Understanding SEO

The very first thing you should know about SEO is that the best techniques are always changing. However, these changes are always made in pursuit of the same goal: to provide truly useful results to every search. Google is the industry leader when it comes to search engines, and they frequently update their systems with that goal in mind: awarding the highest-quality, most useful sites the highest ranks, as opposed to mediocre or poor sites that simply utilize tricks to fool the search engines.

To understand current SEO strategy, ask yourself this question:

“Why do people use search engines?”

The answer is “to find useful content about the topic they searched for.” The answer is not any of the following:

  • “To find the site with the most keywords.”
  • “To find an unrelated site that tricked Google into listing it.”
  • “To find a site a lot of people have been paid to post links to.”
  • “To find a site with nothing but ads on it.”

And yet, sites of the types mentioned in those answers used to rank all the time. Why? Because unscrupulous website owners were able to exploit the methods Google used to determine which sites were relevant to a search. Methods of abuse included (but were not limited to):

  • Filling the meta keywords tag with common, yet unrelated search terms in an attempt to make the site rank for as many searches as possible
  • Repeating a targeted search term multiple times in the text to the point that it was nearly useless for a human to read
  • Posting spam links everywhere in an effort to make Google think that a lot of people were linking to the site because it was useful
  • Adding text the same color as the background so Google would see content that a human reader could not

You may have seen examples of these yourself while browsing the web. You may even have wondered why a particular site was written with such repetition, cramming a phrase multiple times into unnatural sentences. You may have just assumed you were reading the work of a bad writer. Nope— you were reading text primed to exploit search engines, with actual human readers as an afterthought!

The fight for good content

The end result of all this exploitation is that search engines were tricked into displaying poor-quality sites in their top results simply because of how well they’d gamed the system. Those sites may have been next to worthless for a human being to read, but for a search engine, they were just fine. Google began to address this problem with updates geared toward making their search engine judge “usefulness” the same way a human would, and not how a computer would.

Today, most of the old tactics will get your site flagged and penalized. The key to good SEO is to avoid the outdated strategies and focus on building a site that is both useful to people and understandable by search engines. The next lessons in this course will show you how to achieve both.

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