What is SEO? Let's Define SEO

What is SEO? You may have seen adverts where people promise to rank your website on the first page of Google (and other search engines). To do this, they use a technique called search engine optimization (or SEO for short). This no-nonsense guide aims to explain what SEO means and give you lots of background detail on how it works.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the search position of a website (or individual web pages) in the search engine results page. (These are sometimes known as unpaid or organic search results). It is the use of various techniques to improve a web site's search rankings in the hopes of attracting more visitors.

The idea is that the higher ranked the website is and the more often it appears in the search results, the more likely a visitor is to click on it to visit.

Search engine optimization is now possible for lots of different types of products and services, including videos, images, books and news items. Although search engine optimization can include local search too, other techniques as well as SEO can be used to rank a website at the top of Google for a local business.

Is SEO a type of Internet Marketing?

Yes it is, however it is quite technical and differs to more common types of internet marketing.

SEO involves understanding lots of different factors including:

  • an understanding of how search engines work
  • what algorithms Google, Bing and the other search engines use
  • what the target customer is searching for
  • what search terms (keywords) are typed into Google search
  • which search engines are the most popular with the target audience

Isn't SEO trying to cheat the Search Engines?

No. Google and other search engines want to show the correct search engine results to match the search queries enter. They want the web searches that are returned to match the user intent.

Therefore ensuring that your website is technically correct (based around the core web vitals)

So how do you optimise a website for Search Engines?

The process of optimising a website involves three main steps:

  • Optimising the website’s HTML and coding so that any barriers to it being indexed correctly are removed.
  • Editing its content to make sure it is relevant to the search terms being targeted.
  • Promoting the website by increasing the amount of inbound links (commonly known as backlinks).

What is SEO: 1. Optimising the website

A search engine, such as Google, evaluates a website differently to how a human would. Google can’t see how nicely your website is designed or how much value your products/services provide. It has to judge a website from a technical point of view.

When the Googlebot (Googles web crawlers) finds your page, it will process it to compile a massive index of all the words it sees and their location on each page. It will also process other information that it finds including:

  • tags and attributes on the web page, such as the title tag and image alt attributes
  • keywords in the URL
  • internal links
  • meta descriptions and any other meta tag it can fine
  • whether the website loads correctly on different devices.

Therefore its important that these elements are set up correctly.

What is SEO: 2. Creating relevant content

Another really important area of search engine optimization is making sure the content of web pages is correct. This aspect of SEO search engine optimization includes many areas such as ensuring that each page has a unique and descriptive title/description and the correct amount of keywords for each targeted search term are contained in each page.

The search engines have developed so much in recent years that they are able to determine if a website is useful to visitors. Therefore, creating “link bait” websites or stuffing the content full of keywords is no longer useful to getting websites listed. These and other similar nefarious techniques are known as Black Hat SEO.

What is SEO: 3. Increasing backlinks

The number of people that link to your website directly influences your position in the search engine rankings. These off page factors have been affecting search engine marketing for many years.

Consequently, an industry has sprung up around getting relevant sites to point to your website to increase your search engine rankings.

If Google detects that you have paid for the external links from a website or that you own the website that links to you then you can be penalised for this.

Off page SEO (or link building from other websites) can be a shady practice and its important not to enlist the practices of an agency that does not adhere to the search engine guidelines.

There are many different ways to create links back to a website including, but not limited to:

  • commenting on blogs and forums
  • adding links in social profiles
  • sharing on social networks
  • addition of a website to web directories

However, the best way to perform link building is to write great content and have people link to it. This is also what the search engines are looking for and this is what will increase your organic search traffic in the long term.

How do you Track Progress of SEO?

The most simple way to do this is by using Google Search Console. This free tool from Google (similar to Google Analytics) will show lots of analytical information about your site including:

  • What pages search engines discover on your site
  • What search engine traffic you have achieved over time
  • Which search queries are attracting the most visitors

Search console can also be used for keyword research to find relevant keywords that visitors to your site are already using.

There are also many SEO tools on the market which offer ways to perform many of the different aspects of SEO covered in this article. These include:

  • Keyword research tools
  • Tools to inspect internal links and to check the internal linking strategy is set up correctly
  • SEO tools to inspect external links
  • Tools to audit your site against Google ranking factors

As each month goes by, a new tool appears on the market! If you are looking to invest in an SEO tool, choose wisely.

Does Search Engine Optimization just work on the Desktop or does it work on other devices too?

Search Engine Optimization works on all devices and this is a something that needs to be taken into consideration when planning a Search Engine Optimization strategy. As most searches are done on mobile now, Google ensures that your website will only appear higher up the rankings if it does work on all devices. That is the mobile search results as well as the desktop search results.

Google makes many changes to its algorithms and one of the challenges for site owners is to ensure that they understand these changes and modify their websites accordingly.

Should you be Optimising for the Major Search Engines or for People?

That's a good question. Lets look at it from both your perspective and the perspective of the search engines.

The major search engines want to match the user's search intent with exactly what the search results show. Google's search results page is based on their search engine algorithms interpretation of what the user intent is. For example, if the user is searching for information about structured data then they want the most relevant web pages to come up about that particular topic.

That's how search engines work.

However, you want the major search engines like Google to find and rank your web pages in the organic search results for the keywords that you want to bring organic traffic in for.

You also want the user to love your product or services enough to make a purchase. So website owners are constantly creating content to achieve this. The content also has to be matching search intent too.

So the answer to this question is both.

Write high quality content focused on the user first (this is what the search engine guidelines tell you to do.) Then perform on page optimization to ensure that particular page has the content set up correctly so that it is attractive to the search engines too.

If you're not sure how to do this, my content marketing service can assist in this regard.

What is White Hat and Black Hat SEO?

You may have heard the terms white hat SEO and black hat SEO used. There are two different types of SEO techniques: ones that search engines recommend as best practise and ones that they do not approve of.

Search industry experts have categorised these as either white hat or black hat SEO. The white hat SEO experts tend to produce results that last a long time whereas black hats know that their techniques will be discovered at some point by the search engines and try and get away with it as long as possible, making money while they can. (Churn and Burn.)

White hat SEO is usually considered as writing content for people, not search engines, and then using best practise techniques to ensure the search engines index and rank this content.

Black hat SEO practitioners try to improve rankings by cunning methods. These include using hidden text, providing people and search engines different content (cloaking) and building up personal blog networks to provide lots of links to their own sites.

Final words

I trust that this article has answered the question "What is SEO?"

In many ways, search engine optimisation is like quality control for websites. Its about checking that the site is structured correctly and its about making sure that the content that sits on the site is useful to people. And finally, its about getting people to share the content and link to it.

Creating authority pages, getting the content shared and keeping on doing this – this circle is what creates strong and sustainable Google rankings.

SEO Consultant

This article was written by Gaz Hall, a UK based SEO Consultant on 4th February 2020.

Gaz has 20 years experience working on SEO projects large and small, locally and globally across a range of sectors.

If you need any SEO advice or would like him to look at your next project then get in touch to arrange a free consultation.