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BACK TO BASICS: Why Search Engine Optimization

BACK TO BASICS: Why Search Engine Optimization

by: Susan Esparza, April 2005

Just about one month ago, I wrote an entry on our SEOToolSet blog regarding search engine optimization as an ongoing process. Inspired by many a forum thread with a Chicken Little attitude, I wanted to address what I think is a common misconception about SEO. For this month's Back to Basics column, I decided to revisit that ground because it is worth saying more than once.

Search engine optimization is a process. It has multiple parts, some of which are practically intuitive and others which are extremely scientific. It's a combination of factors that all need attention. Learning what balance of attention will bring you the best results is the part of SEO that takes you out of government work and introduces you to brain surgery level precision.

SEO is about increasing the value of a website and being the very best result for a researcher. It is content and links and meta tags and server issues and clean code and proper theming. And if that looks like too many ands in one sentence, remember that there are lots more factors than that in the algorithm. Some of those factors are merely tie-breakers, some of them are make or break and any of them could change in importance tomorrow.

Right now, no one would dispute the claim that links are important and the keyword tag is next to, if not completely, ignored. But if you put all your effort into link building and never put a keyword tag on your page and then tomorrow the search engines decide that links mean nothing and the keyword tag is everything, you're sunk.

Just to recap, remember what SEO isn't.

  • SEO isn't a quick fix. There is no way to go through a website once for optimization then sit back and ride the algorithm to the top. Bruce is fond of saying that in government work they will measure with a micrometer, mark with chalk and cut with an axe. The same applies to any one time edit SEO.

  • SEO isn't a magic formula. Unless you crack the algorithm, you'll never discern the perfect combination of all 100+ factors. And even if you do manage to replicate Google's algorithm perfectly, Yahoo, MSN and Ask Jeeves will still elude you.

  • SEO isn't just links. Yes, Googlebombing works. Yes, you can rank for a term (i.e. miserable failure) without any mention of the keyword or any optimized content. But that's not SEO, that's spam and spam is bad.

  • SEO isn't just content. If you write about it, they will come. It's a nice thought but there are hundreds of pages shouting in obscurity who have no links, no keywords, no meta-tags and no bandwidth. They could be the most expert of experts but if no one knows about them, it doesn't matter.

  • SEO isn't just meta tags and keyword densities. And it's not LSI or PR. Gibberish content with keyword stuffing won't get you anywhere and it won't get you ranked.

  • SEO isn't just a fast server. Okay, so no one really thinks this (do they?) but I'm making a point, so bear with me. SEO isn't about the fad of the week get-ranked-quick ideas. If you want to be at the top of the SERPs without waiting, buy PPC.

SEO is about doing everything to make a website stand out as clearly the best match for the customer. Because search engines are not human, the goal of SEO is to tell the spider as transparently and cleanly as possible why the page is the most valuable. There are over 100 ways to do that, so why would you just pick one or two to focus on?