What is SEO, and why should I care?

SEO is an acronym for “Search Engine optimization.” It refers to the procedures, efforts and thought processes behind improving a site’s visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs).

A relatively young idea, optimizing websites for better visibility in the search engines began to gain momentum in the mid-90s. As it became clear that sites higher-up in the SERPs reached larger audiences, received more traffic and ultimately made more money, the interest in this new idea was spreading quickly. By the time Google arrived in 1998, SEO was becoming commonplace in online marketing and continued growing at an amazing rate, year-over-year.

Today, SEO is a multi-billion dollar industry that grows substantially every year. It is also now acknowledged as a necessity for businesses wanting to achieve or build greater online success.

The Basics of SEO

The basic ideas behind SEO center on keywords.

1. Visitors go to search engines, and type in queries that use specific keywords.

2. The search engines’ algorithms make connections between this search query and websites they have indexed, displaying the most relevant pages in the SERPs.

3. SEO techniques are used by site owners to make stronger connections between their site and its relevant keywords. When successful, the site will appear higher in the SERPs for these specific search queries.

While it might seem like the best idea would be to simply pile as many keywords into a site as possible, the search engines are smarter than that. In addition, keywords used on-site are only one part of the complex equation used to determine site relevance. Without the balance of other important parts of SEO (like links, traffic, and usability), a site will not find much benefit from simply adding more keywords.

Hyper-focusing on only one aspect of SEO (like on-page keywords) can actually hurt your efforts more than help them.

There are many different “signals” the algorithms take into effect to determine site relevance. Generally, these can be divided into on-site and off-site indicators of site strength and popularity. The weight each signal carries is never exactly clear and evolves over time as well, so the basics of SEO involve an understanding of the many signals the search engines are using, and building the assumed strength for each of them as they pertain to your site.

SEO is much more than simply dumping more keywords into a page. It is an art, blending marketing, analysis, understanding trends and behaviors, and an ability to take measured risk.

And the potential rewards can stagger the imagination.

If you are asking yourself, “Why should I care about SEO?” you could consider it more like: “Is it important to me and my site to potentially reach thousands, or even millions more visitors?” When you answer “Yes” to this question, you should definitely care about SEO and what it could do for you.

Can I Ignore SEO?

There are some sites that probably never have to worry about SEO, and others that might be able to ignore it and still find success through sheer word-of-mouth popularity.

If you have a personal site, like a blog full of your poems and thoughts, a hobby site, or a site to share photos and stories with friends and family, you probably don’t have to concern yourself with SEO. A password-protected, members-only site could certainly ignore SEO.

If your site is not really going to benefit from being found by new visitors performing “organic” searches, SEO is not much of a concern to you.

This means that conversely, most businesses with websites should be aware of SEO and optimising their sites – because today, the web plays a much larger role in the daily business routines of most industries.

As more and more people turn to the Internet to search for products and services, even local businesses can’t rely on walk-in traffic they way they used to. Ignoring SEO could prove to be a fatal mistake for a local business today.

Another thing to consider is the idea of a missed opportunity. While it is true you can’t guarantee more people will find your site even with SEO attention, it is almost a certainty that a strong presence on the Internet is what most customers expect today. Ignoring the power and economic potential offered by the Internet is not typically a shrewd business move.

By improving the SEO, a site dramatically increases the chances of reaching new audiences. New audiences bring new money and new possibilities to the site owner. But if new audiences never find the site because the site owner ignores SEO, there is a real possibility of stagnation.

Do also be aware that if you choose to ignore SEO, there is likely a competitor out there who isn’t. Are you ready to give this competitor a big chunk of your site traffic, new audiences, and increased online opportunities?

Do I need to Hire a Pro?

The question of whether or not you need to hire a professional to help with your site’s SEO varies from situation to situation, but more often than not, the answer is “Yes.” SEO is a complex balance of many strategies, and professionals offer the insight to make it all work.

Businesses with a strong online component would definitely be well-served with professional SEO guidance. Smaller businesses or sole proprietorships are often able to effectively manage their own SEO efforts, but a pro’s help might bring focus that saves lots of time, money and effort. The level of competition found in the targeted niche is also an important consideration – more competition would definitely suggest the clear benefits of hiring a pro.

Questions you want to ask yourself when making this decision would include:

# How much of my time can be spent on SEO?

# .How much of a budget can I apply to SEO?

# What kind of return on investment (ROI) do I expect from SEO?

How much do I understand about SEO?

The nature of SEO, with its many moving parts and constantly changing landscape, means that if you are not spending the necessary time to stay on top of it, you may be missing something. There is also an abundance of SEO misinformation out there, so a pro will have valuable experience to help steer clear of the falsehoods and outdated or excessively risky tactics.

In addition, the search engines are all different. What works best in Google does not necessarily work the same way in Bing. A professional will know how to balance the efforts to increase your maximum gains across all the major engines.

Many businesses have in-house staff dedicated to SEO so they can manage costs and increase the levels of engagement. Even with dedicated employees working on the daily efforts, professional guidance for “big picture” planning can help. The outside SEO is able to look at the site and the current strategies more holistically, bringing a wider range of experiences to the table.

Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to hire an SEO usually comes down to available budget. Many smaller businesses become do-it-yourself SEOs because they understand the need, but lack the resources to bring in professionals.

This SEO guide is designed to assist smaller businesses or individuals in the quest to serve themselves.

It will start at the beginning, explaining the steps to follow to register a domain, build a site, and get it online. It will continue through the basics, covering what to consider as far as adding and maintaining content, installing and understanding analytics, and other related ideas to create a strong, searchable site.

The last part of this guide will focus much more on the “optimisation” part of SEO. It will offer you the same subcategories as putting together a basic site, but focus on how to optimize. There are tips and hints, and when necessary, warnings around what are considered “risky” behaviors.

While it is advised that professional SEO help be used to guide your efforts, the reality is that many businesses have the need or the desire to do it themselves. Toward that end, we offer you this compiled guide as a source of current SEO information, complete with suggested links and research for further investigation and extrapolation. Learn all you can.

Most importantly, don’t get lost in SEO at the expense of your site. The best thing you can do to improve your site is to improve the content in it, and create value for the visitors. Creating value is infinitely more important than focusing on SEO – to do the reverse is putting the cart before the horse. Make sure than when you do leverage the power of SEO, that new audiences will find meaning and value in your site.

When in doubt, always focus on developing new, better content rather than tinkering specifically for the search engines. Think of SEO as a vehicle to bring your great content to wider audiences. SEO should not be seen as the end result or goal of your online efforts…it should be a powerful tool you use to help more people discover the value you offer.

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