SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is the process and discipline of improving the quality and visibility of a website in order to increase its ranking in search engines, thereby increasing the visitor traffic. That’s a simple definition, but it captures the essence of SEO.

Webmasters started optimizing websites in the mid-90s, soon after search engineswhat_is_SEO
began cataloguing the growing number of websites that were appearing on the
Internet. The term “search engine optimization” is believed to have come into use
in 1997. Today, search marketing is estimated to be a 15-billion dollar industry in
the US alone, with tens of thousands of self-help entrepreneurs succeeding quite
effectively as well.
The roots of the modern-day search optimization actually began decades earlier with
the original database query technologies of the 1960s. The first search technologies
were much simpler than today’s. A typical database query in the 1960s might search
a few hundred thousand records for a specific term, such as a city name or ZIP code.
SEO can be quite powerful. It can mean the difference between hundreds or
thousands of engaged and relevant visitors to your website or nearly no visitors at
all. In almost any marketplace for goods and services on the Internet, you can see
businesses with top rankings enjoying financial prosperity.
The first ten search results for a query—the first page of search results in nearly all
search engines—is now universally seen as a highly desirable target placement.
Indeed, statistics generally show that a very small number of search users ever look
beyond the first page of search results; most studies reveal that only between 6%
and 3% of all the search engine queries result in a visit to the second page of search
results—a meager portion.
SEO levels the playing field. Access to media such as newspapers, magazines, and
television used to be reserved for those willing to pay for the privilege. Nowadays,
a small home-based business can compete—sometimes quite effectively—with the
largest Fortune 500 company.
Google doesn’t care how big your office is, how many trucks your business uses in
its distribution chain, or how many high-definition cameras you employ to produce
your blog; Google has no way of knowing, and they probably wouldn’t care. What
Google can do, however, is apply its sophisticated algorithm to the content of your
website’s pages and the content of the sites that link to you.
There is a common joke about two campers in a forest that are approached by a bear.
One camper reaches immediately for his running shoes. The other camper asks,
“Why are you putting on those running shoes? You can’t outrun that bear.” The other
camper replies, “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you.” That’s
how search placement works; you simply need to do a little bit more than the next
guy. There is no minimum threshold for obtaining a search ranking other than the
threshold established by your search competitors. Do a little bit more, be a little bit
smarter, and your rankings will rise.

SEO has several close relatives. SEM (Search Engine Marketing) is a broader
term that refers to SEO as well as paid-search placement, contextual advertising,
and paid-inclusion advertising. It is also important to think of SEO as including
“conversion optimization”—the study and practice of improving the conversion
of visitors to customers after they visit your web page.
Always remember a search engine’s core purpose is to deliver relevant search results
to a user entering a query.
Nearly all of us have used the Lycos search engine at one time; but almost
no one uses the service any more. Why not? Because the Lycos search
engine didn’t return very good results for users. Either the results were
not relevant, or the results were diluted with ads. For whatever reason,
Lycos was not as good as Google at delivering a relevant set of usable
results in response to a query.
It’s important to keep in mind the role of the search engine. Too often, webmasters
think or say Google is “against” them because Google appears to rank lower-value
sites in favor of their own. The truth is the exact opposite; Google wants you to
rank—as long as your result serves the needs of its user base. You need to give
Google what it’s looking for (or Yahoo! or Bing, as the case maybe), and Google
will rank your site higher.
In this book, we will take an in-depth look into how to apply sound and tested
search engine optimization techniques to the success of your WordPress website
or blog.

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