In the following post I will discuss some ins and outs of SEO, including what it is, how it came about and why it’s so important today. Keep in mind that SEO is one of the most complex processes to understand. Besides the fact that the criteria for its algorithms (explained below) are always changing, there are also many theories out there as to what to do and what not to do in regards to perfecting it. SEO is like an evolving art form, always needing to be tweaked, modified and improved upon. I will write a more thorough explanation of how SEO works and my theories on best SEO practices in a later post. For the time being, however, I will discuss with you what SEO is and why it’s so important.

So, what is SEO?

You’ve most likely heard the term SEO, and probably also know what it stands for (Search Engine Optimization); however, the real question is, what does Search Engine Optimization actually mean? Wikipedia defines SEO as “the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a web search engine’s unpaid results”. In other words, SEO provides a way for your website to be found in search engines based on words and/or phrases relevant to what your site is offering.

A Brief History of Search Engines and SEO

Although search engines have been around only two decades, it’s difficult to imagine a world without them. Search engines provide an endless source of knowledge and have totally changed how we discover information. Nowadays you can attain knowledge about virtually anything, by simply typing a word or a phrase into a search engine.

Search engines came around back in 1990, when a website called Archie Query Form allowed users to search the web for terms and or phrases. Over the next few years, other search engines began to spring up: Altavista, Lycos and Yahoo, just to name a few. Back then search engines worked very differently than they do now. Search engines relied on databases of keywords in order to find relevant results. Whenever a user searched for a particular word or term, the search engine would browse its databases for that term and display the pages it considered to be most relevant, most of the time based simply on the number of times that word showed up on a particular page or website.

Unfortunately, this automated process was not very efficient in displaying the most relevant pages first. For instance, when searching for “Apple computers”, retailers selling Apple products might be featured before the Apple corporate website, since a single page of theirs may have listed dozens of Apple computers.

Now when did SEO enter the scene and totally alter the course of search engine history? In 1996, Sergie Brin and Larry Page, two friends from Stanford University, began working on a project in order to create a search engine that worked differently from any other search engine on the market. Their ideal search engine didn’t automatically assume that the more a word or phrase showed up on a site, the more it was useful for the person searching for it. In their view, a website shouldn’t be ranked higher based on the number of times a searched word or phrase showed up on a site. They felt there should be a better way to search the web. At the time the name of their project was Backrub. Today, that project/company is called Google, the most widely used search engine in existence.

Search engine history and timeline

Like previous search engines, Google also used web crawlers to scour the internet and keep databases of keywords; however, besides web crawlers, Google also used algorithms. These algorithms would consider many factors in determining the usefulness of a website: the quality of the content, the number of backlinks (other websites linking to that particular website or page), the placement of keywords within the domain name and titles, and even website speed and image optimization.

Why is SEO important?

In today’s highly competitive market, SEO is more important than ever. Everyday there are millions of users looking for products, services, answers to questions and solutions to problems. Like any business owner, your success depends on those people purchasing  your products and coming to your website for answers to their problems. Without traffic to your website, the probability of your success becomes very slim.

In order to attain traffic, you need to be visible to potential customers, and that’s where SEO becomes so important. Many consider SEO to be a type of “quality control” for websites; the higher the quality of your content and the most useful you are to online users searching for a particular word or phrase, the higher your site’s ranking will be in search engines.

Users tend to trust websites positioned higher in search engine rankings, making it more probable that they will offer their business to a website/business on the first page, and not a website further down in the rankings. It may seem astonishing, but 75% of users never view the second page of search results. That is why it is SEO is so incredibly important. It is key to the visibility (and success) of your website.