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Introduction to SEO Posted On: 04/06/2011 Last Updated: 11/23/2011

SEO 101

If you're asking yourself "what does SEO mean", you're in the right place.

Introduction to SEO

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a term used to describe the activities and actions taken by website owners in order to increase their page's rankings in search engines, usually for particular keywords.

The goal of search engines is to return the best and most relevant content to their users (people performing searches). A Search engine strives to answer a user's questions with the best, most relevant information available, in its index.  The main focus of Search Engine Optimization is getting your site and your content to be a highly ranked answer to a users question.  To put that in relevant terms, you can use SEO techniques to get your shop and your items to rank well for certain searches.  

How Does a Search Engine Work?

Most search engines today are crawler-based, meaning they use automatic programs called crawlers or spiders to build their index.  That may be a bit of a loaded sentence, to break it down more:

Crawlers or Spiders - Automated programs that search out content on the web.  To do this, a spider visits a page and takes a snap shot of the page's content (to save for it's index).  How does a spider know where to go?  Two possibilities:  The spider can use an address already in it's index to visit a previously crawled page and save an updated snap shot of that page or a spider can seek out new pages by following the links it finds on pages in its index.  Following links and linking in general is a very important part of SEO and will be covered in more depth later.

Index - This is what the spiders are building. The technical details get a bit hairy but you can think of a search engine's index as kind of a giant, well organized, filing cabinet; this cabinet happens to be filled with snap shots of billions of different web pages.  The cabinet can be asked questions and will try to find the best answer it can (that's actually the search engine doing the answering, the index is actually just the cabinet and the files).  The analogy breaks down pretty quickly, but for our purposes we'll leave it there for now.

You might be asking what crawling and indexes have to do with SEO.  So far we've just talked about how a search engine builds its index, now it's time to go over how it answers questions using that index.   You've hopefully noticed that search engines (usually) give you relevant responses to the questions you ask.  You may have noticed that for particular searches the same sites always seem to be at the top of the results.  This isn't a coincidence and yes, the order is very important. 

How Does a Search Engine Return and Rank Results?

Search engines use many, many factors to determine which pages are a good answer for a particular question and which answers are better than others.  The actual factors are a secret, each search engine uses a slightly different mix and each engine considers its mix a trade secret.  We can, however, look at an overall picture and break the factors that you have influence over into two main categories: On-Site and Off-Site (optimization)

On-site optimization -  On-site means the actual parts of a webpage.  On-site optimization starts with good writing that focuses on a particular topic and uses popular keywords and phrases to describe that topic.  Along with written content that appears on a page, on-site factors include your page's Title and Meta-Tags; both are defined at the end of this article. 


Off-site optimization - Off-site is just that, the factors that affect your rankings that aren't part of your webpage. The main off-site factor is links, specifically, links on other webpages that point to your web page.  Search engines look at a link on a webpage as a "vote" for the site being linked too.  A website that has hundreds or thousands of pages linking to it will be viewed as a better resource than a website that has none or only a few links to it. Acquiring links is important and should be done by creating unique, quality content that people genuinely want to link to. There is a lot of talk about "paid links" in the SEO world, in general paying somebody to link to you is against many search engines' guidelines and can be grounds for a penalty.

Baby Steps into SEO - On-site Optimization

On-site optimization starts with content. Search engines want to return the results their users are looking for and a big part of that is having that content on your page. For example, if somebody searches for "custom birthstone earrings" and a web page has those words in its title and in its content, there's a good bet that a search engine will rank that page higher than a page optimized for "birthstone necklaces and earrings." Even though both pages will talk about birthstone earrings, one is what the user is searching for and one is only similar to the search.

One of the most important things to think about when writing content, titles, and tags is "How would somebody looking for what I'm selling search for it in a search engine?" Using written content, titles, and tags to accurately describe what you are selling is an important step for your SEO.

Once you've asked yourself how people would search for your items, you're ready to take your first steps.  When you're listing items focus on your item's title and description and use keywords and phrases that accurately describe your item in a way that will help people find it. 

A Few Helpful Descriptions: 

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) - activities and actions taken by website owners to increase their sites rankings and results in search engines for certain keywords or phrases.

SERP (Search Engine Results Page) - the listing of web pages returned by a search engine for a certain keyword search.

Index (As in Google's Index) - the database a search engine draws from when trying to answer a user's query (search). The database is built by "spiders" or automated programs that seek out web page's and snap shot the results so that the search engine knows what is on a page and can use that to answer a user's query.

Title (Tag) - the title tag is found inside in the header portion of a website' source code. The header portion of a page's source code is not typically viewed people but it is important for search engine spiders.  The title tag is an important because search engines consider it important; if you want a page to rank for a particular keyword or phrase it should ideally be in your title.  On ArtFire the title you enter for your items is used to make the title tag.

Meta Tags -  found inside the header porting of a website's source code. Like the title tag, meta tags aren't typically seen by visitors.  Meta tags convey information about a web-page that can be relevant to a search engine but isn't usually useful to a visitor.  Not all meta tags are supported by all search engines, here's a brief overview of the most talked about tags:

- Meta Keyword Tags: these tags were widely used in the past as a way to tell search engines what keywords were important for a given webpage. Nowadays, most search engines give little or no weight to the meta keyword tag (especially if the keywords are not also found in the content of the page) but there is still debate as to whether or not this tag is used by search engines in ranking sites for search results. The best practice is to only include relevant keywords that are also in the content of the page.  The meta keyword tag is generated from the tags you enter on the listing page.

- Meta Description Tags: these tags are very important from an SEO standpoint not for rankings but for click-through rates. When a user searches a keyword, the websites returned have a brief description of the site underneath the title. If you use the Meta description tag properly you can get what YOU want said underneath your page's title. The description will only be used if the keyword searched for is also in that description, otherwise the search engine will pull some other more relevant "snippet" from the page that pertains to the particular search.

- Meta Author Tags: these tags simply describe who the author of a particular page is and who is responsible for it.