What Exactly IS SEO?

I was browsing through a website this week when I realized that the company had SEO’d their Privacy page. I know, what kind of funky browsing was I doing? I think it’s safe to say that I look at things most other visitors don’t when perusing sites.

But back to my shock. Yes, they had paid an SEO company to write meta tags for their Privacy page — title tag, description, and keyword phrases. What does this mean? It means that the general website owning, updating, using public actually has no idea what SEO is and when it should be used. Furthermore, they’re probably paying someone to SEO things that don’t need it.

So, over the next few weeks, I will be posting SEO-related information on my blog — when SEO is important, when to ignore it, how to go about it, when it should be revisited (sorry, it’s not a one-time thing). Part 1 of my mission to clear up SEO-related confusion? What exactly IS SEO?

What is SEO?

SEO is short-hand for Search Engine Optimization.

Search Engine = Virtual Library
As you may or may not realize, search engines such as Google keep a huge virtual library of web pages indexed and ready for when someone requests a search. Think of it as if you walked into a library and handed the librarian your topic list. He or she is going to review your topic list (i.e. your search terms), disappear into the stacks of books and papers, and reappear with some material.

How do you know the material he or she brings back is on-topic and the best available information for your list? You don’t. You trust that the librarian knows how to locate the right information. You trust that the person who read the book in the first place and assigned it a place in the stacks deciphered the book’s information correctly. It’s the same thing with a search engine.

Google Loves to Read
Google is actually constantly visiting sites, reading through the pages and trying to decipher what information that site provides. It does its darnedest to pick out words from the copy that best describe the content. It then assigns that page a space in the “virtual stacks”. Optimization is done to increase the chances that Google indexes your site’s information correctly and likes the information enough to pull it out whenever your topic is requested.

You should optimize pages, then, that contain information that someone might search on. Have you ever thought, “I wonder what a photographer’s privacy policy might be?” Unless you’re writing your own privacy policy, I’m betting “no”. Should privacy pages be optimized? Heck no.

A Brief Introduction to the Art of SEO
How do you optimize? Well, SEO is an art, not a science but the following seem to work the best:

  • Write clear, on-topic content: Make sure that each page’s content carefully reflects what you want to say. If your page is all about your product, the Super 7 Cabbage Chopper, then stay on topic.
  • Include your keywords in your content: For our Chopper page, be sure to use the name of the product a bunch of times plus include a few generic terms for the product — anything a potential customer might use to describe it.
  • Use bullets & bolded words: Don’t write your entire page in bullets and bolded words. Don’t. Google is smart enough to see you’ve done this and will penalize you for it. However, the search engines do give higher importance to words that are highlighted. Make sure your keywords are highlighted — in proper context — somehow.
  • Add keywords to headings: This is another way of highlighting your keywords. The search engines, apparently, think that words in a title (heading) are important and, so, they rely on those words more when deciphering the meaning of your content.
  • Use meta tags: Traditionally, these were the ways website owners told the search engines what their pages were all about. Many website designers still think that meta tags will do all the heavy lifting, SEO-wise, with the search engines. That is just not true anymore. Too many sneaky people abused the search engines’ trust (e.g. tagging the page with “grow your business” when the site actually referred to growing body parts) and now many engines actually read through every page to avoid being duped.That being said, the description and title tags are still used by many search engines. Title tags tell your site what to write in the blue bar at the top of your browser while the description tag is hidden in the code. Google uses the title tag as the heading for your page in the search results (it’s what is underlined at the top of each blurb). So, those are still important and should be a elegantly written string of your keywords (not a bunch of words stuck together).

Do you feel like an SEO expert now? No? Well, it takes time and practice. Keep your eye open for more blog posts on the “how to” of SEO over the coming weeks. There’s lots more to chat about and it will eventually become more clear!

2 Replies to “What Exactly IS SEO?”

  1. Thank you for this article! I’ve been trying to figure SEO’s out and was finding it very confusing. Your article clarifies a lot of it for me and has given me a better understanding of the basics I need to do. Cheers!

  2. What great timing. I just brought my website online a few weeks ago, and was struggling with how to manage the Key Words & Phrases. Thanks for shining some light on this. Looking forward to your next installment.

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