What is Search Engine Optimization?

You've probably heard the term “SEO” and wondered what it’s all about. The Digital Marketer is here to help you understand Search Engine Optimization.

Diane S. Thieke,

What is Search Engine Optimization?

In conversations with other businesspeople or at conferences, you may have heard the term “SEO” and wondered what it’s all about.

The goal of SEO (or search engine optimization) is to help more people find your website – ideally before they find your competitor’s. This process attempts to achieve two objectives:

  1. Make it easy for search engines to find and index your website.

  2. Improve the odds that your website will appear on the first page of search results. 

Digital marketers want to be on the first page of search engine results – and ideally, in one of the top three positions – because searchers rarely go beyond the first page. If your website appears on page 3 of results or not at all, you’ll be losing potential customers by the thousands.

Organic v. Paid Search

It’s important to make the distinction between organic and paid search. SEO helps you optimize your web pages so that they rank highly in search results naturally (and at no cost to you).

By contrast, pay-per-click, or paid search, will get you on the first page as well. If you use this method, you’ll buy advertising or keywords from the search engines, which will give you priority placement on the page.

Most digital marketers use a combination of organic and paid search, although there are some SEO experts who argue that organic is all you need.

How SEO Works

SEO is a complicated topic, largely because search engines use very sophisticated algorithms to determine what results should appear for each query. Google’s algorithm, called PageRank, for example, includes more than 200 factors, including social media.

See also: How Facebook EdgeRank Can Make or Break Your Business

Furthermore, search is really about people and how they look for information. So, SEO isn’t just about the technical aspects of your website, but also about the words people use when they search and the quality (and quantity) of the content you post on your website.

Thus, SEO focuses on 3 areas:

  1. Link-building. The more credible websites that link to your site, the greater the likelihood that your website will achieve a higher ranking.

  2. Content. Search engines are looking to best match the intent of the searcher with relevant, trusted content. For example, if the search is “barefoot running,” the search engine attempts to provide results only about barefoot running. Results will include a webpage devoted to the topic by Runner’s World magazine, a definition from Wikipedia, and a book about the topic on Amazon. Pages about regular running won’t appear.

  3. Architecture. The structure of your website is important. As search engines crawl and index pages, they do so in a structured way. For this reason, your sitemap, page titles, and page structure all matter.

I’ll cover these areas in greater detail in future posts, so keep checking back. If you have specific questions, let me know in the comments below.

Diane S. Thieke is the president and founder of Simply Talk Media, a digital media marketing consultancy. With more than 25 years in digital media and technology, she helps clients build stronger relationships with their customers and communities, using both social and traditional channels. Follow her on Twitter at @thiekeds or visit her blog at www.simplytalkmedia.com/blog.

Search photo from Shutterstock.

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