Search engine optimization (SEO) is a foreign field to a lot of people. Rarely does a day go by when I don't get asked a few questions on the subject. So I've decided to post this FAQ article in the hopes that it will help people understand the basics, and make them a little more comfortable with the whole domain.
Q: Why are search engines important to me?A: 85% of all website traffic is driven by search engines. The only online activity more popular than search is email. 79.2% of US users don't go to page 2 of search results. 42% of users click on the no.1 result. For the under-40 age-group, the Internet will become the most used media in the next 2-3 years.
Q: How do search engines decide on their rankings?A: IMPORTANT: You cannot pay a search engine in return for a high ranking in the natural results. You can only get a high ranking if your content is seen as relevant by the search engines. Search engines identify relevant content for their search results by sending out ‘spiders’ or ‘robots’ which ‘crawl’ (analyze) your site and ‘index’ (record) its details. Complex algorithms are then employed to determine whether your site is useful and should be included in the search engine’s search results.
Q: Can't I just pay for a high ranking?A: No. The biggest concern for search engine companies like Google and Yahoo is finding content that will bring them more traffic (and thus more advertising revenue). In other words, their results must be relevant. Relevant results makes for a good search engine; irrelevant results makes for a short-lived search engine. Most search engines these days return two types of results whenever you click Search:  Natural/Organic – The ‘real’ search results. The results that most users are looking for and which take up most of the window. For most searches, the search engine displays a long list of links to sites with content which is related to the word you searched for. These results are ranked according to how relevant and important they are.  Paid – Pure advertising. This is how the search engines make their money. Advertisers pay the search engines to display their ad whenever someone searches for a word which is related to their product or service. These ads look similar to the natural search results, but are normally labeled “Sponsored Links”, and normally take up a smaller portion of the window.
Q: How do I get a high ranking?A: There are four main steps: Step 1 - Use the right words on your website Step 2 - Get lots of relevant sites to link to yours Step 3 - Use the right words in those links Step 4 - Have lots of content on your site & add more regularly
Q: What is search engine optimization (SEO)?A: Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the art of creating a website which is search engine-friendly. This means:  using the right words in your copy  using the right words in your HTML code  structuring your site properly  designing your site properly For more information on these 4 elements, download our free 'SEO Secrets' eBook from divinewrite.com/seosecrets.htm. Many people use SEO to also describe the other ingredient in a high ranking, 'Link Popularity'.
Q: What is link popularity?A: Think of the search engines as a big election. All the websites in the world are candidates. The links to your website are votes. The more votes (links) a candidate (website) has, the more important it is, and the higher its ranking. Link popularity is all about how many links you have, and how you can get more. Links to your site tell the search engines how important your site is. They assume that if it’s important enough for a lot of other sites to link to, it’s important enough for them to display at the top of the rankings. Links are the single most important factor in ranking. Generally speaking, the more links you have to your site from other sites, the better your ranking.
Q: Are some links better than others?A: Yes! The ideal kind of links are those that:  come from relevant sites (sites which use the same keywords);  come from important sites (have a high ranking);  include your keyword as part of the visible link text;  include varying link text (not the same link text each time); and  come from a page that links to few other sites. When a search engine sees a link which satisfies most or all of these conditions, it says, “Hey, this site must be credible and important, because others in the same industry are pointing to it.”
Q: How do I get lots of links back to my site?A: There are many possible ways to generate links. Some are dubious (like auto-generation software, and sites set up by webmasters simply to host links to their other sites) and I won’t be discussing them here. Others, like those discussed below, are legitimate.  Add your site to DMOZ & Yahoo Directories (and other free directories)  Check where your competitors’ links are coming from  Article PR - Write and submit articles for Internet publication  Swap links  Partner websites  Pay for links For more information on these methods, download our free 'SEO Secrets' eBook from divinewrite.com/seosecrets.htm.
Q: What do you think is the best way to get lots of links?A: Article PR. Write helpful articles and let other webmasters publish them for free in exchange for a link in the byline. With article PR, you don't have to pay for the link, you determine the content of the page containing the link, you determine the link text, and the link is more or less permanent. A single article can be reprinted hundreds of times, and each time is another link back to your site! For more information, read divinewrite.com/seoarticles.htm or visit ArticlePR.com.
