What is SEO?
SEO or Search Engine Optimization is the name given to the process of making a website achieve high ranking in search engine queries. The most popular search engine by a long margin (60% of all searches worldwide) is Google, and so most effort is put towards optimizing for that website.
How to implement it
SEO is founded on good web design that consist of accessible and efficient code. Words or phrases should be searched using online keyword popularity tools such as Overture and WordTracker to determine which keywords should be used in the text of your website. The ideal scenario is to find a keyword or phrase, or set of keywords or phrases that are frequently searched for, but are not found on many websites. Obviously, very popular searches will have many websites focussed on these keywords.
However, SEO is not only limited to keywords. Perhaps even more important is the PageRank factor. PageRank is a Google-created attribute that reflects a page's importance: the higher the PageRank (out of 10), the greater authority and importance your website has, and normally, this is reflected in your ranking on search engines. How PageRank is determined is a closely guarded secret (by Google), but it is an important factor is the number of links from other websites to yours. The greater the number of links from high PageRanked websites, the higher your PageRank will be, and the better you will rank in searches.
The Long Tail
A Long Tail when applied to SEO is a term used to describe niche areas that in total receive greater interest or traffic than mainstream areas. For example, "books" is a very popular search term, whereas "antique art books" is much less popular. However, if you can optimize your website for those search terms, although you will not have as many people searching for the term, you are much more likely to be one of the top results returned. Furthermore, and most importantly, the people that have found your website are much more likely to be interested in your content, than if they were just searching for books. The Long Tail effect enables smaller specialist websites to survive and thrive, and it is important to consider when choosing your keywords.
When should you do SEO?
It is best to start SEO before you write the content of the website. This way you can ensure the keywords you have targeted are well incorporated into your text, in prominent positions, such as page titles, near the top of your page content, in headers, and emphasized in bold or in italics. However, if your website has already been made without considering SEO, you can still go back and make editions to the website content and design if necessary.
What you should not do
With the growing importance of search engines on the Internet as a method of finding information, SEO has become big business. There are now thousands of specialized businesses offering SEO alone, many making bold promises such as a guarantee of a top 10 rank in Google. Approach such kind with care, as you may be paying for a top 10 rank in a search phrase that receives no traffic at all!
You must also be exceptionally careful not to try and trick search engines. There are a huge number of dirty tricks that can be done to try and increase your ranking on searches, such as websites filled with thousands of links linking to yours. It is possible that such schemes may bring you temporary success, but it is almost guaranteed that your trickery will be found out, and then you can expect to be stripped of your rank, and possibly banned for good from the search engines. This is a risk that will not pay off.
While SEO is essential to consider when trying to get a top-ranking site, if you have a website filled with quality content, and you are able to promote it so other other websites link to it, this is arguably the most important strategy you can employ. Although supported SEO strategies and fads come and go, if you are producing good quality text that is useful, you are already giving your website a headstart. "Content is King" is the catchphrase coined to illustrate the importance of this.