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SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation. It’s best defined as the steps a webmaster takes to increase the visibility of his/her web pages in the search engine’s organic search results.
Let’s define a couple of terms at this point.
A webmaster is simply a person who is responsible for a website. Organic search results are those listings in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) that are there on merit because of their relevance to the search term typed in.
It’s important to differentiate between organic and paid listings. With paid listings, webmasters pay the search engines to have their pages (in the form of ads) listed at the top of the SERPs. You can identify paid listings in Google because they have the “Ad” label next to them.
There can be several Ads at the top of the SERPs before any organic listings appear. You may also see ads at the bottom of each results page.
Before we go on any further, I should just mention that this book focuses on Google SEO. Google is the largest search engine on the planet.
In fact, most search traffic from around the world comes directly from Google Search.
Google has become synonymous with the term “search engine”. It’s an expression that has even found its way into the English dictionary as a verb.
I expect you’ve heard someone describe how they “googled” something or other. Google is the most important place to rank well, and if you rank well on Google, chances are you will rank well on Yahoo and Bing too.
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In the good old days (that’s up to about 2010), ranking in Google was relatively easy.
At that time, Google’s algorithm (the complex code that determines where a web page will rank) was heavily based on two things. The keywords found on the page and the links pointing to it.
These were the main ranking factors and webmasters knew it. Since both of those factors could be controlled and manipulated by the site owners, many webmasters began to organize and manipulate things so that they could rank well in the SERPs.
Here was the process for doing this:
- Identify the keywords you want to rank for (the ones people type in at the search engines).
- Create a page that was “optimized” for that keyword or phrase. The quality of the content was not important back then. You simply needed to include your chosen keyword in as many places within the HTML code as possible. This was aptly named keyword stuffing. The keyword would be placed in the title of the page, the opening header, in the body of the content (maybe five times or more per 100 words), and in the ALT tags (a text alternative for an image or object on a page). Keywords were also sometimes stuffed into the domain name itself. The more times you could get your term on the page, the better your results.
- Build backlinks to the page. These were often built by the thousand using automated backlinking tools that dropped links into a variety of spammy, worthless pages around the net. These backlinking tools would use your chosen keyword in the link text.
Basically, that was the strategy, and it worked. You could rank for literally any term using that simple formula.
Webmasters were able to rank in the SERPs for anything they wanted, for whatever they wanted. Back in the very early days, if you got into the first top 10 positions on page one of Google, you would remain there for three months, until the next update came out.
Google had lost control.
As you can imagine, the SERPs started to fill up with junk. Pages were ranking because of the spammy techniques employed by webmasters, rather than on merit, and that made Google look bad.
As a search engine, Google’s goal was to return the best, most relevant and high-quality results as possible. The reality was very different. In many cases the top 10 was filled with trashy content; spammy sites that offered little or no value to the web surfer.
Over time, Google refined its algorithm, making it more and more difficult for webmasters to game the system. In Google’s ideal world, its prized algorithm would be based entirely on factors that webmasters could not control or manipulate.
As you will see later in the book, Google’s Panda and Penguin updates (as well as several other major updates) were designed to take back control from the webmasters. By removing factors from the algorithm that webmasters could easily manipulate, or give these factors less importance, Google made it increasingly difficult for webmasters to game the system. Bear this in mind when we look at the top-ranking factors later in this chapter.
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