What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
SEO is an acronym of search engine optimization. It is the methodology of getting organic (free) traffic from search engines. Organic traffic is acquired when a user searches for a given keyword and the content of a given page properly matches what the user is searching for.
By providing relevant content based on the user’s intent a page can be provided accordingly. The higher a link to a webpage shows on a page the more likely a page will be clicked on and theoretically the more relevant the content is to that user’s intended inquiry. Relevance therefore position is determined by the page’s and the site/domain that the page is hosted on is determined by trust, and brand signals through metrics like quantity and quality of backlinks, brand mentions, and contextual cues.
There are hundreds of thousands of factors which determine a webpages rank for a given keyword determined by a specific algorithm which SEO’s attempt to understand to provide search engines more of what they are looking for or to simply game the system.
For example: a user searches on Google for “cheap gifts for upcoming holiday.” Google must in theory, determine the user’s intent that their query is transactional vs “cheap gift ideas” which would be more informational, they need to determine which holiday is coming up that involves gift exchanging, what types of gifts are common for such a holiday and how would one define “cheap.” Christmas for example could be a $20 – $100 gift whereas Valentines day cheap could mean a $5 stuffed animal.
All of these things are easily done through our cognitive minds but is quite a difficult task when done algorithmically. Thus Larry Page’s (co-founder of Google) obsession with artificial intelligence (AI) and Elon Musk’s (modern day John Connor) constant warnings to Google (Skynet).
The Pillars of SEO
These three pillars have been timelessly used to determine a website/webpage’s relevance regarding rank and are incredibly important to a webpage’s “rankability.” Other taxonomies of variables have been introduced which rely on these foundational metrics to determine relevance and therefore rank.
On page SEO – any factor that affects individual webpages that are generally contextual in nature and are typically manually done.
This is the easiest and most common skill set of SEO’s and these are also privlaged to have the least amount of variablility meaning what was true for Google’s on-page best practices in 2003 is generally still true this year. The major difference is in the weight search engines’ apply to each on-page variable.
That 20-something LinkedIn connection that works at a digital agency and refers to them self as a “SEO Guru” probably only knows on-page SEO, again this is easy stuff.
Examples include: meta titles, meta descriptions, keyword density, header tags, contextual relevance, relevance of outbound links, etc.
Technical SEO – any factor that affects multiple or all webpages on a domain generally falls into this category of technical SEO (sometimes called onsite SEO).
This requires back-end/server side knowledge, coding experience, and in general more “technical” knowledge. This is where trhings get a little hairy as there are more variations than with on-page SEO but even more so new elements keep getting added as organic search continues to grow more complex more sophisticated solutions are needed for search engines to understand context, relevance and UX.
These guys are nerds and command a higher dollar and they are worth every penny as a website with excellent SEO architecture can overtake a similar website with more backlinks (see below).
Examples: URL taxonomy, canonical placement, load management / server-side optimization, code-to-text management, dynamic redirect schemes, security certificate management.
Off Page SEO – If there is one factor that determines position within a specific “search query” it is off-page. That this any backlink or signal outside of a website/domain. A backlink is any active link that directs to another website. A signal could be a backlink but could also be a simple brand mention or a possible URL in plain-text or an inactive link.
This is by far the more controversial as the rules to this game are changing constantly, not nessessarily due to an increase in best practices but due to SEO practicioners constantly rerverse engineering existing off-page factors and then repeating them without the intended purpose.
Althogh you can easily manipulate this field it is becoming more and more challenging due to the increase in cost.
If you are squeky clean, this skillset requires reaching out to other related webmasters, establishing a relationship, and having that relationship reflect on one’s website. In addition, to outreach (finding related webmasters and contacting them) and sales (selling the importance of a relationship and building links to one another), a general marketing strategic mind is needed with digital promotional tactics.