Q: How do I write a good article PR piece?A: See divinewrite.com/seoarticles.htm. Q: How do I get a high ranking using free reprint content? A: See divinewrite.com/Top_Ranking_Free.htm. Q: How long does it take to get a high search engine ranking? A: A long time! It’s impossible to say how much time you’ll need to spend generating links, but you can be sure it’ll be a while no matter which method of link generation you use. You just have to keep at it until you have achieved a high ranking. Even then, you’ll still need to dedicate some ongoing time to the task, otherwise your ranking will drop.
Q: What is the Google Sandbox, and is it real?A: The Google Sandbox theory suggest that whenever Google detects a new website, it withholds its rightful ranking for a period while it determines whether your site is a genuine, credible, long term site. It does this to discourage the creation of SPAM websites (sites which serve no useful purpose other than to boost the ranking of some other site). There is a lot of anecdotal evidence supporting the theory, but there is also a lot discounting it. No one has categorically proven its existence.
Q: What is the Google Dampening Link Filter, and is it real?A: The Google Dampening Link Filter theory suggests that if Google detects a sudden increase (i.e. many hundreds or thousands) in the number of links back to your site, it may sandbox them for a period (or in fact penalize you by lowering your ranking or blacklisting your site altogether). There is a lot of anecdotal evidence supporting the theory, but there is also a lot discounting it. No one has categorically proven its existence.
Q: What SEO companies should I be wary of?A: Be wary of SEO companies that promise or guarantee results in a given timeframe, especially if they won't expand on their methods for generating links back to your site.
Q: What tools can you recommend?A: There are many very useful tools to help with your SEO. The following are just selection. All tools are free unless otherwise indicated.  Backlink checker - http://www.webuildpages.com/neat-o/  Backlinks by IP address - http://www.webuildpages.com/cclass/index.php  Link Popularity Tool - http://www.marketleap.com/publinkpop/  Number of links required to rank - http://www.iblcheck.com/  Google Alert - http://www.google.com/alerts?hl=en  Google Sitemaps - http://www.google.com/webmasters/sitemaps  Google Sitemap Generator - http://johannesmueller.com/gs/  Google Toolbar - http://toolbar.google.com/  Indexed Pages - http://www.webuildpages.com/cache/cachetoolpublic.pl  Keyword Analysis (Nichebot) - http://www.nichebot.com/  Keyword Analysis (Overture) - http://inventory.overture.com/d/searchinventory/suggestion/  Keyword Analysis (WordTracker - Paid) - http://www.wordtracker.com/  Keyword Difficulty - http://www.seomoz.org/tools/keyword-difficulty-tool.php  Keyword Identifier - http://www.googlerankings.com/ultimate_seo_tool.php  Keyword Density Measurement (Simple) - http://www.live-keyword-analysis.com/  Keyword Density Measurement (Complex) - http://www.gorank.com/analyze.php  Plagiarized Copy Search - http://www.copyscape.com/  Traffic Rank - http://www.alexa.com/  Search Engine Rank - http://www.marketleap.com/publinkpop/  SEO Report - http://www.urltrends.com/  Top 10 sites for a keyword by no of backlinks and age - http://www.webuildpages.com/seo-tools/whoischeck-bykeys.pl  Top 10 sites for a keyword - http://www.webuildpages.com/cool-seo-tool/  Spider Simulator - http://tools.summitmedia.co.uk/spider/
Q: I'm confused about all the terms used in SEO, can you help?A: See divinewrite.com/seo_glossary.htm.
Q: What is keyword analysis?A: The first thing you need to do when you begin chasing a good search engine ranking is decide which words you want to rank well for. This is called performing a keyword analysis. Keyword analysis involves a bit of research and a good knowledge of your business and the benefits you offer your customers. For more information, download our free 'SEO Secrets' eBook from divinewrite.com/seosecrets.htm.
Q: Do I need to submit my site to the search engines?A: Theoretically, no. But I wouldn't risk not doing it - especially as it's free. As soon as you register your domain name, submit it to Google! Even if you haven’t built your site, or thought about your content, submit your domain name to Google. In fact, even if you haven’t fully articulated your business plan and marketing plan, submit your domain name to Google. For more information, download our free 'SEO Secrets' eBook from divinewrite.com/seosecrets.htm.
Q: Should I submit my site to the search engines more than once?A: No need. Although some of the search engines allow you to do this, there's really no need.
Q: What are directories and should I submit my site to them?A: Directories are websites (or web pages) which simply list lots of website and give a quick description of the website. Some are free and some require you to pay for a listing. Free directories are useful because you get a free link. However, the links aren't worth that much. Paid directories can be good if they're relevant, but they can cost a lot in the long term, so choose wisely. One essential directories for any website is the DMOZ Open Directory Project.