Search Engine Optimization, or SEO as it’s commonly know, is the art and science of attracting visitors from search engines by ranking highly on their results pages (as known as SERPs). As mentioned above, it’s as much art as it is science.
Doing well on search engines is about doing well 3 high-level things well: indexability, relevance & authority. Now let’s jump into the details.
Search engines have programs that download websites and read their content. These programs are commonly called spiders crawlers or bots. When Google’s crawler shows up on your website, it’ll download it and attempt to understand the content on your website. It will then store it into Google’s master database, aka the Google Index. Being able to get indexed is the first part of SEO. For example, if your website is completely built in flash or using just images, Google’s robots won’t be able to understand the words on your site. If it can’t understand the words, it won’t be able to store them in it’s index. If you don’t get indexed, Google won’t show your site for relevant search queries. This brings us to the second major areas of search engine optimization: relevance.
When a person goes to Google and asks it for a “dentist in san francisco”, Google has a job to do. It needs to analyse all the websites that it has found & indexed on the Internet and provide the searcher a few recommendations, usually in the form of listings of websites. To determine what to recommend, Google will look at a number of signals to determine if your website is relevant. The art of being relevant is about giving off those signals to Google. What type of signals does it look for? That is the million dollar question that no one outside Google really knows for sure, but through experimentation, many have deduced quality guesses.
Others argue that instead of trying to figure out the exact formula for what needs to be on your pages, you should focus on your visitors and attempt to create the most relevant page for them. All else will follow. For example, if you’d like to show up for the phrase “san francisco dentist” and page doesn’t have the words “san francisco dentist”, to a visitor, your site won’t appear relevant to what they are looking for. Now if you mention “san francisco dentist” 100 times on one page, to a normal person, you’ll look like you’re trying too hard and a search engine will see it the same way.
Now let’s say that you’ve got just the right signals on your page that tells Google that you are highly relevant to the phrase that you’d like to show up for. That’s great but Google probably will have 100-1000 other websites are equally as relevant to the phrase you’re targeting. This means that Google has to somehow determine the order in which to show listings for these pages. How does it determine this order? Primarily, it determines the order based on the authority of a website. The authority of website is calculated based on a number of different factors, such as incoming links, domain age, how much content you have, etc. However, the key to increasing authority is getting a high quality & quantity of incoming links. A link to your site counts as a vote for your website, but you need the right votes. Votes from bad websites will likely hurt your website. What you need are links from related sites that are of high quality.
By doing a solid job on indexability, relevance and authority, your website will rise in the search ranks and attract lots of visitors from search engines. If you need more help learning SEO, I recommend checking out SEOBook.com. If you’d like rather outsource the work, be careful. There are a lot of snake-oil salesmen who will promise the world but can’t deliver. I recommend joining SEOBook to learn enough to understand how to determine if someone know’s their shit and then hire someone.