, however, it is important to understand that approximately 80-85% of all web traffic is generated by the engines. When a person searches for anything on the Internet, they will most likely go to Google or Yahoo and enter a word or phrase describing what they need. Based upon what is entered, the search engine generates a page of relevant websites. This page is known as a SERP, or Search Engine Results age.

The key to life on the web is getting your site ranked at the top of the search engine lists. Ideally, you want your listings on the first three pages. Deeper listings are less likely to generate traffic to your site.

Keep in mind that search engines work for the Internet consumer. As such, your assigned ranking reflects your site's relevance and credibility to web surfers. To obtain a strong ranking, a site must be built and managed with SEO considerations in mind.

All About Search Engine Ranking

How can your site secure the highest ranking possible on the SERP totem pole? The key is to understand that the engines have the ability to "read" web pages. This is why SEO is critical. The greater the amount of information that can be read and the higher its quality, the more favorably a page will appear to the engines.

How do the engines "read" a site? Code sequences called "spiders" travel across the Internet to index and catalog each site. This information is processed through an algorithm to calculate SERP ranking.

The search engine algorithms consider and weigh several factors. Algorithms are proprietary and not available to the public. This is why a site can place strongly on one engine, but less so on another. To make the matter even trickier, algorithms are constantly updated as search engines strive to improve the quality of results generated and to accommodate the millions of new sites that come online.

Ranking and SEO

Two things impact a site's ranking in the SERPs; on-the-page and off-the-page factors. SEO efforts need to address both factors to have the biggest impact.

On-the-page factors include coding practices used to build a web page, how or if meta-tagging is used and how your page text and layout are generated. When it comes to SEO, not all coding practices, layouts or even web designs are equal. Spiders literally "read" web pages during indexing, comparing keywords and phrases used in meta-tagging against the rest of the page's text and code to determine how relevant the page is to those terms. If your tagging focuses upon 'widgets', for example, but your page text and coding excludes this term or it is buried under lines and lines of excess code, the page will not be "seen" as relevant to "widgets" and will be assigned low ranking on the SERPs.

Keep in mind that individual pages, rather than entire sites, are considered in the ranking process. For this reason, it is possible for an interior page with strong relevance to earn a stronger ranking than a home page. To showcase your most important pages and place less significant pages in the best possible position, however, all pages should be coded and designed with SEO considerations in mind.

The other consideration for SEO is off-the-page factors. This refers to the volume, quality and source of links pointing to your site from other sites. If you have a significant number of links from high-ranking sites that are relevant to the topic you target, spiders see this as vote of confidence and will rank accordingly.

Before you run out placing links anywhere and everywhere, there is an important caveat about off-the-page factors. Initiating an aggressive campaign of link building can actually damage your SEO efforts if not done wisely. For example, if the majority of links pointing to your site are from sites that have nothing to do with your topic or from poor quality sites it will contribute to poor ranking.

About the Author : R. Harvey Bravman is president of Advanced Digital Websites, Inc, a Boston search engine optimization and web design firm specializing in custom solutions for business.