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So What Does Search Engine Optimisation Actually Mean?

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is, simply, the process of making sure your web page is found in the search results when people type in one or more key phrases.
If your web page is about home improvement plumbing you'd probably like it to show up in Google when someone types the phrase "home improvement plumbing.
" Simple.
Note please that I said "web page" not "web site".
Pages are ranked individually in the search results in Google and other search engines.
Yes of course what site they're on is a factor, but in essence each page must stand on its own two feet, regardless of the site of which it forms a part.
Pages can be submitted to search engines of course, but that always smells a little desperate.
If a page is worth looking at, the likelihood is that somewhere on the web there is a link to it.
Its called the web for a reason.
So search engines like Google prefer, it seems, to find a new page by "clicking on" a link to it.
Furthermore, the more links a search engine finds to a particular page, the more its likely to believe that that page is worth referring searchers to.
We can go further.
If lots of the links have the clickable text "home improvement plumbing" search engines might surmise that the web page is about this subject.
Of course Search Engine Optimisers (SEOs) - people who specialise in getting your pages to the top of search engines - have know this for a while.
Many have abused it.
If every link to the page - let's imagine there were dozens or hundreds - said "home improvement plumbing" a search engine might "smell a rat.
" Its not natural.
In the real world links to this page might say diverse things like "click here", "plumbing information", "frozen pipes" and so on.
So yes you must have links to your new page.
The more the merrier.
But they must say different things to avoid looking contrived.
Furthermore, if you add them all in a week, that looks contrived too.
So add them over a period of time.
"Organically" is the phrase people seem to like.
Make it look natural.
Of course, if the content on the page is so blindingly good that webmasters want to link to it, it will be natural, er, naturally...
Links are good.
Links with relevant but varied link text are great.
Links from relevant *sites* are better.
What's more likely to show the search engines that your page is highly relevant to the term "home improvement plumbing?" A link from "Bob's web directory," a link from my blog or a link from the plumbing section of About.
com or Wikipedia? You shouldn't need to think too hard about this! Again, we can go over the top and acquire (beg, barter or buy,) links from lots of big industry-related sites whilst eschewing peoples' Blogs and Bob's web directory.
That's unnatural too, and may set the old alarm bells ringing.
A "normal" site gets links from all over the shop - some relevant, some not.
Mirror that model.
Again, keep it "natural".
All this link lark is what professional SEOs call "off-page optimisation.
" Obviously, the work is done "off" the page that you're optimising, and that's simply why its called that.
The other side to the SEO coin is on page optimisation.
This is where you change things on the page you are optimising to make it more "appealing" to the search engines.
As always, you can overcook, and hence burn, this.
(Remember the pages 10 years ago that were covered in the words "Britney Spears" and "MP3s"? Where are they now?) A web page genuinely about "home improvement plumbing" will contain lots of words like:
  • pipes
  • wrench
  • solder
  • copper tube
  • leak
  • boiler
Conversely, it probably won't contain a load of references to lung diseases, libido enhancers or loans.
The process of looking at the words on a page and deciding how related they are to the theme of that page is known as "Latent Semantic Indexing" or LSI.
Its highly technical.
I once tried reading up on the details.
So just remember that relevant pages contain related words.
Its common sense frankly.
You'll notice we've mentioned the theme of the page quite a few times now.
Of course search engines can "guess" the theme of a page through looking at all the words on it, but there is also a simple way to tell them clearly what you believe the theme of the page to be.
Quite simply, the title tag and main heading (h1) tag of the page should be the theme of the page.
In our example we'd place "home improvement plumbing" in the title tag, and something similar (probably not identical, just to avoid a possible "over optimisation penalty" and stay on the safe side,) in the h1 tag.
Perhaps "How to do your own home improvement plumbing" or "Plumbing for home improvements".
You're probably now understanding that this "be on the safe side" theme recurs in every element that makes up an SEO campaign.
Don't try and force your pages down a search engine's throat.
Be clear on what you'd like to rank well for, but gentle about optimising specifically for that one term.
While we're talking about on-page, there are of course other elements that you can change.
URLs should contain the keywords or something like them.
What's likely to do better do you think? site.
html or site.
php?id=5678 How about if site.
co was home-improvements.
co? Again, I think you can overcook all of this, although I know a site that does nicely enough in the results with the URL seo-seo-seo.
I'm cautious.
Others are less so, and sometimes fortune does indeed favour the bold.
Choose your own boldness vector.
So we've discussed off-page optimisation - getting links, and on-page optimisation - making sure the words on the page say what you want them to say.
What else? Well that's it in a nutshell.
Everything related to SEO is either on-page or off-page.
Links from one page to another within your site want to be relevant too.
What's going to convey more relevance? A link that says "home" or a link that says "DIY info home"? Think about that a moment and you start to see that SEO can often contradict the desires of designers, copywriters, marketers and other stakeholders, and there's the rub.
Its been turned into this supposedly "dark artform" because it involves cross-organisational co-operation and agreement.
Not easy in even the smallest of companies.
Perhaps that's why one-man-bands often do so well with SEO and beat the big players with all the guns.
Anyway - now you know SEO isn't rocket science - indeed its really no more than common sense mixed with a little empathetic thinking.
Whenever you think about a search engine, think "what's in it for me" from their point of view, and the answer will normally become clear to you.

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