Simple SEO: explaining and understanding SEO in the simplest way possible

It’s been a while since I’ve had time to post here as I am extremely busy with RankSense. In selling an SEO software suite I answer a lot of technical questions, but, oddly enough, I feel I have become much better at explaining what SEO actually is. As SEO has become more mainstream, and more people are curious about what exactly it means, I think it’s important to find ways to explain SEO in simple terms. That’s exactly what I want to do in this post: simple SEO in terms of goals, strategies, and tactics.

Eyes on the prize

I’ve found that explaining SEO in terms of specific goals is the most successful way for me to get my point across when pitching my services or products to prospective clients. I like to think of SEO as anything and everything you can do to your website to improve the number of qualified visitors coming from search engines.

In order to get qualified visitors, you have to pursue 3 specific goals for the website. The first, and most important, is increasing the site’s visibility. For a user to find a website via a search engine, the search engine has to find the site first! Just as important, the search engine must also deem the site important: worthy of having a high place in the index. At the moment, search engines, including both Google and Yahoo, rely primarily on the links coming into a website. If many big sites link to your content, Google assumes your content is pretty useful. So the activities involved in increasing the visibility of a website in the eyes of Google and Yahoo primarily means that you are building links. In a future post I’ll talk about some research I’ve been doing that shows that search engines are trying to shift away from this methodology and have started working on incorporating usage data instead to determine importance. But the truth of the matter is that, for the moment, there is nothing as solid as link building to increase your site’s importance.

The second goal is targeting. If I want to get more qualified visitors to my site, I need to understand which specific keywords are bringing me the right visitors—visitors that are likely to take action on my site (download, subscribe to a newsletter, buy something, and so on). A lot of people new to SEO or the Web just want traffic. But traffic alone is not useful. You want traffic that takes action on your site. Targeting the right keywords is the best way to do that.

The third goal that you pursue when doing SEO is what I call the presence. You want to get as many pages of your site as possible indexed, but especially the ones that are most important. If your content isn’t getting listed then people aren’t going to be finding the most relevant content that you’ve created.

As I have tried to lay out with these goals, SEO is not simply about ranking #1 for a random keyword. Many people will tell you that, but they are missing the point. Rather, the purpose of SEO is getting as much traffic for qualified keywords—the goals of your site will determine the kinds of users you really need.

Strategies for successful SEO

When the right visitors are coming to your site and taking action on your content, then you know you’ve accomplished successful SEO. But how do you get to that point? Let’s talk about strategy and tactics. My strategy has 3 different steps:

  1. Research – First, I try to understand where my site is right now. Am I targeting the right keywords? What’s my market? Am I missing any keyword opportunities? What are my competitors doing? Understanding what successful competitors are doing lets me learn and apply their strategies to my own site.
  2. Create/Promote – My next step is to create an SEO plan that will get me where I need to be. This usually involves creating or reconfiguring content to attract the right type of user with qualified keywords. Just as important, I need to promote my content so that users can find it. There are a lot of tactics to do SEO properly, but here are some basics, many of which I’ve discussed in previous blog posts.
  • Keyword research
  • SEO copywriting
  • Social media marketing
  • Link building/baiting
  • Blogging
  • Creating XML sitemaps
  • Fixing duplicate content issues
  • URL rewriting/redirects
  • Etc.
  1. Track progress – The final step, and this is one that many people forget about, is tracking your progress. How far are you from your specific goals? Periodically checking in will help you understand where you are so that you know what worked and what didn’t, as well as the areas you still have to focus on.

So that’s how I’ve been explaining SEO to all the people who ask me. I’ll be posting on a more regular basis from now on, but I’m curious to know how you map out your SEO thought process. Sound off in the comments.

7 replies
  1. Gavin Mitchell
    Gavin Mitchell says:

    Long time no see Hamlet, nice to see you back posting ;)

    Think you've got the process spot on – as with any ongoing project the stages should be (1) planning (2) doing (3) measuring / concluding, before repeating.

    Where people seem to mess up is not so much in the doing, as there is an experimental element to SEO anyway, but rather by not putting a proper strategy in place before they start or not being able to take a step back and evaluate the effects of their efforts.

    Reply
  2. Matt Joswick
    Matt Joswick says:

    Keep it Simple Stupid.

    I like to say, "SEO is being found the generic equivalent of your product or service."

    This is the basis, all people can understand this. Until your client's motivation is to become more visible on the web, all your words will go in one ear and out the other.

    And honestly, most don't care or want to be bothered with the how. Not everyone wants to be SEO experts. They want profits.

    Keeping it squeeky clean is paramount here for long term success. I see this point differentiating many SEOs. But without proper motivation, people won't understand SEO.

    Put SEO in terms of traditional media visibility, and more people will understand.

    The How: Indexation, Content, Linking, Implementation, Measure, Refine, Repeat.

    Reply
  3. Hamlet Batista
    Hamlet Batista says:

    Hi Gavin,

    Yes. I agree. Many times we think too much about the details and forget the big picture :-)

    Put SEO in terms of traditional media visibility, and more people will understand.

    Matt – That strategy has worked well for me too. I like to draw a parallel between SEO and traditional PR.

    Thanks for your comments

    Reply
  4. Scott
    Scott says:

    I think for the bigger keywords, it just a big SPAM race. If you look at the backlinks for the top 5 positions on big keywords, the backlinks are just spam , not relevant, just there to get PR.

    It will get worse over time, it could even start a backlink implosion. Everybody wants to be number 1, so everubody is using spam techniques to get backlinks.

    I can see the headline "Back Link implosion cripples Google" ;-)

    When will it stop ;-)

    Reply
  5. Paul
    Paul says:

    Great article

    I think many sites fall foul of linking for linking sake. I tend to be picky of the sites I exchange links with, for example, sharing only with sites that have synergy with mine.

    I also see SEO as an active and on-going marketing campaign. As you suggest, systematically researching your intended visitors and the words and language they might use to find a given website.

    Regards

    Reply
  6. Jon Roberts
    Jon Roberts says:

    I have a further question if you don't mind? I understand that quality links are important to improving your page rank. But what constitutes a quality link? I now understand this to be links that are from authoritive sources (does this mean just high page rank?) will improve your page rank, whist links that bear no relation to the subject of your site may harm it.

    In my naivety I set up a links system on a website a while ago and accepted links from everyone and his dog.

    My problem with the theory of quality links is that the said site is now number one for my desired key-phrase admitedly it only has a page rank of 3! However, a site where I have kept to links that relate directly to its subject is so deep in Google that it would take a miracle to find it – it has a page rank of 1 – guess I need to be more patient and perhaps target a less popular phrase

    Reply
  7. Jon Roberts
    Jon Roberts says:

    Thanks for the guidence.

    Today on the BBC Technology page Jakob Nielsen's annual report was quoted stating that browsers are becoming a lot more ruthless in their browsing – obtaining the piece of information they were looking for and leaving a site. They are becoming more suspicious of traditional 'buy lines' and sales techniques.

    As you point out in your articles, SEO is a small part of the marketing strategy for a website, content value being another.

    My question is, do you think that we should alter our strategies for SEO and web marketing in light of Jakob Nielsen's findings?

    Reply

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