If you don’t follow these rules it is very likely that you will still rank however you run the risk of algorithmically getting caught due to an update from a search engines or by user error, if you’re good this won’t happen but it never rules out the possibility of a failed manual inspection which could happen to anyone and result in years of hard work down the digi-toiliet.
A good “white-hat” SEO (a person that knows how to acquire high quality backlinks) generally can provide a minimum of $1 for every penny they cost through fees and marketing spend.
Examples: acquiring and managing brand mentions, signals, backlinks and web-centric relationships, that’s it.
Organic Traffic vs Rank
Today SEO is all about contextual relevance. Gone are the day when we write an infinite number of pages for every possibly concived keyword i.e. Page 1: “how to lose weight”, Page 2: “lose weight now”, Page 3: “losing weight”.
Today Google wants to rank for all of these as similar (again because of similar user intent). So think of keywords as an array. If you rank for “lose weight” you will rank for so many long-tail keywords that you couldn’t even quantify it with a calculator.
In 2010, Google Analtics (Google’s free web traffic tool) removed any data pertaining to most individual keywords and the SEO world freaked out. People were forced to look at pages and guess which keyword they were ranking for and big companies like Brightedge, SEMRush offered keyword tracking.
These tools are incredibly helpful but Donkey’s Law states that whenever presented with a difficult task people will leave the market and those that stay will get better. So best practices place a focus on organic traffic and not keyword rank.
Rank is a zero sum game there are X amount of positions and only 1 webpage can occupy any one of those for a given amount of time.
Organic traffic again leads to a near infinite number of possibilities who knows what kind of keywords you are ranking for you can simply determine variables of content (i.e. things in your control) you are getting organic traffic for and then focus that.
A Brief History of SEO
Due to the vastness of the internet efforts were made to make the world wide web more navigable thus the directory was born. This grouped common websites together to allow the user to find website & content based on topical interest.
*pic of early web directory*
Organizing the internet into a schema of topics just made sense as an individual user could potentially delve deeper into each topic with more granularity.
As the internet grew a more sophisticated solution was needed. Thus came the search engine. In the early days search engines primarily used the keyword to organize ideas and the theory was that the more times a keyword was used meant the more relevant the content was related to that keyword.
Along came two nerds from Stanford with their notions authoritative validity via backlinks as a ranking factor and Google was born forever crushing contextual linear relevancy. The idea was simple the total number of backlinks a specific webpage had indicated its trust, authority, and therefore it’s priority. Then you simply had to cross reference its contextual relevance and now you can match one keyword with a list of “matching” results and the user can ideally make one selection.
Birth of The SEO
Search engines became more and more popluar until a monster was created, a healthy site generally receives 50 – 80% of their traffic from search engines not because it is awesome but because the utility of search engines are crazy helpful. People simply find it convinent to search the vastness of the web by simply typing in what they are thinking and having the search engine do all of the navigation for you.
As the search engine became the go to tool to search the web g some snake oil salesman promising to increase length and girth reverse engineered how to be #1 for a keyword we dare not type and thus the first SEO was born.
If search engines uses keyword frequency as a ranking factor a site simply develops a white backgournd with a white font repeating the keyword 1000 times.
*pic of background page with background blue SEO*
If search engines uses backlink frequency as a ranking factor all you had to do was spam the web with a bunch of junk links and reap the benefits.
This ongoing battled continued through late 90s up to today, Google makes an algorithim update, SEO’s reverse engineer, and manipulate the system.
The idea wasn’t to make SEO impenetrable but instead to make them too expensive to game. More and more SEO’s saw easy money and many good and reputable businesses were caught in the cross fire.
People forgot how to search the internet without search engines and this was the front page of the internet.
All of the SEO factors
Take the pillars of SEO (on-page, off-page, technical), on a board level how do these interact?
Many out comes 3! = 3 x 2 x 1 = 6
Now throw in an additional broad variable such as brand signals and what do we have?
