SEO is an acronym for Search Engine Optimization or occasionally for Search Engine Optimizer; someone who performs Search Engine Optimization.

Very soon after the birth of the Internet or World-wide Web a number of directory sites began to appear. As the Internet grew in size, the directory sites evolved into search engines to keep pace with the growth. Search Engines are very necessary because people may not know or remember a particular website's address or URL, especially when you consider that there are over 860 million websites on the Internet. The problem is that there are a huge number of websites covering virtually every topic you can imagine.

Suppose you search on Google, the world's most popular search engine, for something. Assume you are visiting London shortly and would like to hire a Ferrari to drive around during your stay. You go into the Google search page and type 'Ferrari car hire London'. In the blink of an eye you are given a listing of about 4 120 000 results matching your search criteria. Obviously you are not going to search through all these listed websites to decide who you will hire your Ferrari from, but you may look at the first five or maybe even ten to see who is offering the best deals.

For companies providing goods and services SEO is vital. They need to get their website up the search engine listings and into the top slots. Preferably to the top, number one, position on search engine listings, but certainly in the top ten. The trick is how to achieve that coveted position and how to keep it.

Different search engines function differently. While they all attempt to provide a listing of websites which accurately fit your search criteria, some are more successful than others. They all keep huge databases of websites with matching search terms and a ranking score. When you asked for 'Ferrari car hire London' the search engine searched for keywords 'Ferrari' and 'car hire' and 'London' and found all the websites which matched all three keywords, then two of three keywords and then one of three keywords to give three separate groups of results. It then sorted the results for each group according to the individual website's ranking score, in descending order, and displayed those results in a list on your computer screen.

It seems the trick then must be to have the right keywords and the highest ranking score on every search engine. But because they work differently to calculate the ranking scores and even to identify the keywords, this may be impossible. Usually then the web designer or the SEO practitioner tries to get the best results for the most used search engines which are, in order, Google, Bing and Yahoo! Together they handle 1 650 000 000 searches a month, which represents about 95% of all searches, while Google alone accounts for three times more than Bing and Yahoo! combined. It follows that if you can get a very high Google ranking then you are likely to get a very good Bing and Yahoo! Ranking as well.

Google does not exactly say how it calculates its rankings. That is proprietary information. They do however say that they do not just look at the keywords which the website designer or SEO practitioner includes in the metadata for each web page, but they actually automatically read the text on each web page to check how frequently and how appropriately the listed keywords are used. Secondly Google looks at the web links directing people to the web page, as well as the web links from the web page to other pages. Cleverly it also measures the how appropriate the incoming links are and whether they are from real websites or fake pages on 'link farms' which just put links to different websites on their pages, for a fee, with the idea of boosting your ranking score. Google also measures the number of visits to your website by legitimate viewers and the higher the traffic you receive, the higher your website ranking will be.

There are many tricks employed by SEO practitioners to fool Google and other search engines but Google soon wises up to them and keeps refining its systems. If your website uses improper methods to gain a higher ranking than it deserves then you may be penalised and find your ranking drops by a huge amount very suddenly, or that it is erased from Google listings altogether. This could be disastrous for your business. Consequently it is better to use ethical and honest methods.

Create your website with web pages which genuinely relate to the subject keywords. Make sure the text is well written and includes the keywords properly and in context. Make sure the page title also reflects the keywords and the right subject. Make sure links to each web page are legitimate. Make your website attractive and informative, so it attracts visitors. Update it often, if possible, to keep people coming back regularly. Never forget to include your website's address in all you other advertising and in your correspondence. The more widely known it is, the more visitors you are likely to get.

Above all, don't be taken in by unscrupulous SEO practitioners who promise you the earth but expect you to pay the earth for it. If you must gain a high search engine ranking then strive to obtain it legitimately with a great website that people love. Gimmicks and tricks may boost your ranking quickly, but may also be very short-lived.