Search engine optimization is not a terribly complex subject once you get a handle on the terminology. The basic philosophy of search engine optimization is to generate quality traffic to a website, meaning traffic that generates results or business. New information on the topic comes our regularly; realize that this page is always Under Construction. As we learn more it will be added to the site. That being said, let's begin with some basic concepts and SEO terminology:
Search Engine Optimization
Also known as SEO, search engine optimization can be defined as the process of organically developing a web site so that it will realize improved rankings amongst the major search engines and more importantly, be findable by your potential visitors when doing a relevant keyword search. It typically involves research, site analysis, target analysis, redesigning a site (particularly if not search-engine friendly) and frequently rewriting the site's content. Organic refers to optimizing a site without incorporating a paid advertising campaign such as Google AdWords, Pay Per Click, or paid banners.
Search Engine Marketing
In contrast with SEO, the Search Engine Marketing process includes incorporating paid advertising such as Google AdWords or perhaps banner advertising into the aspect of marketing a site; this is highly controllable, whereas search engine optimization is not. Think of paid advertising campaigns as vitamin supplements to organic Search engine optimization. With certain highly competitive keyword phrases the search engine optimization process may not be enough to manage a duel with your competitors - or perhaps you simply need a jumpstart. Visit google and enter definition search engine marketing as a phrase to get a list of other web definitions.
Ultimately, be it via SEO or SEM, the purpose is to make a site visible, findable by those in need of the service.
Search Engine Friendly
Search engine optimization and search engine friendly are concepts that are frequently interchangably misunderstood. Search engine friendly refers to designing or developing a web site such that it is easy, even inviting, for the major search engines to index, or spider. In order for a website to get ranked the search engine must be able to find the site and navigate through the pages you want it to find. Once the site has been spidered and authenticated as legitimate by search engines such as google, surfers will be able to find the site via a keyword search.
There can be many reasons why a site is simply not found, not found on the first page or perhaps amongst the first pages of results when surfers do a keyword search. A few of these reasons might be that the site is designed with lots of images, perhaps a flash intro, was designed using the archaic technology of frames, has minimal content, or the content is highly duplicated amongst competitors or the designer used spamming techniques that resulted in getting the site banned. There are many other reasons. In essence, search engine friendly is a descriptive phrase that describes a site designed using sanctioned processes and techniques that support site visibilty rather than act as "walls" to search engines and surfers. Google's Webmaster's Help Center has a nice little write-up about some acceptable as well as unacceptable techniques.
Links to the site
Aside from some of the internal forces that you can control by developing good, clean, relevant content and following good practices in making the site friendly, there are also internal process that enter into the equation. The relative importance of a website or web page is a combination of quality content along with perceived importance from other sites. Google and its buds also factor in links to a site from other sites. It's a combination of quality and quality with an emphasis on relevance. If no site of importance link to yours, then why should google or yahoo or any other search engine think the site is relevant?
Search engines have multiple definitions. To internet visitors they can be defined as websites which are be used for finding resources on the world wide web, sort of like a dictionary or encyclopedia. The major search engines include google.com, yahoo.com (also known as a directory) and askjeeves.com. If a surfer does not know where to go to find a product or service he can visit one of the search engines and do a keyword search, and with any luck get some relevant results.
On a smaller scale a search engine can also be a program designed within a website to search data within that site only. Other than mentioning this, we won't be talking much along these lines.
Regional vs. National vs. Worldwide Search Engine Optimization campaigns
If you were to visit a major search engine such as google and enter the phrase, search engine optimization and click Search you would get a broad set of incredibly competitive results because search engine optimization is a super competitive industry. However if you happen to live in Erie, Colorado such as I do and are more interested in local results, you might enter, search engine optimization erie colorado. Upper/lower case makes no difference, so why wear out your fingers with the CAPS key.
To limit the results even further try entering, "search engine optimization erie, colorado". The addition of double quotes tells the search engine to interpret the phrase literally, i.e. as an exact string. Without quotes the search engine will be running the search and interpreting the results based upon the algorithm the search engine is defined to, however somewhere in the page you should find all the terms of the keyword phrase including Erie and Colorado. Of course many of us know there is a larger Erie in Pennsylvania and probably a bunch more out there. Reversing the order of the keyword phrase will impact the results.
In theory if this page were rewritten to be optimized for Lafayette, Louisville, Longmont, Broomfield, Thornton, Denver, and other local cites we'd get some hits there as well.
