Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

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Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the practice of optimizing web pages to maximize organic search engine traffic.

SEO is not to be confused with Pay Per Click (PPC), which focuses on paid rather than organic traffic.

SEO typically refers to organic search traffic, such as traffic generated by Google Search results. It can also aim to generate traffic from search engine image, video, map, news, and academic paper results.

SEO encompasses a broad array of strategies that can be categorized under black hat SEO, white hat SEO, and technical SEO.

Although technically free, SEO is one of the the most time-consuming strategy traffic generation strategies.

Someone who wants to master SEO must develop a strong grasp of search engine algorithms in order to optimize their content to rank highly. The challenge is that no search engine has released its algorithm publicly and it's even speculated that not even the most senior Google engineers fully understand its ranking algorithm[1]. However professionals have experimented through trial and error, collaborated and published findings that have allowed the general public to reverse-engineer search engine algorithms to some degree of reliability. SEO isn't an exact science and its high subjectivity can make opinions vary greatly from professional to professional.

Some experts believe that Google's search algorithm assesses over 200 factors[2] on your site, though there is some debate about how the weightings for each factor differ. Skeptics argue that the true list is significantly less than 200 factors and that proponents mistake causation for correlation.[3] However there's a consensus that the factors aren't equally weighted. Weighting refers to the importance that Google assigns to each factor, with some like load speed allegedly carrying more weight than others like domain age.


Aliweb was the earliest search engine, launched in May 1994. It ranked pages based on signals like keyword density and metatags, which made it easy to manipulate with Black Hat SEO.

The first SEO strategies emerged in the mid 90s when the earliest search engines began developing their algorithms. Back then it was a common practice for Webmasters to simply submit their URLs to the search engine for it crawl with a spider (a bot that scans websites). The spider would then download a copy of the page for storage on the search engine's own server for faster retrieval. Once stored, an indexer would scan the page to establish the topic of the page and map out the link structure. The indexer would then schedule a later date for another crawl.

When the world wide web was still in its infancy there were far less pages to be crawled and cataloged by search engines. Nowadays search engines are so overwhelmed by the sheer volume of websites and pages to crawl that they simply can't afford to index them all. The rate at which a search engine crawls and index pages is referred to as its crawl budget. Some sites are assigned more crawl budget than others, particularly news sites that need to be crawled very frequently so that their stories are indexed quickly. If you make a website on a new domain then you will be assigned a low crawl budget until search engines build trust for your site.

The earliest methods of search engine optimization were as primitive as the search engines themselves at the time. Early search engines like ALIWEB were easily gamed by webmasters who manipulated their metatags and practiced keyword stuffing. Some webmasters even went as far as to insert entire dictionaries of text into their source code, as well as inserting words like "sex" repeatedly, regardless of the relevance of the site to the keywords. This resulted in early search engines displaying irrelevant pages of optimized content above relevant pages of unoptimized content. Other early search engines like Altavisa and Infoseek developed their algorithms to counteract this early example of black hat SEO.[4]

Modern search engines like Google have evolved their algorithms to high degrees of complexity compared to the earliest search engines in the 90s. Meta keywords and keyword density are far less important than what they used to be, with factors like backlinks and site performance carrying more weight in determining your page's organic ranking. Search engine algorithms are more holistic and reliant on sources outside the direct control of the webmaster, such as backlinks.

Danny Sullivan, Google's public search liason, claims the term "search engine optimization" emerged in 1997. He claims that the term was first used in May 1997 but only in the meta tag of page called "Search Engine Design" by an author named Bruce Clay. Since meta tags are not usually visible to public this isn't the first 'public' use the term--the credit for that goes to one of the several newsgroups Sullivan cites in the same source.[5]

Today search engines like Google take an active participation in the SEO community but still withhold the exact nature of their algorithms. Google encourages people to discuss its products and services on its community forum[6], is active on social media and holds conferences and Hangouts.

List of Early Search Engines[edit]

See main article List of Early Search Engines



Black Hat SEO[edit]

Black Hat SEO is still a viable means of increasing your organic ranking but is riskier than ever and that risk increases with every search engine algorithm update. Webmasters that are more dependent on black hat SEO are at the highest risk of receiving penalties from search engines that can severely impact their business. Traffic Power, an SEO company, received a Google penalty so severe it bankrupted the company and some of its clients.[7]

Examples of black hat techniques include:

  • Keyword stuffing
  • Purchasing or manually adding backlinks
  • Using a private blog network (PBN)

White Hat SEO[edit]

White Hat SEO is considered the safest and most future-proof means of increasing your organic ranking. Webmasters that solely engage in white hat SEO have little to fear regarding penalties. However white hat SEO delivers slower results than black hat so the preference for either comes down to a webmaster's risk tolerance. White hat SEO is necessary to any successful SEO strategy because solely depending on black hat SEO carries the highest degree of risk.

Examples of white hat techniques include:

  • Publishing high quality, original content
  • Only generating links organically
  • Optimizing site performance

Technical SEO[edit]

Technical SEO falls under the broader category of white hat but is solely concerned with technical improvements to website performance and site structure.

It's considered a critical element of any successful SEO strategy and should never be overlooked.


  1. Is Google's Algorithm so Complex Not Even its Engineers Understand it?[1]
  2. Google Ranking Factors: The Complete List[2]
  3. The Myth of Google's 200 Ranking Factors[3]
  4. Desperately Seeking Surfers[4]
  5. Who Invented the Term 'Search Engine Optimization'?>[5]
  6. [6]
  7. Sites Get Dropped by Search Engines After Trying to 'Optimize' Rankings[7]