What is SEO?
While there are many definitions of Search Engine Optimisation (usually abbrevieated to SEO), we prefer this one:
“SEO is the name of a constantly evolving set of techniques of website management that shows demonstrable value to End Users that Search Engines can’t help but value the website accordingly.”
“SEO is the art of making your website so awesome that search engines recommend it instead of competitors when people ask about the topic discussed on your site”.
The benefits can be huge: Seach Engine Optimisation done well will mean that your website receives more visitors than your rivals and help you turn those visits into paying customers.
SEO is now a multi-billion, global industry, and one of the primary digital marketing channels that companies invest in at all levels due to it’s cost-effective nature.
But what does SEO involve? What does it cost? How can you make it happen and how soon can you expect results?
How Search Engines Work
A huge part of SEO is understanding how search engines like Google and Bing actually work, and what they are looking for when they evaluate a website or page. This has helped people in the industry then optimise their websites so that they “rank” well on Search Engine Return Pages (SERPs – the list of websites you get after submitting a search query).
Lets use our librarian analogy to explain the basics of how Search Engines work:
The SEO Librarian Analogy
Imagine that instead of creating a website, you wrote a book about growing vegetables, and that Google is a really good librarian.
When a person enters the library, they ask for the best book on vegetables.
The librarian has read your book, knows how good it is, realised that it is better than all the other books about vegetables, and so is about to make it the top recommendation for this person because it satisfies the person’s needs, but will list the other books after it in order of relevance and quality.
This is similar to what Google does every time somebody uses it to search.
- Looks and reads thousands of books it can find on Growing Vegetables
- Stocks the top 100 or so books that it thinks are the best on the library shelves
- Constantly checks to see if new editions have come out with more up-to-date information that may make them better, or if new books on the subject have been released.
- Constantly adjusts the ranking lists for the best books on vegetables.
- Produces the list of books in rank order when somebody requests information about growing vegetables.
- Sees how the user responds to the list and the books on it, and adjusts the list when needed.
Search Engine (e.g. Google)
- Crawls and analyses thousands of websites it can find on Growing Vegetables
- “Indexes” the top 100 or so webpages that it thinks are the best in its index
- Constantly checks to see if the pages are being updated with more up-to-date information that may make them better, or if new websites on the subject have been released.
- Constantly adjusts the ranking lists for the best websites on growing vegetables.
- Produces the list of webpages in rank order when somebody requests information about growing vegetables.
- Sees how the user responds to the list and the websites on it, and adjusts the list when needed.
How SEO has changed
SEO techniques and methodologies have changed drastically since people first began to take notice of what Search Engines were doing.
For many old-school optimisers, SEO was all about tricking early Search Engines into ranking a page or website for certain keywords.
An example might be Keyword Stuffing. People realised that search engines were giving weight to pages that featured a high keyword density. This led to people stuffing the page with thousands of instances of the keyword to get it to rank, resulting in spammy useless pages. They even went as far to write the keywords thousands of times in white text on white backgrounds so that the user couldn’t see it, but the Crawl Bots could.
Another prime example of old SEO techniques would be link farming: the creation of PBNs and the purchasing of spammy backlinks pointing towards the domain because they realised that Google valued a large backlink profile.
But the Search Engines got smarter and fought back. Infamous updates to Google’s core algorithms such as Panda and Penguin all put killed off the effectiveness of many techniques, even penalising websites who had used these websites excessively.
This forced many previously functional SEO techniques to become redundant, or labelled “black hat SEO techniques” – stuff that may result in a short-term gain, but ultimately could cause a website to be de-indexed in the long-run.
SEO in 2020
Now, search engine optimisation is becoming more and more about creating the perfect experience for the end-user rather than pleasing a search engine’s algorithms.