What is SEO?

SEO (Search Engine Optimization):

"That ongoing set of tasks performed to position your company, products or services for search engines so they can confirm your company, products or services are: (a) legitimate and of good quality, and; (b) are relevant to keyword(s) or key phrase(s) being searched for by customers. This SEO should also help Google or Bing determine: where your products or services are available - a certain geographical radius, online, or both. This will to ensure what you provide is accessible and relevant to users performing the specific search query."

SEO is, at it's highest level, a set of (often modified) methods to work WITH search engines to help them with their core mission to provide the best search results for people searching for relevant results.

Though SEO is ever changing as machine learning advances, it's still important for efforts to be built around the specific keywords, phrases or concepts your customers will use to search.

Before kicking off any SEO effort we first need to answer a basic question about your business.

What does your business sell?

"We sell women's fashion boots from two storefronts, one in X-Town, Fairfield County CT and one in Y-Town in Westchester County NY."

You can start with "keyword research" using tools like Google Insights to see what people are searching for around your products. Or to start really simple, ask someone outside of your business to demonstrate what they'd Google if they were in the market for your boots. Sit together and do some real world searches. Narrow down your primary target keyword (or phrase), start specific, choose phrases real people are searching for like "buy women's boots in CT" (or add X-Town, that’s even more specific or "long-tail"). Then do the same thing with “buy women’s boots” in Y-Town NY.

Does your company's website come up in the first page of results in this test? If so, great! It not, you need to further optimize for search to help your customers find you.

How do you optimize for your chosen keywords or concepts? Start with your website copy. Make sure the words are clear to both search engines and to humans - that "women's boots" is what you're selling, and you have two specific store locations. You may think your website shows clearly that you sell women’s boots, you have stunning photos of women's boots all over your pages. But Google's algorithm doesn't know much (yet) from photos. It knows words. And it needs the correct number of words and phrases in the right places to understand your business.

Most business owners and marketers have heard at least some things they can do to improve their SEO score. Some of these practices are "White Hat" and some are "Black Hat" practices. My recommendation has always been to stick to legitmate, White Hat, Google-recommended SEO practices. In my travels I've come across SEO companies leveraging uncertainty around SEO and offering Black Hat services. In one instance we observed an "SEO provider" appeared to be an individual repeatedly clicking on a client website to increase their visitors count on Google Analytics. I'm sure this company was hoping the client didn’t come across the data for unique vs returning visitors for the month. Another Black Hat SEO Company ran traffic solely through their own "Search Poortal". There was no real-world usage of Black Hat SEO Company 2's Custom Search Portal, it was set up only to use inside their own organization. Their staff opened websites using their portal, then searched for and clicked on client websites, resulting in Google Analytics showing their portal as a top search referrer of traffic to the client website. ("See, we brought you 749 visits last month! Quantified by Google!”) Ok, but were the visits productive, qualified leads and likely to result in conversions? Nope.

Knowledge is good. We encourage clients to learn as much as they can about SEO practices. Do as much White Hat SEO as you can afford (or manage yourself) on a monthly basis. This will help bring real, targeted search traffic, tied more tightly to leads, sales or other conversions for your business.

You can read Part 2 in my article series on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) here. Or check out my other articles on Medium: Social Media for Non-Profits and Using Google My Business for your Business

SEO BLOG POST AUTHOR: Doreen Fleming is Founder and Digital Marketing Strategist at One Web Source. She been a digital marketing consultant for 20 years, following marketing technologies, marketing communications tools and trends in user behavior to help businesses reach and engage with their customers.

Updated 16 July 2021