What is SEO?

Perhaps as you’ve searched around the Internet and sites like ChurchMarketingOnline.com you’ve seen the term SEO. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. Search Engine Optimization is simply setting up your website to best allow search engines to read your website and understand what your website is about. Search engines aren’t very good guessers, so SEO is done to tell the search engines specifically what they need to know or what you want them to know.The goal of SEO is to increase your website’s rankings in the search engines and bring more visitors to your website. An optimized website can bring 2 times, 3 times, or even 10+ times the visitors than an un-optimized website. So, understanding SEO and its importance can make or break a website.Keywords:Search engine optimization is primarily done by targeting keywords or keyword phrases (a keyword/keyword phrase is a word or phrase people search for in the search engines). By performing search engine optimization targeting a specific keyword, you are telling the search engines that you want them to list your website when someone searches for a particular word or phrase. For example, if you have a church in Hoboken, NJ, you would want your church’s website to be listed when someone searches for churches in Hoboken, NJ. So, you would perform SEO on your website targeting “Churches in Hoboken, NJ” as part of your church marketing strategy.More About Keywords: Because SEO is about targeting keywords, choosing the right keywords is the most important part of Search Engine Optimization. There are two key properties of a keyword to take into account, popularity (how much are people actually searching for the keyword) and competition (how difficult will it be to rank well for the keyword). The goal is to optimize your website for the most popular keywords that you can compete for and it’s not always easy to pick keywords. Just because you think a keyword should be popular, doesn’t mean it is. In fact, I’ve found that most people’s gut feeling about keywords is wrong. Even if your gut is right about the keyword’s popularity, if the keyword competition is too high, your site won’t rank well for it even if with SEO (at least not for a while) and you won’t get any traffic. So, it’s essential to do keyword research before you start optimizing your website.Some SEO Techniques:Basically, most SEO techniques are using the targeted keyword(s) in various places on your website, both visible and invisible to your visitors or what I refer to as “visible” and “behind-the-scenes”Some Visible SEO Techniques:• Use the keyword(s) in the text on the page multiple times • Use the keyword(s) in paragraph headers • Use the keyword(s) in link text Some Behind-the-Scenes SEO Techniques:• Use the keyword(s) in the Title tag • Use the keyword(s) in the META tags • Use the keyword(s) in alt tags for pictures • Use the keyword(s) in the page’s file name • Use clean, valid HTML code • Make sure there isn’t too much code in the page before the actual visible content of the page (search engines will only read so much. If there is a bunch of code before the content, the search engines may not read far enough to see the content. There are a few other things to note about SEO.• Search engines can’t read Flash (at least not yet). So, if you have a Flash site, there’s only so much optimization you will be able to do. • Search engines don’t read pictures. So, if you have text on your site, but it’s in a picture instead of regular text, the search engines won’t be able to read it. Every little bit helps:SEO isn’t just a single technique, but rather a combination of several techniques, each contributing their part towards the final goal It’s kind of like running a race, every step you take gets you a little closer to the finish line; leave out a few steps and you’re closer to the finish line, but you won’t cross it. So it is with SEO, each thing you do when optimizing your website will get you closer to that #1 ranking. If you leave some elements out, you may move from not being listed to #20, but you want #1, so it’s best to do as much optimization as you can.SEO Takes Time:Many people create their website and imagine that just creating their site will cause thousands of people to visit. This, unfortunately, isn’t so, which is why we do search engine optimization, to show up in the search engines and bring more visitors to a site. However, SEO itself isn’t fast either. It takes time to do the research and implement the changes. It takes even more time for the search engines to read the optimized pages and adjust their search results. Even with all of that done, it takes even more time and work for your site to be able to compete for the more popular and more competitive keywords.SEO is a bit like the tortoise in “The Tortoise and the Hare”. The tortoise kept moving slowly down the path until he reaches the finish line. There are other methods of bringing visitors to a website, like pay-per-click search listings, online adverting, etc. that can bring big results much faster, but search engine optimization, while slow, does have one huge advantage. After you have optimized your site, made your site more competitive, and have your website ranking well for the most popular keywords, the traffic keeps coming and you don’t have to pay for any of it. It can be a lot of work up front, but the rewards can be enormous.Black Hat vs. White Hat:Kind of like the old Westerns, search engine optimization has “black hat” (bad) techniques and “white hat” (good) techniques. The black hat techniques refer to techniques that are frowned upon by the search engines because the techniques try to trick or manipulate the search engines. The white hat techniques are techniques that are approved of by the search engines. Done properly, all of the techniques I listed above are “white hat”, but some generally white hat techniques can be made black hat by doing them improperly.For example, using your keyword(s) on your web page is a white hat technique as long as the keywords are used in a natural way. Simply putting a list of keywords at the top and bottom of the page is a black hat technique. So, why does it matter? Search engines have been known to penalize or completely ban websites that use black hat techniques. That’s a pretty good reason. I always recommend using white hat techniques. Just like in the Westerns, sometimes the guys in black hats seemed to get what they wanted for a while, but in the end, the guys in white hats always won. You may get away with black hat techniques for a while and may see great benefits, but in the end you’ll probably end up getting penalized or even banned from the search engines and that can be very difficult to recover from. So, stay on the right side of “the law”.Final Thoughts:Search engine optimization is both a simple and complex job. Most of the techniques for optimization are pretty simple in concept and SEO is something that most people can do. At the same time, professional SEOs have been doing these techniques for years and know the best ways to implement the techniques. It can also be very easy to miss some steps. Professionals also have access to tools and software that are used for keyword research, which, as mentioned above, is very important for the search engine optimization. The other benefit of hiring a professional SEO is that they should know the various techniques which the search engine consider “black hat” and be able to avoid them. A simple trap many amateurs make with SEO is having what seems to be a great idea about how they can optimize their site, but not realize that it’s a technique that is actually putting their site in jeopardy of being penalized or banned.Whether you do the SEO yourself or hire a professional, it’s good to optimize your website. Not optimizing your website is a bit like writing a book and not publishing it. For churches especially, this is important as utilizing your website to the fullest can have eternal consequences as more people hear about what Christ h
as done. So, don’t let your website waste away in obscurity. Optimize your site.This article has just scratched the surface of what SEO is. We have added more articles about the specific aspects of search engine optimization, like keyword research, black hat techniques to avoid, and more info about SEO techniques on the ChurchMarketingOnline.com website. So, check out the site or, better yet, get the RSS feed for the Church Marketing Online blog.

Kurt Steinbrueck is the author of the Church Marketing Online blog. He has been Director of Marketing Services with Ourchurch.Com for over 5 years providing Christian search engine optimization services including services specific for church marketing solutions and private school marketing. Kurt is also a Deacon at his church.
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