At its simplest, search engine optimization (SEO) strategy organizes and presents information (or marketing) online so it is accessible to search engine spiders, understandable by humans, relevant to user searches, and valuable once found.
It is both an art and science, because ultimate success requires a solid and planned integration of both creativity and technology.
As the SEO discipline matures, good SEO practitioners recognize this integration as a unique partnership of distinct (and disparate) expertise, one that often requires a different kind of collaboration among management, marketing, and information technology personnel.
The goal behind SEO is to attract new, targeted customers to websites via the search engines' natural or organic (as opposed to sponsored) results. Just as other forms of online and offline marketing attempt to attract more customers, SEO is implemented to drive more visitors, higher-quality visitors, and conversions.
How consumers search
The one common currency of search is the keyword. Users typing in a particular word or phrase are attempting to give sufficient information to garner a search engine results page (SERP) that contains relevant answers or information.
As internet users have grown more sophisticated and aware, their searches have followed suit, with search keywords becoming more complex, exact, and often incorporating geographic and/or brand elements.
SEO practitioners need to be aware of both what people are searching for and how people are searching. A good tool for finding search volume for specific terms is Google's Keywords Tool, where you'll also find Google's assessment of "advertiser competition" and new keyword suggestions associated with both search terms and your inputted keywords. The lesser-known Search-based Keyword Tool provides ideas based on your actual site, search behavior and page content.
How do we measure?
Remember, our goals are more visitors from search engines, better quality visitors, and site conversions, so we first have to focus on rankings and being able to track changes over time. As noted above, all other things being equal, higher rankings can (and should) equate to more clicks to your site. There are a number of free and paid tools that can provide ranking reports.
First, the big caveat. Google's terms of service prohibit the "sending of automated queries" to its system without "express permission in advance from Google."
This effectively disallows most of the software solutions out there that "emulate human behavior" or are "search engine-friendly." I won't name names (Google does in its webmaster guidelines), but there are some solutions out there that provide ranking reports as third-party providers, that won't possibly get your IP banned or cause any potential issues with your site's listings.
A couple of the recommended options are:
Both tools can track your keyword rankings, where higher should be better and, more often than not, clients are happy to see rankings increase.
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