In a digital world where you can easily buy an iPad, connect to the net from anywhere with a decent cell phone signal and be immediately informed about events at remote places – like the beautiful Thonga beach lodge or even well known hotels in Cape Town -, knowledge about new media is absolutely essential.The internet is an enormously powerful tool for businesses, all forms of organisations, and the retrieval of important and useful information. However, the World Wide Web would be virtually impossible to navigate without the assistance of an effective search engine (SE). Most internet users only approach the web through SEs, and it is thus vital that your site be highly visible to SEs in order for them to drive traffic to the site. For businesses, user traffic translates directly into profits: without doubt it is therefore imperative that your site be prominent in SE results pages.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) refers to the practice of increasing the volume and quality of user traffic to your specific site by making your site rank highly in the “organic” (unsponsored/unpaid for) results section of the search engine results page. As a rule of thumb, the higher the page ranks on the results page (or to be exact, the earlier the page ranks), the more searchers or web users will be encouraged to visit that site. A SEO can also target different search types, including: local searches; image searches; and industry-specific vertical search engines.
For the majority of small businesses, a search engine optimisation company might be able to get top rankings for very specific keywords with a low monthly search volume, or get better rankings for higher volume keywords. Most analysts are in agreement that the most used, and therefore important, SEs are Google, Bing and Yahoo: it is via these search engines that businesses and firms will receive most of their traffic through keyword rankings. The big three SEs mentioned above account for no less than 70% of all web traffic, and are therefore responsible for an enormous amount of potential traffic that could be driven to any one site.
The history of SEO reaches back into the mid-1990s when webmasters and content providers began optimising sites for search engines when they were first used to index content on the World Wide Web. The process for SEO pioneers was relatively straightforward: a webmaster submitted a page, or URL, to the various search engines that would, in turn, send out a “spider programme” to “crawl” the page, extract links to other pages from it, and return information from the page back to the search engine so that it could be indexed (the content is catalogued in a directory and made ready for retrieval should someone search for relevant content).
The procedure essentially entails that a search engine spider download a page and store it on a SE’s private server, where a secondary program, also called an indexer, mines an array of data related to the page (e.g. the words it contains and where these are located, as well as any weight for specific words). The page is further scheduled for crawling at a later date.
The proprietors of most websites know that attaining the topmost search engine rankings for their top keywords is paramount to the firm’s success. The large majority of businesses and firms, however, don’t fully understand the practices that a SEO company employs to achieve these keyword rankings (i.e. through targeted search engine marketing) and most are not aware of that SEO site appraisal is often free. It is very important to both invest in search engine optimization specialist techniques, as well as pay-per-click management techniques.
Due to importance of traffic in the success of ecommerce sites and other business sites, webmasters began using, as early as 1997, techniques to manipulate SE results: these manipulative techniques have become known as “black hat” SEO techniques and are severely penalised by SEs: if, for example, a site is found to employing “black hat” techniques to boost its visibility, a SE will remove it from its index, making sure that no one will be able to find the site unless they have the specific URL. This could be catastrophic for a firm that relies on SE visibility.
The importance of good SE rankings has created an antagonistic relationship between SE optimisers and SE providers. To try and resolve some of the conflicts, in 2005 an annual conference of the AIRWeb (Adversarial Information Retrieval on the Web) was formed to confer and minimize the harmful effects of aggressive web content providers. Normal, SE approved SEO techniques are known as “white hat” techniques. SE providers encourage the use of white SEO to help in their own purposes of providing the best, most relevant results for their clientele.