SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, has been the buzzword among web developers for several years now. The ultimate goal of SEO is to earn a great ranking in the top search engines so that one’s site turns up on page one of any relevant web searches. Studies have shown that people rarely click past the first or second pages of the search engine results, so it’s vital to get a position at the top.
This isn't as easy as it sounds. The search engines use algorithms to determine which sites get the best rank for each search, and these codes are closely guarded secrets. SEO often feels like a guessing game, but there are a few basic rules, tricks and tools that can help.
Keywords are the cornerstone of SEO. The textual content of a website (both in the display and in the code) plays the biggest part in determining which sites a search engine will return when a user enters any given terms. A site about widgets should mention widgets often, as well as any related terms. It's important to offer good content, and plenty of it. The more you can talk about widgets and anything related to widgets, the more likely it is that your site will show up on page one.
Be careful, though. Too many gratuitous keywords will make a site seem “spammy,” and won’t provide much value for visitors. If a search engine determines that a site is over-stuffed with keywords, that site’s rankings will be penalized accordingly.
Links are another aspect of SEO. Incoming links should come from reputable sites, in a context that makes sense. Web pages that exist only to link to other sites can actually pull those sites’ ranking down, since the search engines associate these “ad-farm” tactics with spam, and will skew the results accordingly. Web developers need to be on top of all the connections to and from their site. Although one can’t usually control what other people do with their sites, there are ways to use your own code to combat bad external links.
Analytic reports are every SEO professional’s most important tool. They show how the web site is doing overall, the keywords that people used to find the site, any external links that led them there, how long they stayed, where they went when they left, which pages are most popular, and plenty of other valuable information. SEO is not a static goal, but an ongoing process. Interpreting analytic reports takes some practice, but it’s worth it to see the nearly real-time results of SEO efforts.
In all the SEO excitement, though, many developers lose sight of why the Internet exists in the first place. Search engines and ranking pages are not people. The search engine developers know that their job is to serve human beings who are looking for information. Websites designed with human readers in mind will rarely run afoul of the algorithms, and will be appreciated by the customers for whom they were created.