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Search engine optimization

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Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a set of methodologies aimed at improving the visibility of a website in search engine listings. The term also refers to an industry of consultants that carry out optimization projects on behalf of client sites.

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History

SEO began in the mid-1990s, as the first search engines were cataloging the early Web. Many site owners quickly learned to appreciate the value of a new listing in a search engine, as they observed sharp spikes in traffic to their sites.

Site owners soon began submitting their site URLs to the engines on a regular basis, and began modifying their site to accommodate the needs of search engine spiders, the software programs sent out to explore the Web. Special features such as the Meta tag became a common feature of sites that sought out high-ranking listings.

Consultant firms arose to serve the needs of these site owners, and attempted to develop an understanding of the search engines' internal logic, or algorithms. The goal was to develop a set of practices for copywriting, site coding, and submissions that would ensure maximum exposure for a website.

Controversy

As the industry developed, search engines quickly became wary of unscrupulous SEO firms that attempted to generate traffic for their customers at any cost. One frequent practice, called keyword spamming, involved the insertion of random text at the bottom of a webpage, colored to match the background of the page. The inserted text usually included words that were frequently searched (such as sex), with the goal of getting rankings, and thus access to large streams of traffic.

The search engines responded with a continuous series of countermeasures, designed to filter out the "noise" generated by these artificial techniques. In turn, several SEO firms developed ever-more-subtle techniques to influence rankings.

Reconciliation

In the early 2000s, search engines and SEO firms attempted to establish an unofficial truce. There are several tiers of SEO firms, and the most reputable companies employ content-based optimizations which meet with the search engines' (reluctant) approval. These techniques include improvements to site navigation and copywriting, designed to make websites more intelligible to search engine algorithms.

Search engines have also reached out to the SEO industry, and are frequent sponsors and guests at SEO conferences and seminars. In fact, with the advent of paid inclusion, search engines now have a vested interest in the health of the optimization community.

Paid Inclusion

Paid Inclusion is a fee-based model for submitting website listings to search engines. Historically, search engines have allowed webmasters[?], as well as SEOs and the general public, to freely submit sites for consideration. However, a pattern of abuse began to develop among less-reputable SEO firms, who flooded the engines with non-stop submissions of pages. Analysis of these submissions strained the search engines' capacity, necessitating the creation of artificial limits, including fees.

The fee structure is used by search engines as a filter against superfluous submissions, and also as a revenue generator. Typically, the fee covers an annual subscription for one webpage, which will automatically be cataloged on a regular basis. Search engines still offer free submit forms, but make no promises as to the timeliness of the cataloging process through this channel.

SEO is often confused with spamdexing, which is the unwanted promotion of irrelevant, chiefly commercial, pages through taking advantage of the search algorithms. Indeed, many search engine administrators say that any form of search engine optimization used to improve a website's page rank is nothing else than spamdexing.

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