What is SEO? And is There a Cost to it?

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Is There a Cost to SEO Traffic?

Some would say there is no cost for SEO traffic because there is no charge to be indexed by the search engines or when someone clicks on a link from a search results page. I would say yes, however, because SEO can be very hard work. How difficult is it to rank high for your business? It all depends on the competition. If your business is selling life insurance on a national level, good luck. Just imagine how competitive that market is. If your business is selling roller-skates for squirrels in Tempe, Arizona, your SEO efforts would succeed much more easily. After all, how many web pages can there be for selling roller-skates for squirrels in Tempe, Arizona? (Maybe there are more than I realize. I admit I didn’t even check.)

The cost of SEO is the time invested in it. Of course, there is a large industry of SEO professionals who can do the work for you. Even Fortune 500 companies invest heavily in hiring SEO professionals. Perhaps you will want to hire a professional to help you, but be warned: if the wrong methods are used, your site can be penalized by the search engines. People always have and always will try to manipulate search engine results. These days, it’s very difficult to accomplish. Just like gambling in a Las Vegas casino: you can try to cheat, but they are very good at catching you. This can cause you to be banned—and you don’t want that to happen with one of the major search engines.

White-hat & Black-hat SEO

In SEO parlance, white-hat describes SEO performed in a proper and legitimate way. This means adding quality content that people will actually want to read or see. Adding quality content to your website causes people to spend more time looking at your pages, and they may decide to link from their website to yours. These actions don’t go unnoticed by the search engines. They are telling signs that your website is providing a quality experience to its visitors. Besides adding quality content, there are other measures to take that are important and considered white-hat. (These measures are mentioned later in this section.)

Black-hat SEO means just what you think: trying to manipulate and cheat the system. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of ways people have figured out to get their sites to rank higher. It is a never-ending struggle for the black-hatters. They are determined to find a shortcut for ranking higher. Unfortunately for them, however, it has become extremely difficult to do. And if black-hat methods are detected, the page will be penalized by ranking it worse in the search results or banning it altogether.

One black-hat method of the past was to have a keyword typed in thousands of times on the same web page. The search engines index how many times certain words appear on pages in order to glean what the pages are about. If the word bicycle appears fifty-seven times on a page, the search engine might determine that the page has something to do with bicycles. When search engines were less sophisticated, they were tricked by people putting certain keywords hundreds or thousands of times on the same web page. This might have looked very strange if the visitor of the page saw the repetition—but they didn’t. The designer would simply make the repetitive keyword the same color as the page background, and voila! The repetitions of the keyword were visible to the search engine spiders but invisible to viewers of the web page.

Most SEO professionals now agree that the search engines have won the war over the black-hatters. There is little to do now, other than stick with proper white-hat methods. The interesting thing is that it’s not easy to define exactly where the line is between white-hat and black-hat SEO. There is no official guidebook. A good policy, however, is to concentrate on creating quality content for your website users rather than creating content with search engine spiders in mind.

On-Page & Off-Page SEO

Aside from the white-hat and black-hat classifications, there are two kinds of SEO: on-page and off-page.

On-page SEO refers to things that can be directly controlled on your website. Some of the things, such as headings and paragraphs of text, appear visible to viewers of your pages. Other things are tucked away in the underlying code, and not meant to be visible to viewers of the page.

Off-page SEO involves trying to gain notice for your web pages from other places on the web. Since search engine spiders crawl pages all over the web, they notice where there are links and references to other websites. If the spiders see that your pages are mentioned or linked to on other reputable web pages, your rankings will be favorably influenced.

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Barry Abraham is the author of "The Internet Marketing Strategy Book."  This is a 10-chapter book that gives an easy-to-understand overview of current Internet marketing opportunities.

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