BACKGROUND IMAGE: iSTOCK/GETTY IMAGES
Search engine optimization (SEO) is an area of website development that seeks to improve the way content is ranked by search engines in organic search results. Various approaches are taken to achieve that goal, including making sure the website architecture makes it easy for visitors to find content and that pages are mobile-friendly and load quickly.
Although there are legitimate companies that help Web sites improve their rankings, according to Google's page about SEO, most such offers that arrive in e-mail messages are of little-to-no value. The search engine's own Webmaster often gets SEO marketing offers suggesting that Google doesn't show up well in search results (which is quite unlikely). Google's recommendation for Webmasters? "Reserve the same skepticism for unsolicited e-mail about search engines as you do for "burn fat at night" diet pills or requests to help transfer funds from deposed dictators."
Instead of trying to game the system, sites should focus on providing visitors with useful content and a good user experience (UX). Partly because of the proliferation of bogus offers, the term search engine optimization has gotten a negative reputation in some circles. To put the focus on the website visitor, it has been suggested that acronym SEO should stand for search experience optimization.
Before starting an SEO project, site owners should carefully read through the webmaster guidelines that each search engines provides and follow recommended best practices. Not only will doing so help pages rank better, but failure to follow recommendation could result in the site being improperly indexed. Worse still, the site could be completely blacklisted from the search engine. Certain black hat SEO techniques, such as keyword stuffing, are considered to be the SEO equivalent of spamming, and search engines will penalize them.