Before you can understand the reasons for using SEO, it might be good to have a definition of what SEO — search engine optimisation — is.

It’s probably a safe assumption that if you’ve clicked on this blog post, you have some understanding of SEO, so I’ll keep it simple.

SEO is the science of customising elements of your web site to achieve the best possible search engine ranking. That’s really all there is to search engine optimisation. But as simple as it sounds, don’t let it fool you.

Both internal and external elements of the site affect the way it’s ranked in any given search engine, so all of these elements should be taken into consideration. Good SEO can be very difficult to achieve, and great SEO seems pretty well impossible at times. But why is search engine optimisation so important?

Think of it this way. If you’re standing in a crowd of a few thousand people and someone is looking for you, how will they find you? In a crowd that size, everyone blends together.

Now suppose there is some system that separates groups of people. Maybe if you’re a woman you’re wearing red and if you’re a man you’re wearing blue.

Now anyone looking for you will have to look through only half of the people in the crowd. You can further narrow the group of people to be searched by adding additional differentiators until you have a small enough group that a search query can be executed and the desired person can be easily found.

Your web site is much like that one person in the huge crowd. In the larger picture your site is nearly invisible, even to the search engines that send crawlers out to catalog the Web. To get your site noticed, even by the crawlers, certain elements must stand out. And that’s why you need search engine optimisation.

By accident your site will surely land in a search engine. And it’s likely to rank within the first few thousand results. That’s just not good enough. Being ranked on the ninth or tenth page of search results is tantamount to being invisible.

To be noticed, your site should be ranked much higher. Ideally you want your site to be displayed somewhere on the first three pages of results. Most people won’t look beyond the third page, if they get even that far. The fact is, it’s the sites that fall on the first page of results that get the most traffic, and traffic is translated into revenue, which is the ultimate goal of search engine optimisation. To achieve a high position in search results, your site must be more than simply recognisable by a search engine crawler.

It must satisfy a set of criteria that not only gets the site cataloged, but can also get it cataloged above most (if not all) of the other sites that fall into that category or topic. Some of the criteria by which a search engine crawler determines the rank your site should have in a set of results include:

  • Anchor text
  • Site popularity
  • Link context
  • Topical links
  • Title tags
  • Keywords
  • Site language
  • Content
  • Site maturity

There are estimated to be at least several hundred other criteria that could also be examined before your site is ranked by a search engine. Some of the criteria listed also have multiple points of view. For example, when looking at link context, a crawler might take into consideration where the link is located on the page, what text surrounds it, and where it leads to or from.

These criteria are also different in importance. For some search engines, links are more important than site maturity, and for others, links have little importance. These weights and measures are constantly changing, so even trying to guess what is most important at any given time is a pointless exercise. Just as you figure it out, the criteria will shift or change completely.

By nature, many of the elements are likely to have some impact on your site ranking, even when you do nothing to improve them. However, without your attention, you’re leaving the search ranking of your site to chance. That’s like opening a business without putting out a sign. You’re sure to get some traffic, but because people don’t know you’re there, it won’t be anything more than the curiosity of passersby.

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