What is SEO in 2013?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a concept that is often misunderstood by very intelligent people if they have not studied online marketing in depth or actually done SEO themselves.

This is assuming that said person in question actually knows what SEO is at all. Try asking your grandparents or anyone that is not involved in a business that puts emphasis on their website (if those still exist).

SEO Defined in One Sentence

Search Engine Optimization (SEO for short) is the process of optimizing a website or web page through various techniques in an effort to improve it’s ranking in search engines.

Instead of saying “search engine” whenever I am talking about SEO and your desire to appear higher in them, I’ll just say “Google”. This is what 70% of people in the United States do, and I don’t want to write Bing, Yahoo, Aol, etc. every time. Google has become so synonymous with search and the internet that some people believe Google is the internet. I’ve seen this more than once. Anyway, unless you’re in China (Baidu), Russia (Yandex) or South Korea (Naver), there is a good chance that you’re searching using Google. I’m not sure about the preferred search engine in North Korea, but I doubt you’re doing business there, so we’ll move on.

SEO is made up of many nuanced activities and research before you even get started “optimizing” your website.

Essentially if your company makes money by selling green widgets, when a prospective customer goes to Google and types in “green widgets” you want your company to be the first “organic” search result.

Organic search results are the websites that show below the top yellow colored box in Google.

The websites that are listed in the top yellow box and on the side are paid advertisements. Those advertisements, which many people don’t even realize are advertisements, made up about 90% of the 40 billion dollars that Google made in 2011.

You probably want to run advertisements for your green widgets also, but that’s a separate topic. For now we want to focus on the non-paid, organic search results in the SERPs (search engine ranking pages).

Google uses hundreds of different factors to determine where to rank websites in the organic results, and the goal of SEO to get your website to appear as high as possible (ideally in the first position) for your chosen, relevant keywords.

Studies have shown that the top position in Google receives as much as 30% of all clicks on the page.

The Periodic Table of SEO Ranking Factors from Search Engine Land


Sounds easy enough, right?

But There’s a Catch

Understanding the concept and goals of search engine optimization are much less than half the battle. You could some up the concept of football in one sentence, but that doesn’t mean that you know how to win the Super Bowl, much less execute enough to win one game or score on one drive.

Not only is SEO very complex: a little bit of art, lots of analytics and a touch of science, as an SEO you are constantly chasing a moving target.

Every day Google is hiring some of the smartest people in the world to tweak their algorithm and stay ahead of people who are trying to game their search engine and generate high rankings with poorly written content. Google uses significant resources, both in computing and brain power, to ensure that they are delivering relevant search results to their users.

If Google all of a sudden was not delivering relevant results when you searched would you continue to use it? Many people wouldn’t notice, but eventually they would see people switch to competitors that are doing a better job. And there goes tens of billions of dollars.

Why I Don’t Buy SEO Books

Although the goals of SEO are relatively stable, with the constant evolution of the internet and Google’s algorithm changing daily, the tactics used in SEO to achieve top rankings are always changing.

I don’t buy SEO books because by the time they are printed there’s a good chance that half of the content is out dated.

In fact, some of the tactics that “SEO experts” were recommending last year, or even last month, are not only worthless, but hey could actually result in your website being penalized by Google.

This is why any professional involved in the SEO field is reading about the industry on a daily basis. Changes happen much faster in SEO than they do in accounting, finance or biology.

Timeless SEO Advice (For Now)

I won’t claim to predict the future of the SEO industry, or anything else, but here is the bottom line as of today.

  1. The best way to rank high in search engines is to create unique, relevant and valuable content
  2. Write for people, not search engines
  3. Build a website that is easily accessible to search engines
  4. Structure the data so that search engines can identify it properly
  5. Get other people to link to your content from their websites (inbound links are still likely the number one ranking factor)
  6. Distribute your content to social media sites and get other people to share it
  7. Don’t try to trick Google, it won’t work for long

Although the specific tactics to achieve these goals fill many books, and about 10% of the internet, that’s the essence of it.

For additional information on SEO follow me on Twitter and start reading everything on SEOmoz. I recommend starting with their excellent Beginner’s Guide to SEO.

If you have a WordPress site and aren’t tracking your web traffic with Google Analytics, learn How to Install Google Analytics for WordPress in Five Minutes.