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What is SEO (in plain English please) & How to stay safe online

If you have ever tried making your own website, sell a product or service online, or just wanted to learn a bit more about how the Internet works, chances are that you have come across the term search engine optimization (SEO) before. What does SEO mean, why does your website need it, and what happens if you do not have it?


How search engines work

We want to keep this straightforward and simple, but before you understand the need for SEO, you need to understand how search engines work. If you enter a query into Google, Bing, or Yahoo and press ‘enter’, you are going to see a number of different results that relate to that particular query.


Something to keep in mind is that computers, not humans, create the index that you see. This may sound obvious, but there is a difference in how search engines and humans see web pages. While humans are visual and care about the content of the website, search engines are text-driven. Although the search engine technology is developing every day, a search engine is unable to enjoy an aesthetically pleasing website and cannot quantify ‘cool design features’. It focuses on site items (again, mostly text) to get a basic idea of what people are able to find on that particular site.


Search engines scan the Web to see what information is available. This scan is performed by software called a ‘spider’ or ‘crawler’. These will follow links on a particular page and index everything they come across. This allows pages to be found on search engines. You have to remember that there are more than 20 billion pages on the net, which means it is impossible for this search engine software to visit the same page every day to see if something is new or modified. As a result, a crawler may not visit your site for weeks or months at a time.


Where SEO comes in

With SEO, webpage owners make sure that these search engine crawlers notice specific keywords and phrases that are relevant to their product, service, or available information. The higher-ranking pages in Google and Bing are seen as ‘authority’ pages, meaning that the search engine expects these pages to be amongst the most popular and helpful for people searching for that particular keyword. Getting your page linked as an authority page (which means you end up at the top of the listing) requires you to build links and write interesting content.


Why do I need SEO?

Perhaps the best analogy of having an online website that does not have any form of SEO optimization is having a store with no storefront, no sign, no advertising, and a location that is completely in the middle of nowhere. Granted, you may have great products, those who know exactly where you are can find you, but anyone who does not know exactly where you are have no idea that you even exist.  It is important to have the search engines index your site, so even people who do not know the exact URL are capable of finding you.


When looking up terms online, most users never venture any further than the first or second page of their search results. This means that unless you use SEO optimization on your website (which would mean you rank on page 8, 9, 10, or even lower) most people are going to look at competing websites before they ever look at yours.


Summarizing SEO

With search engine optimization, the simple explanation is that you make sure that search engines pick up your website for words and phrases that are relevant to what you have to offer. While this involves a lengthy process and has more than a few varying expert opinions, the goal is to have your website rank highest, because this traditionally means more traffic.


It is important that you have a great looking website that draws in human readers, but if you do not optimize your website for search engines first, chances are that you will have a lot fewer readers that look at your website altogether.


Learn How You Can Stay Safe Online

It is more important than ever before to protect our information online. More and more information is available online to others, and if we do not take care to protect this information, it may lead to us losing access to our email, losing money because of fraud, or other online scams. Fortunately, there is a lot you can do to safeguard your privacy and information online. In order to help you protect your data online, it is a good idea to consider the following tips.


Use a strong password for all accounts

Even if you use a combination of two random words as your password, the truth is that any decent software decryption tool is going to crack a password merely made up of ‘real’ words in no time. It is important that your password have eight or more characters, includes symbols, numbers, and letters. It is also a good idea to use different passwords and user IDs for the important sites you use online. That way, in the event that someone does compromise one of your accounts, they do not immediately have access to all of them.


Be careful what you share online

Especially the younger generation has become accustomed to sharing information online and accepting ‘friend requests’ from people that they do not know. However, it is important to note that the answer to many of the questions that services ask us when we lose our password can be found on our social network pages. What is the name of your best friend? What are the names of your parents, when were you born, what is your favourite movie? We can find the answer to many of these questions online. Be careful how much you share in your public profile.


Protect your computer and your browser

This may be the most obvious hint of all, but it is still the one people neglect the most. Make sure that you always use the latest version of your Internet browser (older versions may have certain security vulnerabilities), make sure that you keep your operating system updated by applying the latest security patches. It is also important to have a properly functioning spyware or antivirus program. Most people download these programs after their computer is infected or they download them and then never update them.


Only share certain information with safe sites

If you are going to enter your credit card information, you want to make sure that the information is going to the store you are shopping from and no one else. When using your Internet browser, look for a little green padlock right next to the address. Also make sure that you are on a HTTPS website (the S is important) before you enter your credit card information. It is also a good idea to monitor your credit card for suspicious charges if you pay for something online. If you are not sure if a site is legitimate, Google the name of the store to find out. If someone has had problems before, chances are that you can find this information online.


Be an educated surfer

It is important that you learn to think before you click a link. Anyone could create a template that looks like something that your bank would send you and gain access to your online account that way. Especially if you are receiving supposed official emails or links from a company, always make sure to monitor the URL. Make sure that you stay away from suspicious links as well. If people wanted to send you funny pictures via Facebook, why would they do so through a link to a website you never heard of before? There is also no video online that should realistically require you to download something before you can view it.

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