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SEO - useful tool or black art?

Optimising your site for search engines is vital of course. But how deep should you go into the murky waters of SEO?

SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is the art - or science - of ensuring your website is looked upon favourably by  the major search engines.

In practice, that means Google, with a nod to Yahoo and Bing.

The latest statistics we have found (Sept 2012) show the following market share :

  • Google: 84.2%
  • Yahoo: 7.61%
  • Bing: 4.15%
  • Baidu: 2.03%
  • Ask: 0.58%
  • AOL: 0.29%
  • Excite: 0.02%
  • Lycos: 0.01%

Some stats also include Yandex with a share of roughly 1.5%. Never heard of Baidu or Yandex? Well Baidu is the leading Chinese-language browser and Yandex is it's Russian counterpart.

So if we cater for Google, Yahoo and Bing we have covered about 96% of the market - more than that in terms of the English language market.

In theory, ensuring your site has good SEO should be simple. Your content should be relevant and your titles should be meaningful. Your 'meta-tags' - keywords and page descriptions - should reflect the content of the page. Give your images sensible 'alt' tags and make you main page heading an H1 tag. And the more good links into your site you can get other people to put on their sites the better (if those sites are highly regarded by the search engines).

That sounds fairly easy. Your keywords may require some research, and getting inbound links may require some marketing effort - but in essence the search engines will look at your site and rank it according to your content.

Now, the aim of the search engines is to rank sites by their relevance and authority. Your brand new company might have a spanking new website, but it has no track record and few references to it on the internet. Unless you are in a very niche market, it isn't going to suddenly appear on page one of the search results.

 It's not long before page rank envy will kick in. "How can I get my site onto the front page?" It's a reasonable question, and one that specialist SEO companies will be happy to give you lots of answers to, for a price. The more reputable companies will provide sensible advice, run a report on your site and help you tweak your content etc. Others will introduce you to the wonders of keyword spamming, doorway pages and invisible text. But guess what? The programmers at Google, Bing, Yahoo et al also read articles on the internet! They are aware of these techniques and actively punish sites that use them. Let's say that your SEO company has come up with a brilliant new 'black hat' SEO technique. It may get you up the page rankings for a while - but that loophole will soon be closed. Google for example, makes over 500 changes to it's algorithm per year - with a major update every month or six weeks. 

So our advice? Play fair. Ignore the blandishments of getting something for nothing. Improve your content, and your ranking will get better.

To help, our next article will concentrate on good SEO practice. We will list five top tips for SEO. 

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