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What is SEO?

For a long time, most businesses only needed a simple website to prove their company existed. It was a simple place to connect with potential prospects. While these “brochure sites” did serve a purpose, they weren’t created to drive new business. Today’s consumer begins their buyer’s journey before they start searching the internet. That means many potential customers are researching solutions well before contacting you and your site.

Many misunderstand the term SEO (Search Engine Optimization) because it has a variety of meanings. In this post, my goal is to shed some light on what SEO is and make the argument that search engine optimization is essential to any business looking to grow by increasing its online visibility and website traffic from organic search results.


  • Search engine optimization

Search engines play an essential role in helping web users find the content they need, and understanding how they work is key to getting your website ranked highly. Search engine crawlers use links and sitemaps to discover pages on the web, then generate an HTML version of the page using its HTML, JavaScript, and CSS information. After this, it indexes the content by adding it to a database so that when search queries are entered, relevant pages can be generated. Finally, complex algorithms look at a range of signals to determine which pages should be listed as the most relevant results based on factors such as quality and relevance.

By understanding this process, you can make sure all the ‘signals’ for a successful website are present, from optimized content and metadata that helps crawl your site faster to focus on user experience, including mobile friendliness that helps increase ranking. In addition to technical information about how a search engine works, having strategies outside these operational processes is also important – such as creating compelling content and building authority across multiple channels. This will help ensure you stay ahead in today’s competitive digital landscape.

What SEO Is Not

When someone asks me what I do, and I share that I work in search engine optimization, it amazes me what the most common responses are:

  • That’s like Facebook and Social Media, Right?
  • I need some of that, but the ads are so expensive.
  • So you try to trick Google into giving you higher search rankings, huh?

If you aren’t aware, none of the above are SEO. For those who may still be confused, let me help you understand how SEO works.

Social Media Is Not SEO

Social media marketing (SMM) is a very focused discipline that falls under the umbrella of digital marketing. SMM aims to build and nurture a following on social media platforms. While SMM can help grow your brand, and having links on major social media sites is a plus, the impact social has on SEO is minimal in most cases.

This is not to say that social media should not play a role. In his article for Convince and Convert, SEO Expert Eric Enge shares how social can play a role. The real power lies in building a digital marketing campaign with synergy. Using social media alongside your SEO efforts can increase your visibility and generate more traffic.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is gaining website traffic by purchasing ads on search engines. SEO focuses on driving organic or “free” traffic from search engines to websites. While many believe that Google favors sites that also pay for ads, that is untrue. However, PPC is an excellent strategy. Rand Fiskin did a great whiteboard that detailed how PPC can help. Here is a brief overview of his video.

  • Searchers who see an ad may be more likely to click on an organic listing.
  • Searchers previously exposed to a site/brand via ads may be more likely to click, engage, and convert.
  • Paid results strongly impact organic click-through rate, especially in specific queries.
  • Paid ad clicks may increase links, mentions, coverage, sharing, etc., boosting organic rankings.
  • Bidding on search queries can affect the broader market around those searches by shifting searcher demand, incentivizing (or de-incentivizing) content creation, etc.

SEO Is Not Tricking Google

Google aims to deliver the best possible results in the fewest searches, so they want to help people answer their search queries correctly. Their brand’s identity and reputation are directly attached to the results they deliver. So, they are meticulous and do their best NOT to be tricked.

Google has a team devoted to ensuring they don’t get tricked by black hat SEO tactics. Its Web Spam team is dedicated to making sure that junk doesn’t rank. Although bad results can get through occasionally, in the end, when they find out you’ve been naughty, you’re toast. Good SEO plays by the rules and is interested in providing value to those who are searching for the answer for which we want to rank.

So, What Is SEO?

What does SEO mean? SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” It is the process of optimizing a website so it earns traffic from the “free,” “organic,” “editorial,” or “natural” search results on search engines. In other words, all the links on the search engines that don’t have the word “ad” next to the link. While the term SEO looks pretty technical, not every aspect is so. Much of today’s SEO work is creative and must be approached from many angles.

