What is Search Engine Optimization?
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is simply the process of affecting the visibility of a website or web page in a search engines organic (meaning, non-paid/natural) search results.
Simply put: it’s answering the question of “what are search engines looking for?” Or, “how do I get my website to show up higher in Google?”
Search Engine Optimization is traditionally viewed as a range of tricks or tactics to get your website to the top of Google. I’m going to show you that this is not only a poor way of approaching SEO, but in doing so you’ll actually hurt your search engine rankings!
The real purpose of SEO is to create a wonderful user experience by communicating to the search engines that they should recommend your website for relevant searches. It’s really that simple. However, SEO consultants and related articles have spent most of their existence trying to show users how to “cheat” or “tweak” these results in order to move your website to the highest positions in Google.
While business owners seem to understand the importance of ranking high in Google, they often fail to grasp the purpose of Google itself, and other search engines in the first place. It’s important you understand the search engine’s business model before you understand SEO, and before you start using SEO to help assist the search engines with ranking your website.
We are approached by clients all the time who want us to help them get to number one in Google. They may have heard that the number one ranked spot gets an average of 33% of all searched traffic, or that 92% of all searched traffic gravitates towards results on the first page of Google. They understand their business would be getting a lot of traffic and customers if they were on the first page!
This is often where the business owner’s ideas and Google’s ideas of search engine rankings clash. Please understand, Google and other search engines also have a business to run. A business that focuses on providing the absolute best results for a given keyword or phrase. They build their ranking system around that key purpose. When someone attempts to take advantage of that system for their own personal gain, it throws off the system.
Using an example:
You just got a new dog, and want to learn how to train this dog. Before enrolling in classes, you want to give it a go yourself. Since it’s a cute little Yellow Lab puppy that’s currently eating your favorite pair of shoes—you decide to search for “obedience training for a yellow lab.”
Which of the following would best suite your needs?
1. A website that awkwardly repeats the phrase “obedience training for a yellow lab,” and is cluttered to death with advertisements, vague pieces of content, and a ton of obscure links to overly expensive training programs.
2. A website that is packed full of articles on training your lab. Not only that, the entire website is broken down by section so you can easily go to where you need. They have options to sign up for a free newsletter, and even sell some lower priced products to help you along your journey. When you came to the landing page you weren’t greeted with any strange advertisements, and instead were shown a page with different faucets of training available for you.
Number two is the obvious choice, right? This means your SEO efforts should be geared towards writing content that actually helps readers with what they’re looking for. However, most business owners seem to focus on the first method when it comes to SEO. They want to use little tricks that “game” the system into ranking their website—instead of working on creating a website that deserves a number one position.
The last sentence is highlighted for a reason. Before you can rank number one in Google, your website needs to deserve that number one position.
Why Won’t The Old Way of SEO Work?
I’d like to cover how SEO has been done for the last 10ish years, and why that simply won’t work anymore. I came into the world of SEO in 1999, and have been through all the different “tricks” and trends, until early 2013 when those tricks abruptly stopped working.
Before going through this timeline, let me remind you of the goal of search engines: a search engine uses an algorithm to take a user input (referred to as a keyword or key phrase) and produce the best results possible for that keyword. If you were looking for “free dog training advice,” a search engine would fail its purpose if they returned a bunch of books and courses for sale on dog training.
Obviously though, technology and human intuition has been able to exploit the system. Let me take you through my own journey of exploitation:
From 1999 until about 2005-2006, SEO was a lot easier. It was dependent on something we now refer to as “keyword stuffing,” or, stuffing your pages with as many keywords as possible. You were able to “game” the system by repeating the amount of times a keyword showed up on your website.
My favorite trick at this time was taking a keyword and repeating it about 1000 times in the footer of your document. I’d make a red, for example, footer at the document, and use red text repeating a phrase over and over.
After keyword stuffing stopped working, on-site SEO became the next big craze. Search engines had a sweet spot for the amount of times a keyword could be repeated without “over use.” Further, they introduced something known as “authority,” or how many other websites were linking back to your website. A fun little SEO fact: this method of ranking was first introduced to us by Google, who realized that the best websites were websites that had a lot of other websites referencing them in their site.
Of course the intuitive search engine optimizers understood that ranking a website just meant getting as many links as possible from other websites. In the first few years of authority (between about 2003 – 2007) all that mattered was how many websites were pointing to your website, with proper anchor text in the URL. If I wanted to rank for “dog training,” I would simply put the following hyperlinks on any website that would let me: Best Dog Training Website. The anchor text (which is the text you click on to get to the website) has my keyword in it, pointing to my website.
Between 2007 and 2011 other search engines started to fall down and Google took the lead. In taking the lead, they started working on fixing a system where anyone could pay a SEO to rank a site to number one. They started going after heavy anchor text, and by 2011 most heavy anchor text and bogus links were penalized. It was around 2009 I realized that “gaming” the system was going to have a short shelf life, and when I founded Jay Nine Inc., I put all of my “black hat” SEO tactics behind me.
Google focused on slowly cleaning up these tricks and improving their algorithm to remove the “bad seeds” from their ranking systems. Most of this occurred between 2011 until about March of 2013. Between March of 2013 and November of 2013 we reached what I refer to as the ‘tipping point of SEO.’
Google released several huge updates to their ranking systems that hurt thousands of websites almost overnight. Companies that had focused on ranking their websites using tricks instead of using content were punished immediately. Many online retailers went under, and the SEO community was a mess. This tipping point showed everyone what myself and other brand first marketing companies realized in 2007: the future of SEO was in the content, not in tricks.
So that, my friends, is why the old ways of SEO won’t work anymore. Technology will forever progress and ensure these ranking “tricks” are snuffed out, and only the best solutions are provided for ranking in Google. Any little loopholes or tricks you find now will be short-lived at best, and at worst could result in you being banned from ranking in any search engine.
I took you through that timeline for a very specific reason. No matter what any SEO company tries to tell you, using anything but a "brand first", content oriented strategy will give you trouble in the long run. Work on building a solid content strategy, effective distribution, and use the concepts in this article on your campaign. SEO is definitely a case of slow and steady wins the race; don’t be the rabbit.