What is SEO? How Does Search Work?

SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation, is the practice of increasing your search performance using techniques such as creating quality content, creating great urls and using clean code (amongst many other things). But before we get into a bit more detail we need to think about how search engines actually work, to do this here is @mattcutts of @google talking about it.
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNHR6IQJGZs]

Update: @MattCutts posted an update video on Google+ and YouTube.

At it’s most basic level, SEO is about using certain techniques to enhance your search rankings (without making your site spammy). As my friend says, SEO is…

Well that is certainly how lots of website owners view the world of search optimisation. But in reality it’s less about looking good and more about being good.
It’s what is on the inside that counts.

SEO, as mentioned in the video above, is not about paying money to a search engine to rank highly. If anyone claims that or promises you a no #1 slot on Google or Bing – they are lying they are probably offering paid adverts (also mentioned in the video above).

But beyond the improvement of search rankings, what is SEO?

Well, to myself at least, SEO is about improving the quality of the website. But not for search engines and the magically algorithms they use, but instead for your users. After all, you can have as many visitors as you want to the site, but if it reads like a 2 year old has written each page or product description, or if your navigation makes no sense or generally your user feels lost then you will never see them a) return again or b) convert and become a customer.

So for me, SEO is the art of making a website beautiful on the inside and the outside for both users and search engines. If your website is built correctly, structured correctly and has great content it will naturally rank well and your conversion rate will also be much higher than if you just stick to “gaming the search”.

What are the key ingredients to great SEO?

There are many, more than 200, factors which search engines take into account for every single search. Some of those factors are more important than others, some are variant factors (they matter sometimes but not others), some are known and many are not known. In this series of posts I will guide you through various search factors and how you can use existing information and know-how to boost your rankings to gain more traffic. A few things which we will look at are:

    Your Website Code for SEO
    including: title tags, descriptions, alt tags and more 

    Your Design for SEO
    including: above the fold, advertising on site and user experience

    Social Media for SEO
    including: how to best utilise each type of social media

    and, Off-Site Link and Reputation Building for SEO
    pretty much does what it says on the tin.

But what I will not be doing is dwelling on Black Hat SEO. Black Hat SEO is the name given to those who basically “game” search engines or build millions of links or generally spam. All search engines frown upon Black Hat techniques and whilst I know a fair few of them I will not be discussing them on this blog or in this series. If you want to know more about what BHSEO is take a read of this wikipedia article.

How to get the most from this SEO Guide.

To get the most of this guide to SEO you will need to in the first instance take the below actions. The actions below are useful in general but will be important for some parts of this guide as I will be referencing certain activities and you will need to have done the below.

<h4>Sign up for <a title="GWT" href="http://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/" target="_blank">Google Webmaster Tools</a></h4>
<h4>Install <a title="google analytics" href="http://google.com/analytics" target="_blank">Google Analytics</a></h4>
<h4>Sign up for <a title="bwt" href="http://www.bing.com/toolbox/webmaster/" target="_blank">Bing Webmaster Tools</a></h4>
<h4>Submit your site to <a href="http://www.google.co.uk/submit_content.html" target="_blank">Google</a> and <a href="https://ssl.bing.com/webmaster/SubmitSitePage.aspx" target="_blank">Bing</a></h4>
<h4>Want us to include something in the <a title="seo guide for website owners" href="http://www.seoandy.net/optimisation/" target="_blank">SEO guide</a>, tweet @andykinsey</h4>
<h4>Check back at <a title="seo guide from seo andy manchester" href="http://www.seoandy.net" target="_blank">SEOAndy.com</a> each week.</h4>
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