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Search engine optimization (SEO)

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The relationship between SEOs and the search engines

In the early 2000, search engines and SEO firms attempted to establish an unofficial "truce." There are several tiers of SEO firms, and the more reputable companies employ content-based optimizations which meet with the search engines (reluctant) approval. These techniques include improvements to site navigation and copywriting, designed to make websites more intelligible to search engine algorithms.

Search engines have also reached out to the SEO industry, and are frequent sponsors and guests at SEO conferences and seminars. In fact, with the advent of paid inclusion, search engines now have a vested interest in the health of the optimization community.

Getting discovered by search engines

New sites no longer need to be submitted to search engines to be listed. A simple link from an established site will get the search engines to visit the new site and spider its contents. It is rarely more than a few days from the acquisition of the link to all the main search engine spiders visiting and indexing the new site.

Naturally, this means that it is good practice to have some means (such as a site map, or plain hypertext links) so that once a spider finds part of a site, it can navigate to the rest. Otherwise, individual, isolated, dead-end pages must be found one-by-one from outside the site; any pages that are not linked to from outside can only be found by links internal to the site.

For those search engines, like Yahoo, who have their own paid submission, it may save some time to pay a nominal fee for submission.

"Ethical" methods

So-called "ethical" methods of SEO involve following the search engines' guidelines as to what is and what isn't acceptable. Their advice generally is to create content for the user, not the search engines; to make that content easily accessible to their spiders; and to not try to game their system. Often webmasters make critical mistakes when designing or setting up their web sites, and "poison" them so that they will not rank well. Ethical SEO attempts to discover and correct mistakes, such as machine-unreadable menus, broken links, temporary redirects, or a generally poor navigation structure that places pages too many clicks from the home page.

Because search engines are text-centric, many of the same methods that are useful for web accessibility are also advantageous for SEO. Methods are available for optimizing graphical content, even Flash animation (by placing a paragraph or division within, and at the end of the enclosing OBJECT tag), so that search engines can interpret the information.

Some methods considered ethical by the search engines:
  • Using a robots.txt file to grant permissions to spiders to access, or avoid, specific files and directories in the site
  • Using a short and relevant page title to name each page
  • Using a reasonably sized description meta tag without excessive use of keywords, exclamation marks or off topic comments
  • Keeping the page accessible via links from other pages on the site and, preferably, from a sitemap
  • Developing links via natural methods: Google doesn't elaborate on this somewhat vague guideline, but buying a link from an off-topic page purely because it has a high PageRank is probably not considered acceptable. Dropping an email to a fellow webmaster telling him about a great article you've just posted, and requesting a link, is most likely acceptable.

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