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How SEO works

Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Setting up EFTPOS for your business. Image: Getty
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By Anthony Doesburg
MSN NZ Money writer

No matter what sort of website your small business has — whether an online shop or merely a cyber-brochure with product and service information — there's little point in having it if no-one visits it.

And given that millions of other sites are competing for attention, it pays to know some tricks for attracting passing Web browsers.

Most websites are reached through search engines, of which the biggest is Google, with Microsoft's Bing also popular.

In the decade or so since the Web became mainstream, a virtual industry has developed around search-engine optimisation, otherwise known as SEO.

Introducing SEO
This being the Internet, the obvious place to look for SEO guidance is the Web itself. And again, because this is the Internet, it's a field littered with jargon.

An abbreviation you'll encounter early on is SERP, which translates as search-engine results page. A SERP has two parts: the organic search section, and the smaller list of paid search results, from which the search-engine providers earn billions of dollars in advertising.

Getting the best possible ranking in the organic search section is what SEO is all about.

SEO: the basics
Since search has become big business, search-engine providers are eager to help webmasters do the best they can at getting their sites noticed. Google and Microsoft both have downloadable guides to designing sites to work best with their search engines.

It's a subject that soon descends into technical jargon but, once familiar with a number of basic ideas, you'll be able to hold a conversation with an SEO specialist.

Getting noticed online
Meta tags, words describing a website's contents, which are hidden away in the HTML code that determines the look of your site, used to be an important way search engines indexed pages. But they've lost some of their significance since webmasters began playing fast and loose with them, using eye-catching tags that had little relevance to their actual site.

Of real importance, however, are HTML title tags; if your page appears on a SERP, the title should be the first line listed. The title should be an accurate reflection of the page's contents, and each page should have its own title.

Search engines also place great importance on domain names and keywords within the content of a page. The number of times keywords appear and their proximity to other keywords is taken into account in regard to the prominence given to your site.

Another factor that elevates your site above its countless competitors is the number and quality of links it contains.

Call in the SEO experts
If you're a hands-on type, search-engine optimisation could be the kind of challenge you'll enjoy. If not, scour the Web for someone who can do it for you. Chances are the one who appears top of the results page will know a few tricks of the trade.