Something increasingly complicated: 4! = 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 = 24
According to SEO bloggers there are over 200 ranking factors in Google alone. but in reality, who cares, it’s probably closer to 2000 either way when you factor in all of the possible only there are too many possible arrangements or relative interactions each “ranking variable” has inrelation to another. The human brain can’t comprehend a number that high so it’s best we stick to the basics.
It is important to know these variety of factors and how they interact with one another and with every algorithm update new factors are introduced, the weight of each factor is subject to change and obsolete factors disappear.
And every time SEO bloggers write about how SEO is dead and reap huge SEO benefits from writing such content.
And that is just for traditional organic search, you have local SEO, news, video, and a whole slew of different venues to explore (and account for).
From The Fog of War Comes An Algorithm that makes marketing sense
Around 2013 Google began pushing their animal algorithm updates Google began to make SEO sense, that is SEO and UX began to play nice with each other instead of at odds with each other.
Prior to this Google would make an update which may or may not have a UX benefit but at the end of the day would usually just change the weight of technical, onpage, or off-page, rinse and repeat just to throw SEOs off their game.
Suddenly engagement metrics were important, reduced load time help your rank, terrible content that a non-native speaking 5 year old could right was being penalized.
Today, search engines have all but completely shut down all black hat or grey hat SEO practices in on-page and technical SEO.
The SEO was no longer a huckster trying to game a system but one that was trying to work the system. The search engines remained aloof to these people leaving them in the dark and SEO continued to complain.
SEO Skill Sets
SEO is completely different in 2003 vs today your skill sets have to multiple with every year or you will not have many clients, get fired from your job, or go broke.
Here are some job requirements for an SEO position. Not even close. There are multi-billion (that is an intentional “B”) that offer “SEO consulting” and like most SEO consultants regurgitate SEO ranking factors and supplement tactical devices for solid marketing strategy and at the end of the day optimize your meta titles and you pay thousands if not more.
The one skill that you need is empathy. Understand that Google is a publically funded company that (unlike the majority of the tech world) has always turned a profit. Actually their earnings have substantially increased every quarter.
They place huge amounts of pressure to continue this, and they see themselves as the leader in the tech world (and in many ways they are).
They DO NOT have a 67% market share it is closer to +80% — verify using GA, just ask John Sherman. With so much growth, demand, and pressure from their shareholders they must maintain their reputation.
Their #1 source of revenue is from paid search revenue. Once you learn this timeless truth SEO gets really easy.
The ideal content provides massive utility, is trustworthy, and is a good internet citizen so that Google is maintained as an authoritative source so Google can maintain their preferred status and thus increase the odds of you consuming their paid content.
So are you helping or hurting Google’s bottom line?
The Future of Search
This is dependient on the future of search engines and that is dependent user preferences and that is dependent on cultural norms. So no one wil be ale to tell you.
Quote arron wall “SEO will never die because people will move to a different solution” if it is polluted with links
Keeping the above in mind Due to the nefarious practices of the (government body that regulates advertising) and search engine share holders priorities the “ideal” use case would be:
User searches with keyword >> user is returned one result surrounded with a sea of advertisments with a possible correction of refined search to ensure the user remains engaged (unable to break their existing habits of using Google)
*image of above*
This slow evolution will result in user fatigue and a mass migration towards an antiquated model (more organic choices less invasive advertising)
*image of people running to DuckDuckGo*
The monopoly that is search will turn into an oligopoly and the forces of demand will force competitors to correct their experience to be user focused.
Future of SEO
Regardless the Future of SEO will become more a more enterprise as —This is basic as the complexity of SEO increases and the number of skill sets needed increases the supply of labor (the amount of time per week, month, or year that individuals are willing to to spend working – double check this) increases as well. Costs increase and only the highly skilled & heavily resourced are able to play the game.
It’s good to be a real SEO but bad if you have to pay for SEO services.
Whatever the future holds just remember:
How does helping Google and other search engines help me? (reword this)