Search Engine Optimization (SEO), in short, is the practice of using keywords, code, and other tactics to raise the visibility of a website in the organic search rankings from all of the major search engines, especially Google, Bing, and Yahoo!
“What is SEO?”, in depth
People often think that SEO is keywords, or stuffing pages full of keywords, or spammy writing intended to “game” the search engines into ranking your pages highly, for monetary gain usually.
This is not “good” SEO. Broadly defined, it is SEO, because it will sometimes work to raise the organic search rankings, but “good”, or “white-hat” SEO involves factors such as keyword research and use in quality content, creation of linkbait to attract inbound links from reputable sources, clean website code and site architecture to encourage the search engine bots to explore the site deeper, and usually a bit of fun along the way.
Two different kinds of SEO
If you research SEO, you will quickly come across two different terms: “white-hat” and “black-hat.” Let me try to differentiate between these for you.
White-hat SEO practices ethical ways of raising organic search rankings. Practitioners use many tools to find keywords that they are able to rank well for, and then set about encouraging inbound links to their website via ethical means, such as producing linkworthy material (surprise!). This can take the shape of infographics, interesting articles (like this one, wink), or a variety of other factors.
White-hat SEO adheres to Google’s mantra of “Don’t Be Evil.” We do not buy or encourage the buying of links. We publish interesting articles and try to provide unique ways to have trusted authoritative sites link to our material.
Black-hat SEO is another animal. Most black-hat SEOs regularly engage in buying links and trying to “game the system” to rank inferior material over worthy material for searches. A recent example was the NY Times post entitled Search Optimization and Its Dirty Little Secrets. In that exposé, an investigator uncovered a link-buying scheme that enabled JC Penney to be at the top of the search rankings for incredibly competitive keywords, such as “dresses”. This is the work of a black-hat SEO or SEO company.
SEO experts often debate the merits of white-hat and black-hat SEO, along with discussions about “grey-hat”, which is the sometimes ethically-fuzzy middle ground. My take is that it is best to be ethical in your dealings and to “fight fair”, as they say. That is what I try to do.