Search What are you looking for?

Defining Search Engine Optimization

Posted on Oct 26th, 2009
Written by Lee Odden
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    Define SEOThe search engine industry frequently innovates as do consumer behaviors for discovery and sharing. Those changes require search marketers to take a fresh look at what search engine optimization (SEO) is and why companies should or should not engage in its practice.

    Defining search engine optimization is often focused on the mechanics:
    “SEO considers how search engines work and what people search for. Optimizing a website primarily involves editing its content and HTML and associated coding to both increase its relevance to specific keywords and to remove barriers to the indexing activities of search engines.” (Wikipedia).

    Even Google offers a definition of what an SEO is along with guidelines:
    “Many SEOs and other agencies and consultants provide useful services for website owners, including: Review of your site content or structure, Technical advice on website, development: for example, hosting, redirects, error pages, use of JavaScript, Content development, Management of online business development campaigns, Keyword research, SEO training, Expertise in specific markets and geographies.”

    Since the key components of how a search engine works include: crawling, indexing and sorting, those are the functional focus areas of most SEO efforts.  Most experienced internet marketing professionals will admit that is a limited view of the value SEO brings.

    What about link building and promotion of content? What about search for content that isn’t product or service oriented? What about search within closed networks? What about real-time search? What about niche search: vertical, local, mobile, multi-lingual? What about social search?

    Readers of Online Marketing Blog and those that have seen @toprank staff speak at conferences know this fundamental premise: “If it can be searched on, it can be optimized”.  No search engine is perfect, so help in making information available and easily understood is incredibly helpful for the engines, for consumers that use those search engines and the content sources represented in search results.

    Code, site architecture and server issues that affect how search engine bots interact with and index a web site’s content are certainly important as are keyword research and the subsequent use of those keywords in tags, on-page copy, markup and anchor text links between pages.  These areas all fall under the realm of “on-page SEO”.  The Yang to that Yin is “off-page SEO” which is basically link building. For more of this kind of practical SEO advice, read “Basics of Search Engine Optimization“.

    Defining SEO can be as simple as, “Optimizing digital content for better performance in search.”  That’s a broad definition and the implications and value from improved search performance can range from increased sales to lowered customer service costs. It really depends on what customers are searching for, whether available company content is optimized and if analytics are in place to benchmark and measure performance.

    Consumers are prompted to use search in a variety of scenarios ranging from research to finding products for purchase.  In most cases, SEO consultants (like TopRank 🙂 ) are hired by corporate marketing departments to improve the search visibility of products and services being marketed to customers. Improved search engine placement typically results in an increase in traffic (qualified by the search terms used) and an increase in sales.

    Marketing departments fund most Search Engine Optimization efforts whether they are executed in-house, by outside consultants or as is increasingly common, a combination of the two.  Companies that take a holistic view of search and approach the notion of “If it can be searched, it can be optimized” strategically, find themselves with an opportunity to not only improve marketing performance and efficiency via SEO, but do the same for other content areas as well.

    Most companies only engage, implement and measure SEO efforts to increase revenue as part of marketing. Those same companies often publish many other types of content ON and OFF the site as well as content that has a ROI, but isn’t part of marketing. Customers are searching for this content and if it’s not well optimized, cannot find it. That spells opportunity.

    Companies that implement keyword research and SEO efforts for their web sites holistically, typically realize a very desirable combination of benefits that include an increase in sales as well as a reduction of costs in certain areas. If not a reduction in costs, at least an improvement in efficiency and performance.

    For example: Most on site search functions for company web sites rate a C to D minus. Google on the other hand, can do quite well with such content.  After the sale, customers often search for company contact info, product support and customer service related info. “How to fix this or that” or “Where to re-order this or that part.”  Increasing numbers of companies have invested in the aggregation and publishing of this kind of information, but the usability inherent to those systems is often flawed.

    Making FAQ and Knowledgebase information available to external crawlers like Googlebot, SLURP and MSNBot as well as the systematic keyword optimization of such content makes it more easily available to customers that are looking. Companies invest in aggregating product and customer service / support information to reduce overall customer service costs (call centers are expensive) and hopefully provide better service to customers in a way that is more convenient for them (i.e. 24/7 online).  Making support content perform better in search can facilitate those performance and cost efficiency goals.

    There are other examples I could share involving SEO for job listings, news content and others, but I think you get the model. Assess all content being published online (from text to digital assets) to determine the audience and whether improved search performance can help reach business goals. Those goals might be increased sales, branding/reputation, recruiting better employees while lowering recruiter costs or increasing media coverage while lowering PR agency costs.  The thread that binds this kind of SEO effort is that customers are searching for content being published on and off company web sites (inside social networks for example), but it’s often difficult to find. Making content easier for customers to find can help multiple departments reach business goals.

    In the end, whether search optimization efforts are for marketing, public relations, talent acquisition, customer service or consumer research, my preferred definition of SEO is a broad one and commercially focused: “Optimizing digital content for search engines and consumers to improve performance and reach business goals.”

    What is your definition of SEO? Do you find companies measuring the value of SEO beyond increased traffic and sales?