Search engine optimization (SEO) [EN]Search engine optimization (SEO), a subset of search engine marketing, is the process of improving the volume and quality of traffic to a web site from search engines via "natural" ("organic" or "algorithmic") search results. SEO can target contextual search, local search, and industry-specific vertical search engines.
SEO is marketing by understanding how search algorithms work and what human visitors might search for, to help match those visitors with sites offering what they are interested in finding. Some SEO efforts may involve optimizing a site's coding, presentation, and structure, without making very noticeable changes to human visitors, such as incorporating a clear hierarchical structure to a site, and avoiding or fixing problems that might keep search engine indexing programs from fully spidering a site. Other, more noticeable efforts, involve including unique content on pages that can be easily indexed and extracted from those pages by search engines while also appealing to human visitors.
The term SEO can also refer to "search engine optimizers," a term adopted by an industry of consultants who carry out optimization projects on behalf of clients, and by employees of site owners who may perform SEO services in-house. Search engine optimizers often offer SEO as a stand-alone service or as a part of a larger marketing campaign. Because effective SEO can require making changes to the source code of a site, it is often very helpful when incorporated into the initial development and design of a site, leading to the use of the term "Search Engine Friendly" to describe designs, menus, content management systems and shopping carts that can be optimized easily and effectively.
SEO and marketing
There is a considerable sized body of practitioners of SEO who see search engines as just another visitor to a site, and try to make the site as accessible to those visitors as to any other who would come to the pages. They often see the white hat/black hat dichotomy mentioned above as a false dilemma. The focus of their work is not primarily to rank the highest for certain terms in search engines, but rather to help site owners fulfill the business objectives of their sites. Indeed, ranking well for a few terms among the many possibilities does not guarantee more sales. A successful Internet marketing campaign may drive organic search results to pages, but it also may involve the use of paid advertising on search engines and other pages, building high quality web pages to engage and persuade, addressing technical issues that may keep search engines from crawling and indexing those sites, setting up analytics programs to enable site owners to measure their successes, and making sites accessible and usable.
SEO, as a marketing strategy, can often generate a good return. However, as the search engines are not paid for the traffic they send from organic search, the algorithms used can and do change, there are no guarantees of success, either in the short or long term. Due to this lack of guarantees and certainty, SEO is often compared to traditional Public Relations (PR), with PPC advertising closer to traditional advertising. Increased visitors is analogous to increased foot traffic in retail advertising. Increased traffic may be detrimental to success if the site is not prepared to handle the traffic or visitors are generally dissatisfied with what they find. In either case increased traffic does not guarantee increased sales or success.