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For a long time, all most businesses needed was a simple website that proved their company existed. 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 even start searching the internet. That means many of your potential customers are searching and investigating solutions well before they come in contact with you and your site.

The term SEO (Search Engine Optimization) has a variety of meanings and is often misunderstood. In this post, my goal is to shed some light on what SEO is and is not, as well as 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-optimized content
  • Organic content
  • Search-friendly content

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

Social is NOT SEO

Social media marketing (SMM) is a very focused discipline that falls under the umbrella of digital marketing. The goal of SMM is 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. Building a digital marketing campaign that has synergy is where the real power lies. Using social media alongside your SEO efforts can increase your visibility and generate more traffic.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is the process of gaining website traffic by purchasing ads on search engines. Whereas, SEO is focused on driving organic or “free” traffic from search engines to a website. While many people believe that Google favors sites that also pay for ads, that is not true. That’s not to say that PPC can’t help. Rand Fiskin did a great whiteboard Friday 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 an organic listing.
  • Searchers who’ve been previously exposed to a site/brand via ads may be more likely to click > engage > convert.
  • Paid results do strongly impact organic click-through rate, especially in certain queries.
  • Paid ad clicks may lead to increased links, mentions, coverage, sharing, etc. that can boost 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.

You can watch the whole video here.

SEO is NOT Tricking Google

Google’s goal is to deliver the best possible results in the fewest amount of searches. This means they want to help people get the right answers to their search query. Their brand’s identity and reputation are directly attached to the results they deliver. So, they are very careful and do their best to NOT be tricked.

Google has a team solely devoted to ensuring they don’t get tricked by black hat SEO tactics. Its Web Spam team is devoted to making sure that junk doesn’t rank. This doesn’t mean that bad results don’t get through from time to time, but in the end, when they do 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 seems very technical, not every aspect is so. In fact, much of today’s SEO work is very creative and must be approached from many angles.

Since the term itself seems so technical in nature, 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, there are other aspects of SEO that 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 fact, in a recent article on technical SEO, I argued the need for better technical SEO. While most IT or Dev teams have a basic understanding of 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 is also involved in tracking and making adjustments to improve a website’s core web vitals. Core web vitals measure a web page’s page load time which has an effect on user experience and bounce rate.

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

SEO is an Art

Before an artist can paint a masterpiece, they first 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’s a combination of high-quality content optimized for visitor search intent and relevant keywords, website experience, internal links and external links, and more. Each of the tactics must have a focus and synergy if they are going to deliver results. Knowing what both a search engine and a user want and need in a page is not an easy task. 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.

SEO is On-going

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

There are many people who believe that just because they have installed a plugin and optimized a few pages for target keywords that their site will be good to go. 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.

In order 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 to ensure that a site is headed in the right direction. By tracking, testing, and tweaking, we help ensure that a site is able to grow its visibility through most circumstances.

SEO is Necessary

SEO strategies are a key part of content marketing. Both on-page SEO and technical optimization strategies will ensure your website pages and blog posts are found organically by your target audience. 


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 if you want to be found in the search results and grow your organic traffic, executing a well-rounded SEO strategy is key.

This means combining technical and creative search engine optimization with relevant content on an ongoing basis. Recently I created a course full of great 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 here.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in March 2018 and has been updated with fresh content.

SMA Marketing Foundational SEO
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