What the hell is SEO?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It’s online marketing jargon for a category of things that a site owner can do to make their site perform better online, all other things being equal (and they’re not).

But so often SEO is treated like some kind of mystical spirit. I cannot tell you the number of times I have heard a business owner say “I need SEO” or “I need my SEO to be better” or, more honestly, “What the hell is SEO, anyway?” I’ve even heard people within the online marketing industry use the term in such a way that I wasn’t sure they knew what it means. And that’s okay because it’s not something most people know the definition of.

Because SEO was one of the earliest acronyms coined to describe online promotion techniques, it has remained the most mysterious. PPC (Pay Per Click) is not mysterious at all: you pay someone (Google, Bing, Facebook) to display your ad. It’s simple. Not SEO.

This is because what SEO is has changed over the years, at least in terms of techniques, if not the end goal. And it’s also because SEO is not one thing, it’s a set of things.

I think the best way of thinking about SEO is by breaking it down into two categories: non-technical SEO and technical SEO.

 

Non-Technical SEO

When I say “non-technical” what I mean is that anyone can do this kind of SEO. As noted at the top of this post, SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. The goal is to make your site as appealing as possible to the search engine (principally Google these days), and ideally more appealing than your competition.

There are various ways of doing this but the biggest and most important has always been the use of keywords – words that your potential customer or client is using to search for what you provide.  If I am running a Vietnamese restaurant just outside of Gerard Square mall, I need to think about which keywords I want to use to get people to come to my restaurant. Here are some possibilities off the top of my head:

  • Vietnamese East End
  • Vietnamese Gerard Square
  • Pho East End
  • Pho Gerard Square
  • Pho Gerard
  • Vietnamese Gerard
  • Etc

In the early days of search engines, you could “stuff” these keywords into the top of the page and rank really high in the search results. (Un)Fortunately, those days are long gone.

But you still need to tell your prospective customers where your Vietnamese restaurant is located, so you need to make sure that the content on your site contains all of these keywords and more while, at the same time, making sure your content is readable, user friendly and answers the questions of your visitors. Google (and Bing) uses a whole host of metrics to determine whether or not people like your site once they find it, so you can’t just list off a bunch of keywords and hope for the best.

There are other aspects to non-technical SEO – such as meta-tags, which sound technical but are not – but basically it all amounts to the same thing: showing Google that your site is relevant to a particular group of people.

You can do this yourself. Seriously. (I can show you how.)

 

Technical SEO

The other side of SEO is the technical side. In this case ‘technical’ means that it involves working with the code of your site at some level. (Truth be told, there are a few aspects of non-technical SEO that can involve your code, but many CMS have plugins so that you don’t have to touch the code.) And that means that you usually need a developer to do this stuff for you.

Basically, technical SEO involves making sure your site complies with the standards set by Google (and Bing, to a much lesser extent) in terms of how your website operates. This includes things like the load time of your site (how long it takes for a page to display to a user) and whether or not your code is following Best Practices. These things need a developer to fix, but you have a ton of free resources online that can tell you what’s wrong before you go out and hire developer. So there’s some good news.

I hope you enjoyed this very brief introduction to the mystical world of Search Engine Optimization. I hope that this has done at least a little to dispel the aura from around SEO and gives you hope that you can handle your own SEO if you should want to.
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