Search Engine Optimization—In Plain English

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SEO or Search Engine Optimization is a technique used to ensure that a website can be found in search engines for the words and phrases relevant to what the site is offering.

In many ways, SEO is a form of quality control for websites. If your law firm specializes in bankruptcy, for example, the words used to describe your business would include your name, city, bankruptcy, law firm, and lawyer. Consumers putting in some of those terms would find a list of bankruptcy lawyers in your city, including you.

How do websites appear on a page of results?

While some pay for placement, others rely on search engine ranking systems to find them. Google, for example, uses automated robots that crawl through the web to build an index to provide consumers with a list of relevant websites. Assuming that the more popular sites have the most valuable information, the robots then rank those sites, pages, or documents according to popularity. Think of it as a map of the web with only those stops that are both relevant and popular; the most popular appears first and the others follow in order of their rank.

Creating a relevant and popular site that gets lots of visitors is called Search Engine Optimization (SEO). SEO is the process of using strategies and techniques to obtain a high-ranking placement in the search results. As an Internet strategy, SEO considers:

  • How search engines work
  • What people search for
  • The keywords typed into the search engines
  • Which search engines are most popular with the target market

SEO Strategy

There are different forms of SEO strategy. A white hat strategy refers to the use of tactics that follow search engine guidelines and focus on a human audience as opposed to non-human search engines. For example, a website that is optimized or enhanced for search engines while maintaining relevancy and which surfaces naturally because of its relevance to the search terms. These are termed organic search results while non-organic results include pay per click advertising. An example would be writing quality content for human readers. These sites tend to stand the test of time, gradually and steadily building a readership.

In contrast, a black hat strategy uses aggressive techniques that aim to influence search engines for a quick financial return on their website. Those tactics include keyword stuffing, invisible text, doorway pages that lead you to a different site, or adding unrelated keywords to the website. Such tactics can result in being banned from a search engine; however, those who use those tactics view that as an irrelevant risk.

SEO Terms

All disciplines have their own vocabulary and SEO is no exception. Here are a few sample terms:

  • Keywords—words, such as lawyer, Lansing, trust, are used by a search engine in its search for relevant pages.
  • Hyperlink—a word, image, or other element in an electronic document that links to another place in the same document or to an entirely different document.
  • Back link—a hyperlink that links from a site such as Twitter back to your web page; can also be called an InBound Link.
  • Organic SEO—a phrase used to describe processes to obtain a natural and free placement on search engine result pages.

Being a technological expert in SEO is not necessary to be successful with its application. Tune in next week when we will discuss some SEO techniques that could improve your web results.

Roberta GubbinsRoberta Gubbins has served as the editor of the Ingham County Legal News. Since leaving the paper, she provides services as a ghostwriter editing articles, blogs, and e-blasts for lawyers and law firms. She is the editor of Briefs, the Ingham County Bar Association e-newsletter, and The Mentor, SBM Master Lawyers Section newsletter.

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