Search engines are the norm for locating websites. Getting on the first page is critical since the majority of users don't look past the first few entries and certainly don't go past the first results page. The way to get on the first page is to be one of ten or so most relevant web pages among potentially millions of pages with similar content.
You cannot simply pay the search engine provider to be more relevant.The structure of the website in general and content of the pages in particular need to be produced, edited, and tagged for the target audience and algorithms of the major search engines. In other words, the entire website needs to be optimized for how search engines view your content. This is where search engine optimization, commonly called SEO, comes in.
The providers of search engines, like Ask (http://www.ask.com/), Bing (http://www.bing.com/), Google (http://www.google.com/), and Yahoo! (http://www.yahoo.com/) want to identify and serve-up the most relevant pages. It makes sense; the more relevant the information is to a person's search, the more likely the person is to use the search engine. But the providers aren't in the practice of telling everyone how to increase relevancy, for two very important reasons.
Google became the dominant search engine precisely because it serves the truly most relevant pages among the largest number of websites. There is no way Google wants its competitors to know its precise search process or ranking algorithm. It wants to provide the best results for its consumers, not teach its competitors how to identify and serve-up the best results. And that's the source of the other reason. In order to serve the best results, they must be truly the most relevant based on the content of the site. If search providers like Google published their approach, then website publishers would know the exact techniques to seemingly become the most relevant without necessarily being the best; it's kind of like cheating on a test and thus invalidates the results and negates the relevancy.
The holy grail for search providers is true relevancy and they continually refine their process in the hopes of achieving this goal. Search providers continually research new ways to analyze a website in the hopes of increasing relevancy. In turn, progressive website publishers periodically test different optimization techniques to identify the algorithm. When they find one that works, that optimize their site with the hopes of becoming more relevant in the eyes of the search engine and ultimately the target audience. This is the job of SEO.
Search engine optimization isn't done to cheat the system. SEO activities are designed to enhance communication and in some ways a search engine's understanding of the website being crawled by the engine. Assuming the search engine is working in the best interest of the consumer, as web publishers we need to work in the interest of the engine so we can successfully communicate with our mutual customer.
Just like marketing, SEO is not a one-time activity performed casually by a novice. Optimizing a website for the major search engines takes time, testing, and training to forensically identify algorithms and implement techniques that the engine likes. SEO is an on-going activity that builds upon experimentation and experience. Website publishers need SEO and need to make is a mission critical, perpetual business practice.
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