Since the early days of the web when search engines first appeared, individuals have struggled and schemed to ensure their websites showed up on the first page of search results. Other individuals quickly stepped in to hawk their services or software that was supposed to make this task easier and would ensure that their customer's sites showed up on the first page or number one. Before long, search engines were modifying the algorithms to compensate against what they considered to be unfair tactics to subvert their search results. In response, new search engine optimization (SEO) techniques were developed.
What quickly ensued was an "arms race" between the search engines and website owners. On a regular basis, for instance, Google modifies their search algorithms in an effort to improve the quality of their search results. These regular algorithm modifications have become known as the "Google dance".
It is believed that the search algorithm Google uses is modified by first implementing several experimental algorithms on the different servers Google uses to return search results. These servers are then monitored and their search results analyzed to determine which algorithms are the "best" performers. During this experimental process, it is not uncommon to observe different sites appearing and disappearing from the top results for a specific key phrase (hence the term "Google dance"). Eventually the result placement will settle down once the winning algorithm is chosen and implemented across all servers within their system.
During this dance and for a while shortly there after, the various forums and discussion boards for website designers are abuzz with threads discussing the changes taking place and how individuals can reclaim high rankings their sites once held. Software is then modified and individuals invest considerable effort trying to tweak their sites to reclaim lost rankings. In essence, individuals become caught in a never-ending cycle of chasing the "Google dance".
If one takes a step back from this endless arms race and really stops to think what the search engines are trying to accomplish, they will see that there is one and only one way to consistently succeed in the long run. It was true in the beginning and it is still true today -- content is king! To paraphrase the movie "Field of Dreams", write it and they will come. Writing good compelling content that is of interest to the target audience is the most important factor in the long-term success of a website.
If you write good content, not only will there be more content on your site for the search engines to index, but you will find that in time individuals will link to that content from their own websites, on their own accord and ask for nothing in return. Not only will these links provide your website with additional traffic and lessen your dependence on the search engines, but the links will also improve the relevance of your website in the eyes of the search engines.
Like so many topics, there are countless opinions and discussions on the Internet in regards to not only getting a site indexed by search engines but how to gain a top ranking. Many methods, while they do work, are unscrupulous and are very risky as some search engines may ban sites that they detect are using such techniques. Black hat techniques, also known as the "dark side," are a risky proposition and should be avoided for any website that has a long-term objective.
Cloaking is one of the most often talked about SEO techniques. In essence, cloaking is the serving up of a page to search engine bots that has been optimized to a specific set of keywords and is totally different from the page that is served up to real people using a web browser like Microsoft Internet Explorer. Cloaking is in short a bait and switch tactic.
While there are all kinds of reasons people will use to justify the use of cloaking, it is never an acceptable technique for gaining a higher search engine placement. It is believed that if Google detects or is informed of a site that is using cloaking to trick Google search results, they will remove the offending site from their index and will exclude the site from future indexes.
Since the dawn of SEO, a favorite technique has been to pad pages with lots of hidden keywords. This can be done in various ways. The oldest method was to make it the same color as the background. The most current trick is to put the keywords within DIV tags that are then hidden using stylesheet instructions. The search engines have never looked kindly upon this rudimentary cloaking like practice and early on they developed techniques to detect when text was the same color as the background. It is believed that search engines penalize sites that employ this technique. While it may be harder for search engines to detect that text has been hidden using stylesheet instructions, using this trick is a step towards the dark side and should be avoided.
Another popular tactic is to generate scores of "doorway" pages that are optimized for specific keywords and specific search engines and then feed those specific pages to their respective search engines. Google and their competitors really don't like this and if they detect it, they will often times penalize a site for it.
FFA (free for all) sites and link farms are generally considered sites that have an automated system for blindly accepting links from anyone who submits their link. Submitting to these sites generally does no harm to one's ranking with the search engines. With that said, they are generally of no value, as search engines like Google are believed to have mechanisms in place to detect these kinds of sites and ignore them in regards to calculating a site's "link popularity". These types of sites do have a downside, in that they typically require that one provides personal information like an email address when submitting a link. This personal information is then used for spamming purposes.
There are many software packages out there that will automate many parts of your search engine submission process or "help" with SEO efforts. Be fore warned that while this software may try to make it appear that they are operating with the blessing of the search engines, typically they are not. These software packages are tools and like any tool, one must understand what these programs do and how they work. They can make things deceptively easy, which can lead one into big trouble. If one is going to use software to assist them in their website promotion efforts, the following things should be kept in mind:
Avoiding the dark side when trying to promote one's site requires using good judgment. If what you are doing could be interpreted as trying to cheat the system, carefully evaluate it. Your best friends in promoting your website can be Google and their competitors. Take the time to write lots of good compelling content to feed to the search engines and they will reward you. Your website can become your golden goose. Being drawn into the dark side and chasing the "Google dance" for short-term success, however, could kill it.
We frequently get solicitations via email or over the phone from people offering search engine marketing and SEO services. They guarantee top placement on search engines and promise to use only "white hat" SEO techniques. Do not be fooled. The only way to get to the first page of search results quickly is to either buy paid placement from the search engine (e.g. Google AdWords) or use underhanded black hat tricks, which could result in the promoted site getting penalized by search engines. One of the underhanded way these services operate is to spam your website across the Internet on thousands of forums, blogs, etc. using automated software Google and the other search engines are wise to this tactic and can often times detect and discount such practices.
Another tactic these search engine marketing services take is to promise so much traffic. All too often, if the traffic is actually humans, it is untargeted and/or the users weren't actually looking at the promoted site. In other cases the supposed traffic is actually machine generated hits, designed to make it look like you were getting lots of visitors. Either way, the traffic may not actually be of any value to the site being marketed. In worst case scenarios, the surge in traffic can overload the target site and cause legitimate users to have problems accessing the site.
There are no shortcuts and quick fixes to getting high search engine placement that is sustainable. It takes a long term and well thought out plan.