A search for "skydiving" on Yahoo yields many results. Where does your Web page rank, and how can you help it rise to the top?

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It's tough getting noticed on the Web. A Web page can provide useful information about a popular subject in an interactive and engrossing way, yet still attract few visitors. One of the most reliable ways to improve traffic is to achieve a high ranking on search engine return pages (SERPs).

Imagine that you've created the definitive Web site on a subject -- we'll use skydiving as an example. Your site is so new that it's not even listed on any SERPs yet, so your first step is to submit your site to search engines like Google and Yahoo. The Web pages on your skydiving site include useful information, exciting photographs and helpful links guiding visitors to other resources. Even with the best information about skydiving on the Web, your site may not crack the top page of results on major search engines. When people search for the term "skydiving," they could end up going to inferior Web sites because yours isn't in the top results.

While most search engine companies try to keep their processes a secret, their criteria for high spots on SERPs isn't a complete mystery. Search engines are successful only if they provide a user links to the best Web sites related to the user's search terms. If your site is the best skydiving resource on the Web, it benefits search engines to list the site high up on their SERPs. You just have to find a way to show search engines that your site belongs at the top of the heap. That's where search engine optimization (SEO) comes in -- it's a collection of techniques a webmaster can use to improve his or her site's SERP position.

In this article, we'll look at two SEO philosophies: the white hat approach and the black hat approach. We'll also learn about some of the problems webmasters can encounter when trying to satisfy both the visitors to the site and search engines.

We'll take a general overview of what SEO really means on the next page.