Search Engine Optimization, sometimes included in "Search Engine Marketing," can seem daunting at first. There are a myriad of technical terms to learn and to the uninitiated, can appear to be some form of "computer voodoo."
Broken down, however, Search Engine Optimization (aka SEO) is really not that difficult to understand.
The search engines, like Google, try their best to "index" web pages for terms they believe are relevant to the content found on the page. They do this because it's in their best interest... the better their results, the more likely users will continue to use their search engine.
As each "search engine results page" includes typically ten "organic listings" (i.e. those you don't have to pay for) your goal is to have your page indexed on "Page One" for a set of terms you believe relevant to your content and business.
To do this, you simply give the search engines what they want.
So, what do search engines want?
Search engines want a number of things but here are some of the "core ingredients" that are common to Google, Yahoo and Bing:
1. Quality content (and design)
The better your content is, the more likely the search engines are to help you promote your content through better search engine placement.
But how do the search engines determine the quality of your content? Since they do this through an automated process, they had to come up with metric that would allow them to make an educated guess.
They measure the time each visitor stays on a page and also watch where the visitor goes when they leave. If they stay on your site for several minutes and then visit another page on your site, that's good. If they leave your page in 5 seconds and never return, that's bad.
2. Ability to easily determine what phrases to index your pages for
As your pages will be found when someone conducts an internet search, the search engines need to index your pages for terms (called keyword phrases) they believe are most relevant to your on-page content.
You can help them by ensuring that each page of your site is optimized around 1-3 keyword phrases. After choosing which keyword phrases to target, make sure to add them to your "meta page title" and "meta page description" at minimum.
Also, it's important that these keyword phrases appear somewhere on your actual page... the content that can be read by your human visitors.
This helps the search engines to index your pages more easily and you will be rewarded for your work.
3. Getting as many "votes" as possible for each page of your site
In internet terms, each link to your site is seen as a "vote" that your page is relevant to the piece of text that is linked.
So, if you want a particular page of your site found for the keyword phrase, "best los angeles plumber," you'd be wise to get as many websites as possible to link to your page using this phrase in their "anchor text."
Anchor text is merely the words that create the clickable link. If the phrase, "best los angeles plumber," is linked to your web page, you just earned a "vote" for that page.
The more links you can get with that term, the more likely your page will be to rank well for it.
While there are hundreds of techniques to improve the SEO of a website, these principles are truly the foundation. If your pages contain great content/design, are optimized for a handful of relevant keyword phrases and are linked to from other web properties, you're on your way to improved search engine placement.