What is SEO (Search Engine Optimization) Anyway?

by | Feb 11, 2021 | Online Marketing

Anyone who’s building anything online knows that having strong SEO is paramount to their success. With so many “experts” out there it can be tricky to weed through all the (mis)information online. If you’ve found yourself wondering things like “what is SEO?”, “why does SEO matter?”, and “how do I know what SEO advice to take?” this article is for you.

Before I get into things I want to give up a bit of my background. I’ve been building websites for clients for more than a decade and have navigated the world of SEO since its relative infancy. I watched best practices change from meta keywords to organic ones, and I’ve continuously worked in this industry professionally helping launch and grow brands.

OK so What is SEO (Search Engine Optimization) Anyway?

SEO, or search engine optimization, is the process of improving your website’s ability to appear first on popular search engines like Google. For the purpose of this article, we’ll only be talking about Google since it’s the most popular.

Almost every piece of content published online is catalogued (crawled) by Google’s robots. This database is what you are searching when you Google something. If you’ve ever used a database through work, school, or the library it’s kind of similar. Only with Google everything gets catalogued automatically.

The goal of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is to encourage Google to show your website first when someone searches for related keywords.

For example, if you’re a small business who sells pens located in Toronto, Canada you’d want to rank for things like “pen store in Toronto” and “where to buy pens in Ontario”. The goal of SEO would be to optimize your website to tell Google your site is the best source of information on those topics.


How Does Someone Optimize for Search Engines?

Everyone wants to be on the top of Google’s results but the hard truth is only one person can get there. That doesn’t mean you’re totally at Google’s mercy, though – there are ways to increase your search ranking.

Websites that are crawled by Google automatically rank somewhere regardless of optimization. This is based on things like what keywords they find on the site, what information about your location is available, if other people link to your content, and how many people have clicked your site after searching a keyword in the past.

Improving that natural ranking is a bit of a science, and one that’s always changing. Some of the easiest ways to improve your Google ranking are adding more content to your website, keeping it up to day (blogs are awesome), improving the content you already have, adding alt tags to your images, encouraging others to link to your site, and submitting the site to Google services like search console and maps.

Those are just some of the many, many ways a site’s ranking can be improved. You’d also want to tailor how you approach SEO based on your goals, budgets, and business model.

Most people find the process of optimizing their site for SEO confusing so it’s something they hire out. But in a world full of experts, how do you know who to trust?


How do I Know What SEO Advice to Take?

There might be fakes out there, but there’s also a lot of qualified people who can really make a difference on your search rankings. To tell the difference, here’s what I recommend people look for in an SEO expert:

  • What they claim they’ll do for you. Don’t trust anyone who says they will 100% get you to the top of Google for a keyword. It’s impossible to be certain about SEO and even if they do follow through, they might use bad techniques to get there that will hurt you in the long run. This is especially true when it comes to highly competitive keywords.
  • Up to date knowledge. Best practices are always changing so find someone who is up to date on the latest trends. A great example is meta tags – they’re not recommended anymore, but were so heavily emphasized several years ago that some people still focus on them.
  • Under charging. Rates vary a lot depending on scope of work and experience, but beware anyone working for extremely low rates. Expect to pay a qualified expert fairly.
  • Claims to know Google’s secrets. It’s said that not even Google fully understands how their ranking works. That’s because everything is controlled by algorithms and they decide what ranks. Google will make tweaks to what those algorithms prioritize from time to time, but at the end of the day no one knows exactly what it takes to reach the top – only what we have seen improve rankings.
  • Look for other signs of authority. A qualified SEO expert will likely have a website and some information on there that indicates their abilities. It might be blog posts (like this one), a portfolio, an engaged social media audience, or special credentials. You should also ask people for recommendations, if possible.

Why Does Hiring the Right SEO Help Matter?

The consequences of hiring an unqualified SEO expert can be detrimental to your goals. They can mess up your domain authority in the long run and get you flagged as spam. If something sounds too good to be true, it might just be – so be cautious.