“What is SEO? What do you actually do?”

29th July, 2015 - 10 minutes read

“What is SEO? What do you actually do?”

I’ve heard that question a lot working in digital marketing. It’s a question that doesn’t have a concise answer. The best thing to do is split the question into two parts and answer them separately.

What is SEO?

Let’s start from the start: SEO stands for “search engine optimisation” and Wikipedia describes it as “the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a search engine’s unpaid results”.

Blah, blah, blah. So what. That still doesn’t explain what SEO actually is. The key bit in the Wikipedia description is referring to it as a “process”. SEO has evolved into a catch all term that covers a whole heap of skills and techniques.

The first question to answer is probably “what was SEO” and go from there.

When Google first came along, websites were out in the wild roaming around with no keepers. Unless you were told to go to a specific address it’s highly likely you wouldn’t find the website. And the addresses were messy. Here’s a clip of Pete Tong reading out his website address on Radio 1 from 1995:

 

 

In those days you couldn’t just type “Pete Tong radio show” into Google because it didn’t exist. What Google did was give people an easy way of finding what they were looking for by marrying up a search phrase with a website that matched it. Websites soon caught on and realised there was only a very limited number of “top spots” available on Google…and so SEO was born.

When SEO first came about there was really only one priority: get my website to the top of Google for hundreds of search terms.

Agencies found ways of doing it, both ethically and by cheating the system. Companies paid lots of money to have their website optimised to appear for hundreds of (not always relevant) keywords and beamed with joy when they were told they were first on Google.

Then Google cracked down on the ones cheating the system and smiles disappeared off a lot of faces.

Over time Google has continued to evolve the algorithm they use to look at websites and decide if they match the search term being used. They’ve also evolved what signals they look for. For example, a while ago all you needed was a page stuffed with keywords. If you were looking for a painter in Birmingham you’d often read something like this on somebody’s homepage:

Are you looking for a painter in Birmingham? We’re a painter in Birmingham. We’ve been a painter in Birmingham since the phrase painter in Birmingham was invented. There isn’t a better painter in Birmingham than us. To contact a painter in Birmingham then call us and this painter in Birmingham will be in touch to give you a quote from the best painter in Birmingham.

Google soon stamped that out…those poor painters in Birmingham.

They didn’t stop there. Google have vilified all kinds of animals (I can’t go to a zoo without frowning at the pandas and penguins) all in the name of ethical SEO.

Google’s constant evolution is a great thing as it continues to refine the process and has turned SEO into a proper marketing channel. All the cowboys who have jumped on the bandwagon along the way have started to fall off and only the good, ethical agencies (us!) are left.

Businesses are a lot more aware of SEO now and, even if they don’t fully understand what it is, they know it’s of benefit if it’s done well.

The focus has changed; it’s no longer just about getting a website to the top of Google for hundreds of keywords. The aim now is to feature as prominently as possible for highly targeted keywords and make sure you encourage visitors to do something next.

Here’s an analogy to explain the evolution of SEO.

 


 

Think of a website as a shop that you’ve opened but it’s hidden off the high street down an alleyway. Nobody knows it’s there. So you hire a man with a sign. In it’s previous form, that’s what SEO was. One of those people who stands on a high street with a big sign saying GOLF SALE THIS WAY.

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That was great. A massive arrow saying there’s a golf sale. Hundreds of people might follow the sign, go to the shop and…then what? They get there, realise there’s nothing they like and leave. They might browse for a bit, find something they like but there’s no price on it so they put it back down and leave. How about this – what if someone who wanted to buy a VW Golf thought you were selling them? They went down there only to find out it was a load of nine irons and checked trousers. What if your shop looks awful and nobody even goes in. You’ve paid that guy to stand there with a sign but you have no idea if you’re making any money from him standing there.

Modern SEO is different. You’ve still got a man with a sign but he stops and talks to people and tells them that you’ve got a great offer on golf clubs today. And, no, it’s not VW Golfs you’re selling. He asks your potential customers if they like golf and, if they do, he explains that the clubs you sell improve their swing and help make them better at golf. They walk into your shop and it’s easy for them to find what they want to buy. And you know that sale came from your helpful man with a sign.

 


 

SEO, when done right, is a brilliant way of promoting and marketing your website. It’s not just optimising your site for Google, it’s optimising it for the user too. It doesn’t matter if you sell a product or a service, you can measure the results and see a proper return on the money you spend on SEO. If it’s done right.

This seems like a good time to move on to the second half of the question.

What do you actually do?

We do SEO the right way.

It’s not enough anymore to sit in a room with a client and tell them they’re on page one of Google and their traffic has increased by 150% since you started working with them. That doesn’t cut it.

Imagine this conversation:

Me: “See your empty room over there? I got 500 people to go into it last month.”

You: “What did they do when they went into the room?”

Me: “Ummm. Well…it’s 150% more people than went into the room this time last year.”

You: “Did they buy anything? Did they ask to speak to me or leave their name and number?”

Me: “I have no idea. BUT 500 PEOPLE THOUGH! IMPRESSIVE, ISN’T IT!”

No, it isn’t.

Good SEO – the type of SEO we advocate and practice – is more than that. It’s finding out what really matters to your clients and measuring yourself against it. It’s putting a value on your service by showing your clients the tangible results they get from working with you.

It doesn’t actually matter what we do – what matters is that it’s ethical and it works.

Want to know more about ethical, results based SEO? Get in touch with us.