You’ll read at lot here about “search engine optimisation” (SEO), but you might find some contradictory opinions if you read around the subject elsewhere, or if you talk to people offering services in that area. In many cases, these are not real contradictions, it’s just that the term means different things to different people.
We get people asking us all the time if we “do SEO” or if we can recommend somebody who does. They’re often not actually sure what they want. Many companies pay somebody to “do SEO” without really being clear in their minds what SEO actually is.
So what the heck is SEO?
To me, search engine optimisation means setting up your website to maximise the traffic coming in from search engines. That means appearing in the results for as many different search terms as possible, and ranking as high in the results as possible. You get the first by having as much content on your site as you can, and ensuring it’s found easily. It’s the second part which has caused so much confusion, and allowed charlatans to fleece us for so much money over the years.
Google started off by ranking sites according to the number and relevance of other sites linking to them. This became so easy to manipulate that “SEO” became synonymous with people creating thousands or millions of links to their sites from other sites.
Do you think this still works with Google today? Of course not. While external links are still important, Google knows exactly the rate at which good sites get linked to, and which sites are worth getting linked from. While you must make sure that you’re taking every opportunity to get links from relevant sites, the further you stray from this “natural” pattern of links appearing, the less impact the links provide. Stray too far, such as by getting hundreds of links from sites which are nothing to do with yours, and you can even hurt your rankings.
Today, if you just consider SEO to be about ranking more highly in the results, then it’s as much about ensuring your site appears clearly to search engines as anything else. It needs great page titles and great page content. The site and the individual pages need to be unarguably about the searches you’d hope they’d rank highly for. Good direct links are still important, but it’s also about how often your brand appears elsewhere on the web in proximity to those search terms. This is far too hard to fake now.
Smarter marketers don’t just consider SEO to be about ranking more highly in the results now. They probably never did. They also consider it to be about appearing in the results for as many different search terms as possible, and that’s why “content marketing” has become so important. Getting more content on your website and elsewhere online contributes to so many aspects of SEO that it’s really almost synonymous with the term for many people. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s a massive opportunity for what we still call “PR companies”, but one which most of them have completely failed to grasp.