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By Barry Hurd

RISMEDIA, Jan. 9, 2008-Do you need a basic introduction about search engine optimization (SEO)? This article is an introduction to being able to understand conversations about SEO, Spyders, Black Hat, and a variety of buzz words used by online marketers.

Why is everyone so eager to be on search engines?

In 2007, advertisers spent billions of dollars on search engine marketing. Projections for search engine marketing efforts are slated at over $12 billion dollars by 2010, with some statistics going as high as $25 billion. The online market place is constantly shifting and evolving, producing large amounts of targeted traffic for various types of businesses that know how to convert visitors into clients.

In 2006- Forrester Research released these basic statistics about search traffic:

– 93% of all Internet traffic is generated from Internet search engines
– 89% of them are first-time visitors
– 99% of Internet searchers do not search beyond the top 30 results
– 97% of them never look beyond the top three results
– Top 10 positions receive 78% more traffic than those in positions 11-30
– 65% of online revenue is generated from Web sites in the top three positions on search engine results pages (SERPs)
– 93% of global consumers use search engines to find Web sites
– 76.7% of Google users use the natural search links (organic unpaid listings)

What is search engine optimization (SEO) and why is it important?

SEO is the process of analyzing elements on a site so that the code maximizes the combinations of keywords contained on the site when a search engine looks at it. While text elements are visible to a human eye, dozens of pieces of code within a site are also important to showing up for specific keywords: this includes structure, HTML code, directories, images and content on the site. The selection of the keywords a site shows up for is radically important to a business, as the competitiveness and importance of those keywords could potentially send thousands of viewers a day to a site.

What is search engine marketing (SEM) and why is it important?

SEM is the understanding of how a target site relates to other sites on the Web. Some SEO techniques allow a site to show up for relatively low competition keywords, but as the number of sites on a given keyword becomes more competitive, SEM allows a business to coordinate dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of sites to increase the relevancy of how a search engine views it. SEM can also include pay per click (PPC) or unpaid organic results.

What is the primary difference between SEO and SEM?

Search engine optimization (SEO) is primarily done with code work on a target site. It includes images, text, and information on the site.

Search engine marketing (SEM) is primarily done with work not on the site. It includes link-building, business partnerships, and other online marketing efforts.

What is the difference between Pay Per Click (PPC) and Organic search results?

Most search engines have some form of PPC advertising that a business may purchase. You choose the word or phrase you wish to show up for, and when someone searches for that phrase your advertising and link shows up in the results. These systems are usually on a bid based system and typically show three to ten advertisers. When someone clicks on your link, you pay a per visitor price typically ranging from ten cents to ten dollars (some keywords near the $100 price point.) In Google, PPC results are typically the top 2 results labeled as “sponsored” and also include the right hand column.

Organic results are generated by the search engine attempting to provide the most relevant information based upon the search criteria of the user. Most SEO and SEM is focused on getting top placement in the organic section, as once the result is achieved no further cost is incurred on a per visitor basis.

What is a spider or a robot, and how is my site found?

When a site is originally created, most designers will do a simple submission to the main search engines. This causes the search engine to send an automated robot (also known as a spider) to examine the Web site. Depending on the search engine, that spider is looking for various clues to help categorize and rank the relevance of your site. (history note: the term spider was adopted as a nickname when the Internet became commonly known as the “Web”) These robots are looking for relevant and fresh information. When they find it, search engine spiders are instructed to analyze how often the information is refreshed and how relevant it is (often identified by how many times it is mentioned on other sites.)

What factors determine where a search engine will rank a Web site?

Most search engines use a process of automated mathematical analysis to determine what site has the most relevant content. There are a number of accepted best practices for reaching higher value on specific terms, ranging from keyword research, selection and relevance of link partners, meta-tags, element and heading tags, submission techniques, freshness of data, and overall online competitiveness of the keywords and industries. Social search engines vary in this regard- in that community members or staff act as the filter of relevant data, either voting or submitting data manually to the search and browsing areas of different social search networks.

How long does search engine optimization and marketing take?

Basic optimization work can be done immediately for most sites, which is a labor intensive chore of making sure the site is coded and labeled using best practice techniques. SEO work will not rank a site for competitive terms, but will provide a platform for long-term results over time depending on the material of the site.

Organic SEM usually takes 15 to 30 days to implement, and results are typically 30 to 90 days behind those efforts based on the competitiveness of the terms. That timeframe can be reduced by spending more effort, but as the time frame of the project is shortened, the pricing typically sky-rockets.

With a strategic team and specific goals, some terms can gain results within weeks by leveraging industry partnerships or using PPC campaigns for immediate impact. For most businesses, realistic search benefits should be seen at 90, 180, and 365 days.

How do you target traffic using search engine marketing?

Search engine traffic can be extremely targeted using specific keyword combinations. The more detailed the term, the more targeted the traffic. Many companies make the mistake of trying to reach extremely broad and competitive keyword results when they should be focusing on lower traffic but more highly defined keywords. Understanding the marketing 101 behind your product and services may also allow you to target like-minded terms that are not directly competitive with your business, but that attract the same demographic and target audience you are looking at reaching.

What is ethical search engine marketing? (a.k.a. what is black and white hat?)

There are many “best practice” strategies and techniques that search engines both appreciate and endorse, and ones that they actively discourage and ban. In the search engine world, White Hat describes only positive and encouraged efforts, while Black Hat describes manipulative and questionable techniques. Ethical search engine marketing utilizes only practices that are beneficial to the target site (white hat) and do not risk negative reactions (black hat) from the search engines. As a general rule, search engines appreciate using good code and relevant information to index, while they dislike techniques designed to manipulate, SPAM, or corrupt the search results.

Here are some known items that are either black hat, or discouraged by the search engines:

• Page cloaking
• Spamming of the submission process
• Automatically generated doorway pages
• False redirects to another page
• Keyword stuffing (too many keywords on a page)
• Irrelevant keywords
• Duplicate content on different pages or sites
• Misspelling of common words, or well-known brands/sites
• Unrelated link farms
• Data blogs with no unique content (also known as splogs)
• Malicious code design to trick the search engine

Can I do SEO for myself or can my Web developer do this for me?

Yes and no. There are many basic steps of SEO that a business owner can do for themselves. Many of these involve making sure the site is correctly coded under current standards and that it is submitted to the most popular search engines (Google, Yahoo, MSN, AOL, Lycos, etc.) Beyond the basic steps of making sure the site has good foundation, experienced Web designers and developers can commonly take on the task of basic to intermediate search engine optimization. Expert level and competitive search marketing falls into a more general umbrella of online marketing that may involve SEO, SEM, online partnerships, business development, public relations, and online advertising expertise. Depending on the time frame, importance, and budget, choosing to learn certain SEO items or utilize an expert is a case by case basis. As with all projects, using a specialist may or may not make sense.

About the author:
Barry Hurd  has over 15 years of entrepreneurial Internet and online marketing experience. As an author and prolific blogger, he has reached online audiences around the world. Since the mid-1990s, Barry has been involved in numerous efforts to bring forth technical innovation through online business models. Past projects have included NIKE, REI, TMP Worldwide,, Verizon Superpages, Intuit, and RISMedia.