Most people have probably heard of it, but it can often sound like a bunch of technical jargon wrapped around a mysterious concept. Today hopefully we can dispel that.
SEO is an acronym that stands for search engine optimization. Literally then, optimizing a website for search engines.
That is indeed how it began, but like many things SEO has evolved over the years to mean other things as well.
These days what separates a good SEO from an average one is how much further they take this definition. (People who do SEO are often called SEOs. A little confusing in itself, right? So it's both a thing and the person who does the thing.)
Consider this analogy:
You bring your car to the mechanic to have him check out your brakes. He changes the pads out but doesn't bother to look at anything else while he's in there because in his mind you only paid for brake work. Or maybe he's only a brake mechanic. One way or another, in this example he didn't point out that your wheel bearings are also bad.
Now you have shiny new brakes on your car, but it still doesn't drive right and you don't know why.
A good mechanic would've thought to inspect other associated parts and functions while he was in there, and would've mentioned it to you. His philosophy would basically be that if you're paying him to fix your car, he doesn't want you to drive out of his shop with issues. Or at least not to leave without knowing about them.
Modern SEO is Improving The Bottom Line
I use that analogy to illustrate the idea that good SEO is more than tweaks to make a site rank better. When you bring your car to a mechanic for brake work you're not there to literally change brakes. You're really there to make your car safe. With your website, you're not simply after a ranking or some extra traffic; you want more business.
A good SEO knows that all the traffic in the world is useless if it doesn't turn into new business for the website owner.
If the written content has typos, is boring, or is vague the site isn't going to turn visitors into customers. The same goes for a bad site design, low-quality graphics, and a slow load speed. The SEO person hasn't done a client any favors to notice these things are amiss and do nothing about them.
He or she cannot simply say "Well, they've paid me to improve their ranking for these keywords, and I've more or less done that so..."
Generally speaking, modern SEO involves the following foundations:
- Assessing the design the messaging of the website and making improvements where needed
- Working to improve ranking for the right keywords (not always simply about sheer traffic) through page titles, content, and meta data
- Ensuring off-site elements are properly set up, such as Google/Bing Local (maps), social media channels, etc.
- Ensuring the overall message of the website falls in line with other marketing materials the company has
- Optimizing each page to fulfill a specific goal
Old school SEO involved only the technical aspect of all this, i.e. meta data on pages, using keywords, building links to the site from elsewhere, etc. You're probably beginning to see at this point that there's a creative end to SEO as well.
Outside of code and software, driving new business also relies on these things:
- An understanding of marketing concepts and buyer intent
- Copywriting (persuasive writing) and graphical skills
- An eye for design: what attracts the eye, what colors and imagery work together, and how those elements work together to convey a unified message
Those skills are more abstract and are learned differently than technical how-to's.
We wanted to be specific here and not try to condense a big topic into an overly simplified answer. But here's a quick summary of what to take away:
SEO is a mix of improving a site's rankings and making the site more appealing/useful to visitors. No, SEO is not dead or dying. It's a blend of technical and creative skills, and it's important to most modern businesses.
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