Search Engine Optimization (SEO): A Brief Primer

Search engines use sophisticated techniques to rank sites based on users’ search terms, using a combination of three main components - Content, Popularity, and Links.


Photos, logos, videos, etc. are essentially invisible to search engines, so even visually appealing, eye-catching sites won’t guarantee a high placement in search engine results. But visual appeal will keep a visitor on the page and encourage return visits. And the length of time spent on a page and return visits will increase the Popularity weight. Search engines assign a “weight” to certain words and where the words are found on the page. Words in the Title have a different “weight” than words in paragraph headers, or regular text within a paragraph.

Years ago, Google search ranking incorporated meta-keywords, which are invisible to visitors but are entered with a special tag at the head of the document that creates a web-page. Because of widespread abuse of meta-keywords, Google discontinued use of these in search engine ranking. They still have some use. If you have a large site and use a search feature (available from Google and others) so that visitors can search within your site once they have already made their way to one of your pages, meta-keywords can help them find the specific page they are looking for. But they won't affect whether a potential visitor searching on Google gets to your site in the first place. The actual content visibile to visitors should use the terms you suspect will be searched for.


This is a measure of the amount of visits and length of time visitors stay on the site , how they got there, and where they went when they left. Search engines track all that data and assign a weight.


How many links you have on your site, and how many other sites link to yours is another measure of Popularity. The more sites that link to your site, the higher your site will rate in search rankings.

There was a time, not so long ago, when users would choose a search engine based on what they were looking for. Their experience told them which search engine would be best for specific tasks. Not anymore. One search engine has emerged as the clear winner: Google.

Since there isn’t even a close second, Google is the benchmark for ranking. It really doesn’t matter if your site ranks at the top of any of the others – it’s Google placement that is important when checking results of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques.

SEO: White Hat vs. Black Hat

If you want your site to rank high in search results, there are a few different paths you take. You can create quality content that is of genuine interest to people and structure that content appropriately, ensuring that highly searched keywords are appropriately included in titles and headings. These approaches are sometimes called the “White Hat” method.

Other techniques involve exploiting a search engine so that it gives the page a higher ranking. One example is “Keyword stuffing” in which highly searched terms are simply repeated over and over, producing an awkward, absurdly redundant document that no sane person would ever write--unless they were trying to trick a search engine. Similarly, some unscrupulous site crafters may insert meta-keywords that have absolutely nothing to do with the content, simply because those terms are highly searched. As noted above, this strategy led Google to abandon using meta-keywords for site ranking. It can no longer help increase your site ranking, and might even hurt it.

While some “Black Hat” methods may work initially, search engines are sophisticated enough to eventually see through the schemes and will often penalize an offender by giving a low ranking or no ranking at all. There are companies that offer SEO, but some are strictly “Black Hatters” who may get good results at first . . . until the site gets tagged as a “Black Hatter.”

The most effective way to ensure high placement on search engines is to pay for it. But this can be cost-prohibitive for most of us. If you want to ensure reasonably high rankings in Google and other search engines, and you are working with a limited budget, the best approach is to use “White Hat” methods. Create quality content that is of genuine utility and interest to your target audience. Use highly-searched keywords, especially in title and header fields, but don’t use terms that are not relevant, or repeat the terms unreasonably.

Consider partnering with a company with experience writing quality content for SEO. You may find that a lot more people are finding you.