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Search engine optimization - what, why, how?

What is search engine optimization?

To understand search engine optimization, first we need to understand search engines, and to understand search engines we need to understand the World Wide Web. The World Wide Web, commonly just referred to as the Web emerged from the Internet. Yes the Web is a different entity to the Internet, whereas today it all seems to get put in to the same box.

In the beginning there was the Internet

The Internet began way back in 1958 during the cold war between the West and the USSR, as a means to network information quickly and remotely using computers. No single person was responsible for the creation, and many great minds down the years have helped shape it in to the form we know today. For three decades it served as a means for scientists to transfer data between different countries in Europe and the United States. It wasn't until the late 80s when it was opened to the public that it started to evolve at an incredible rate

Then came the World Wide Web

The creation of the Web is credited to Tim Bernerrs-Lee who together with Robert Cailliau proposed building a "web of nodes" storing "hypertext pages" viewed by "browsers" via the Internet. This laid the foundations of the Web we know today. Viewing a Web page on the World Wide Web normally begins either by typing the URL of the page into a Web browser, or by following a hyperlink to that page or resource. The Web browser then initiates a series of communication messages, behind the scenes, in order to fetch and display it. As the Web was made open to the public it wasn't long before thousands and thousands of Web pages were created and the Web began to grow massively.

Search engines

Before search engines there was a complete list of all webservers. The list was edited by Tim Berners-Lee and hosted on the CERN webserver. As more and more webservers went online the central list could not keep up. On the NCSA Site new servers were announced under the title "What's New!" but no complete listing existed any more. In June 1993, Matthew Gray of MIT, produced what was probably the first web robot, the Perl-based World Wide Web Wanderer, and used it to generate an index called 'Wandex'. The purpose of the Wanderer was to measure the size of the World Wide Web, which it did until late 1995. The search engine Aliweb appeared later in November 1993. Aliweb did not use a web robot, but instead depended on being notified by website administrators of the existence at each site of an index file in a particular format.

This set the standard for search engines and soon more began to spring up including Netscape, Yahoo!, Magellan, Lycos, Infoseek and Excite. Around 2000, the Google search engine rose to prominence. The company achieved better results for many searches with an innovation called PageRank. This iterative algorithm ranks web pages based on the number and PageRank of other web sites and pages that link there, on the premise that good or desirable pages are linked to more than others. Google also maintained a minimalist interface to its search engine. In contrast, many of its competitors embedded a search engine in a web portal. Google has continued to develop and now dominates the search engine market.

Search engine optimization

And so we come back to search engine optimization. Well it wasn't long before businesses realized there were advantages to being among the first set of results delivered by a search engine. Sometimes these search results could deliver millions of web pages and it was duly noted that the common user of the Web would not usually venture beyond the second page of search results. So the front page of a search acted like a shop window for businesses that offer services on the Web, and a the more people that search the Web for services and products, the money money there was to be made on that front page.

Webmasters began studying search engines, and in particular Google, to work out how it selects its search criteria. Trends could be seen, along with press releases by the founders of Google on how to give a Web page the best chance of being delivered on to the front page of results. The process of then adjusting, or tweaking those Web pages was, and still is called optimization.

Search engine optimization - The process of maintaining a Web page so that search engines will place it high in search results for the given search term

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Search engine optimization (SEO)

Search engine optimization is the process of maintaining a Web page so that it is found and delivered high in the search placements for a given keyword or phrase.

Search engine optimization is a wide field of study, and successful SEO campaigns require a wide rank of skills. Essentially, but not exclusively these skills are:

Website coding
Content and copy writing
Link building
Link baiting
Social networking


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