What does this mean? Perhaps an example will best answer the question. If you are given the name of a website to visit, www.abcdef.com, for example and go to your browser and enter that URL in the Address or URL input field, then there really is no searching involved. However, if you are interested in purchasing a product, say image gallery or CSS Image Gallery, but don't have a clue where to find a source, then you visit google.com and in the search field enter "image gallery" or "CSS Image Gallery" with or without quotes. You should get some relevant results, providing the item exists - and - the business offering the product for sale or discussion (might be an educatonal site or tutorial) has minimally taken some basic steps towards search engine optimization on their website. In case you're wondering, in the internet world, CSS is the acronym for Cascading Style Sheets, a language used to describe how an HTML document is be formatted. Not all HTML documents utilize CSS.
The point made here is that the tighter the search, the more likely the results will return quality as opposed to quantity. The same point applies to search engine optimization. If the person chartered to handle the search engine optimization process for your site has done his/her homework, then there is a higher likelihood your site will be found. Maybe you'll be lucky and find the product or service in Erie, Colorado? Just as I might optimize phrase Search engine optimization Erie Colorado they could do the same.
Search Results Relevance
If theory held true to form, then you would always get the most relevant results based upon a search. Unfortunately this doesn't always hold true with search engine optimization and search engine marketing. There are other factors which impact the equation including the skills of the SEO person. Regardless, the goal of any search engine optimization campaign should be to create the best possible content (or copy) for the reader, yet simultaneously make it accessible for the search engines as well.
Pay Per Click / Cost Per Click
PPC and CPC tend to be used almost synonymously. Both refer to systems in which an advertiser pays an agreed amount for each click delivered to his or her site from a link or even a banner ad. In the case of banner ads, other than the fact that they may be blinking and or ornately designed, there may be absolutely no searching or relevance for the client. For example, I could place a banner ad on www.espn.com, probably at some exorbitant rate, for Search engine optimization in Erie, Colorado which if clicked upon would take you to Bob's travel agency in Boulder. Every (qualifed) time someone clicks on the ad I would be paying a few pennies into Google's back pocket.
Question: How does the advertiser know how much is fair to pay for PPC? Answer: That takes research into matching up keywords properly with potential results, playing with the maximum CPC you are willing to pay, and some jockeying around to reach a proper balance. Fortunately for all of us there are a number of keyword tracking programs which help to reduce the guesswork involved to a minimum. They still take substantial time to learn to use and use effectively.
Statistics or reports can be created (or adopted and configured) to help substantiate whether a search engine optimization campaign is working or not. These days almost all hosting companies provide access to either a logfile or a graphical report complete with bar graphs and pie charts. It's not a question of the data being there or not, but rather a question of which information is useful and how to make your way through the maize of meaningless fluff to the core niches which indicate success or failure.
Example: In itself hits on a site or a page are really meaningless. However if you can proportionately link 1500 hits to an internet purchase and your stats indicate that you're getting 500 hits per month, then you set your expectations for 4 sales per year. In theory, if you increase your hits you should realize increased sales.
A nice little test of a search engine optimization campaign would involve obtaining some before/after statistics on the site or pages you've optimized. It's takes some time and effort, but wouldn't the knowledge gained result in peace of mind?
The Google Sandbox and Planning Ahead
Sandbox - I'll bet that term takes you back a few years. Although search engine optimization in concept is fairly straight-forward, there are other factors that may enter into the equation. The Google sandbox is one of those nebulous factors that leave the jury wondering because it's not genuinely proven. So please take the next couple paragraphs with a grain of salt.
So you got your sight registered, built, looks great, your SEO person has done his homework, your open for business - but oh no response!!! Argggh! Your sight might be caught in The Google Sandbox if this is related to Google searches. Depending on whom you listen to, the theory around the sandbox varies. As we all know, there are lots of fly-by-night sorts of businesses out there. What do you think about trusting a business that surfaces, makes a few waves, then submerges?
The same thinking may be applied to internet businesses - and this is one theory of why the sandbox exists, assuming it really does. In my words - the good folks at google have chosen to incorporate an aging delay to allow the search results to savor and age like a fine wine. If they pass the litmus test and stick within the guidelines of using credible search engine optimization techniques, they will get the blessing to go public. Say good-bye to get rich quick schemes. For more information and a slightly different perspective see the Guest Article, Google's Aging Delay for New Domains By Scottie Claiborne published on Highrankings.com.
So you're in it for the long haul, but can't wait the seven or eight months for the blessing, what do you do? Aside from verbalizing that your business exists and incorporating viral marketing, you might need to investigate some PPC or banner advertising to initiate some recognition, while at the same time work on your link exchange campaign.