SEO is a sneaky little word.
So simple looking, but it actually represents a winding rabbit hole of the internet marketing world.
Unfortunately, SEO (short for search engine optimisation) has become one of those buzzwords that’s completely ubiquitous and yet totally misunderstood.
Luckily, it’s less important to understand everything about what SEO really is than to understand the basics of what it is not.
First, a quick aside. Why is SEO so hard to explain?
Most people, if they are honest, don’t really understand SEO. I once had a client describe it to me as ‘that big cloudy thing in the sky that no one has really been able to clearly and thoroughly articulate’.
This lack of explanation isn’t us SEO nerds intentionally being jerks. It’s just that SEO is really hard to ‘clearly and thoroughly articulate’ without getting into some very nerdy technicalities.
But if you want a simple working definition, let’s start with this:
SEO is the process of improving web content based on an understanding of:
• how search engines work
• what people are looking for, and
• how people are talking about what they are looking for.
Seems simple enough.
Unfortunately, SEO gets more complicated the more layers you unpeel:
- How search engines work? Google’s algorithm considers over 200 factors.
- What people are looking for? Understanding the data of this is quite a technical science.
- How people are talking about what they are looking for? Understanding which words and phrases people use, which trigger action and which just flop is both an art and a science.
Unless you have the time to really invest in understanding the finer points of SEO, I recommend you stick to the basic definition. But you still need to understand what SEO is not so you don’t get caught out.
1. SEO is not set-and-forget
If any variation of the phrase ‘we had our SEO done last year’ rings true to you, I’ve got bad news.
SEO is a process, not a once-off.
Like most technology, the rules that guide SEO are constantly updated. In fact, Google changes its search algorithm around a staggering 500–600 times a year.
If your SEO was last ‘done’ a year ago? Best case, the tactics applied at that time are now archaic. Worst case, those tactics are now breaking the rules and might actually be causing you harm.
The core rules of SEO (and the need to have original, high-quality content) aren’t going away, but actually optimising that content for the search engines and searchers is a task that requires continuous tweaking, especially for the key terms that are the most important for your business to rank well against.
And don’t forget that the search engine algorithms aren’t the only things that don’t stay static: your competitors are another ever-changing element that needs consideration. Competitive research, i.e., understanding your competition and what they are doing, is a commonly overlooked but vital aspect of managing your SEO overall.
2. SEO is not standalone
When it comes to optimising content, most people think only of what can be done on their website or web page. This is referred to as ‘on-page’ SEO. If you stop there, you are actually missing a huge number of ‘off-page’ factors.
Having a dynamic, robust ‘off-page’ presence is an invaluable part of the SEO mix
Unlike on-page elements, these factors are not in your direct control, but can (and absolutely should) be influenced and monitored. Off-page factors primarily look at how your web content is viewed and treated by the rest of the internet.
Having a solid social presence and meaningful interactions help demonstrate your site’s authority and influence. Likewise, quality relevant links help position your site in your niche and showcase your reputation and quality compared with your industry.
Quality content, which engages users on-site and encourages positive action (such as sharing) off-site is also critical.
Even search engine marketing (also known as search engine advertising or SEM) can be an indirect but complementary part of your overall SEO strategy. While it is true that you cannot ‘buy’ better organic rankings through using ads, the aggregate value of increased traffic, click-throughs and conversions does usually see correlated improvements on the organic side of things.
Done right, the collective effect of developing and maintaining a strong off-page presence positively impacts your SEO rankings over time.
Spamming behaviours, purchasing irrelevant links or social ‘followers’ and other slimy off-page techniques can actually damage your overall SEO.
3. SEO is not one-size-fits all
Many of the major factors that get a site ranking well are universal to every business online. But the finer details need to be fine-tuned to each unique situation. You need your SEO to be aimed at your needs. Which really means you need it to focus on your users.
People, and the right people, need to be the primary target of your SEO.
If your SEO targets search engines rather than searchers, you are doing it wrong and likely hurting your site’s long-term rank in the process. Instead, put your effort into understanding exactly who you are targeting.
Your specific target audience needs to be well thought out and understood because it will dictate a lot about your SEO.
Who it is you are trying to reach will determine which keywords to use, which devices (including mobile) you should be optimising for and what search engines you need to be concentrating on the most. Without understanding who your true target market is, it’s nearly impossible to get the details right.
The must-dos from the do-nots
No, SEO isn’t as simple as its name makes it seem.
But there are some simple ideas to keep in mind.
Make sure your SEO is:
- being treated as an ongoing part of your marketing
- taking off-page into consideration, and
- targeting the right audience, the right way.
Even if you don’t understand every aspect (and don’t want to become an SEO nerd yourself) you can make major strides by applying the lessons of what SEO is not.
Is your SEO what it should be? Want an SEO nerd to help you make sense of your ‘big cloudy thing’? Contact the team at Baker Marketing for more information on how we can help!