Feb 22, 2008

What is SEO?

What is SEO?The world has gone SEO crazy. SEO consultants are popping up everywhere. Web design companies are re branding as SEO companies and marketing companies are offering SEO services too. This is much more than a fad though, it is common sense mixed in with a load of jargon and hype. It is the latest in marketing strategy.

What does SEO stand for?
In short, SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation (the process) or Search Engine Optimisers (those who carry out the process). It does pretty much what it says on the can. They work to optimise your web presence for search engines. This is achieved by understanding the algorithms search engines use in order to index websites and display them as search results. A SEO specialist will work on your site in order to achieve good rankings for the search terms you want your business to show up under. For example, if you are a wetsuit retailer, you would like your site to come top of the list when someone searches for “wetsuits”. The value of this is obvious – increased traffic, leading to increased sales.

What does a SEO company do?
They may do a variety of things, from re coding sites and fixing problems related to the search engines ability to crawl/spider the site to changing the structure. A big part of effort goes into the content. Search engines value relevant, regularly updated content. A SEO will make sure there is relevant content, containing relevant keywords that the company wants to rank well for, and that new content is regularly added.

Why do I need a SEO?
These consultants or companies specialise in this field, and are therefore able to offer expert advise. Unfortunately many web designers are not up to date with the latest industry standards and produce websites which are not totally search engine friendly. Here an SEO can help. SEOs are also generally more aware of marketing strategy than web designers.

What are White hat and Black hat?
White hat quite simply refers to SEO techniques recommended by search engines. There is no deception. Wikipedia sums it up as “creating content for users, not for search engines, and then making that content easily accessible to the spiders, rather than attempting to trick the algorithm from its intended purpose”.

Black hat techniques try to game the search engines algorithms and if discovered using these techniques, your website will be penalised. There are many techniques that can be used but Google is pretty good at catching people out. This approach does not offer the long term results of White hat SEO.

Sources of confusion
As the search engines do not publish guidelines but often hint towards things there are many grey areas. The search engines algorithms are top secret. SEOs therefore have to test and make assumptions. For example, it is commonly agreed that search engines read from top to bottom and left to right. Therefore it would be beneficial to have as little as possible between the top of your source code, and your content. Mark from 45n5.com made a report on this recently.

There is no formal recognised industry body or qualification for SEO. This pretty much allows anyone to call themselves a SEO expert so when it comes to picking one to work for you it is important to do your homework. Ask for references and contact them. Any good company should have no problem supplying references. This problem is highlighted by Jeremy Schoemaker who says:
This is why SEO’s are like used car salesman…

  1. They can always sell you something.
  2. They can never guarantee results.
  3. They can not be held accountable.
  4. They have a answer for everything.
  5. All the magic happens behind the curtains – they cant tell you what they are actual doing because that would be getting to much into the secret sauce.
  6. Anyone can be a SEO.

SEO is an ongoing process. It is not a one off thing. In order to rank well new content has to be created regularly. This is the reason that company blogs are increasingly popular. Blogs rank very well with search engines and typically produce new content on a regular basis.

Can I do SEO?
The truth is that yes, you can quite easily do some SEO. If you designed your web site yourself and know some html you can make some changes. Start by cleaning up your code. Make sure all CSS and Javascript is linked to in a separate file. Next look at your content. Do your titles contain the keywords that relate to what you have written? Does your content contain the keywords and variations of them? Have you used ALT tags for your images? These are all things you can start to do yourself.

UPDATE: I have just found out about this free ebook showing you some easy SEO techniques. If you are ready to take the next step and find out more about SEO this is ideal.  Download  The Easy SEO Report.

Have you hired a SEO expert? What criteria did you use for selecting them? Does your business have a blog? Is it for SEO purposes?


  • I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Chris Moran

  • My favorite form of seo is to make 2 pages that are almost identical but different based on the “seo” you want to test and see which one google ranks higher ;)

  • That is a great way of testing things. I imagine its most useful for testing various landing pages.

  • Hey Tom,
    Great overview article. SEO has undergone a lot of reputation issues in the past year but hopefully the masses will be able to come to a better understanding of what it is and why they need it.

  • This was a very good article for people who are new to the web world and want to understand what’s going on. We see so many expert SEO articles these days that they tend to forget about the newbies.

  • SEO is fun and there is money on it. just read and read and you can learn this on he process

    But SEO is a continous effort

  • Hey – Thanks for commenting!

    Gyutae: Thanks for stopping by. I have been following your blog for a while now, and its nice to have input from someone who is a SEO by profession!

    Pinny: I know! I have friends who enjoy blogging and making websites in general but SEO is just too technical for them and they have no idea where to start.

    Dexter: There sure is money in it. SEO firms are popping up everywhere, and web design companies are changing their focus to include SEO too. I am very much aware of it, and like you suggest, am reading and learning all the time.

  • Nice. useful stuffs. – Thanks


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