Since the term seems so technical, many companies have delegated the task of search engine optimization to their IT or Web Development teams. While these team members may be able to handle technical SEO, other aspects of SEO often get overlooked. Let’s dive a little deeper into what SEO is.

SEO Is Technical

To say there are no benefits to technical SEO would be absurd. In a recent article on technical SEO, I argued the need for better technical SEO. While most IT or Dev teams understand tags and meta information, they often don’t understand the importance of schema and structured data and how they impact search engine rankings and a website’s visibility in search results.

Google is also placing a higher emphasis on user experience once a visitor reaches your website. Technical SEO tracks and adjusts to improve a website’s core web vitals. Core web vitals measure a web page’s page load time, which affects user experience and bounce rate.

A good SEO professional will understand technical SEO and shifts in search engine algorithms. They will also utilize all the tools at their fingertips to implement sound best practices and add structured data where needed, ensuring that all pages are correctly optimized.

Examples of Technical SEO

Technical SEO is a broad field that covers numerous high-level elements. Here are just a few examples:

  • Response codes
  • Canonical tags
  • Structured data
  • Sitemaps
  • Page speed
  • Crawl optimizations
  • Robots.txt
  • Internal links
  • Javascript
  • Site architecture
  • URL structure
  • Thin or duplicate content
  • Hreflang

SEO Is an Art

Before an artist can paint a masterpiece, they must strengthen the canvas and apply a layer of gesso. Once dried, the canvas is firm and ready for paint. In the same manner, technical SEO lays the foundation for everything else you do. Once you have a canvas to work with, it’s time to get creative.

SEO is an art. It combines high-quality content optimized for visitor search intent with relevant keywords, website experience, internal and external links, and more. Each tactic must have focus and synergy if it will deliver results. Knowing what a search engine and user want and need on a page takes work. Finding that balance takes research, trial and error, and a whole lot of patience.

Just like creating a painting, there will be times when you want to throw the whole thing away. But if you continue to work at it, you’ll eventually find the work of art underneath the layers and layers of dried paint.

The Art of On-Page SEO

On-page SEO focuses on improving the value of your canvas through content. You’ll want to ensure each piece of content is fully optimized.

  • Write using a focused long-tail keyword as the subject of your content.
  • Use your keyword in your title tag and meta description.
  • Use synonyms and variations of your core term.
  • Optimize images.
  • Consider user experience when structuring content.
  • Include internal and external links.
  • Add relevant calls to action.

SEO Is Ongoing

If you work out for a week at the beginning of the year and then stop, will that week of working out sustain you for the rest of the year? My guess is not. To maintain the results, you must continue to put in the work. The same goes for reaping the benefits of SEO.

Many people believe that just because they have installed a plugin and optimized a few pages for target keywords. Then, they sit and wait for people to rush to their site. Sadly, it never comes, and then they think SEO is fake. The issue wasn’t SEO; it was their approach.

To get results, you have to put in the work. As users’ behaviors change and Google tweaks its algorithm and ranking factors, it’s the job of the SEO agency to ensure that a site is headed in the right direction. By tracking, testing, and tweaking, we help ensure a site can grow its visibility through most circumstances.

SEO Is Necessary

SEO strategies are a crucial part of content marketing. On-page SEO and technical optimization strategies will ensure your target audience finds your website pages and blog posts organically.


While there are many opinions about SEO, there is only one truth. At its core, SEO is the art of getting traffic from the “free,” “organic,” “editorial,” or “natural” search results on the major search engines. No matter what industry you are in or how big your site is now, executing a well-rounded SEO strategy is vital if you want to be found in the search results and grow your organic traffic.

You must combine technical and creative search engine optimization with relevant content on an ongoing basis. I’ve created a course with excellent content to help anyone learn SEO. If you’re ready to learn more about SEO and how it can help you expand your customer base, check out Simplified Search.

Are you looking to create or improve your content marketing strategy? Partner with SMA Marketing, and let us help you take your content marketing efforts to the next level. Our team of experts will work closely with you to understand your goals, target audience, and unique brand voice, ensuring that your content is engaging and optimized for search engines. Contact us today!

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