How Do You Define SEO?

How do you define SEO? If you are an SEO, where does your work begin and end? What parts of the overall business process are under your control and what parts belong to the domain of another industry?

Last week Dave wrote a post on the evolution of SEO, which aimed to clear up some myths like the SEO is dead conversation that pops up all the time. Good stuff from Dave as usual.

The post caused a little dissension at Sphinn mostly revolving around this statement.

When did conversions become the domain of the SEO puzzle? Sure, it is the end goal of the client and we obviously want to get targeted traffic, but it IS NOT the responsibility of the optimizer.

Looking back a couple of months ago James offered a guest post here where he looked at the modern SEO evolving toward social media, and while I took the counterpoint and argued in favor of coding skills still being an important part of the SEO process.

Are we both right? Neither of us?

Dave offered his own follow up post asking what is SEO? and as you can see I’m asking you the same thing here.

The Definition And Reputation Of SEO

You don’t have to jump too deep into the world of search engine optimization to see it has a reputation problem in many circles. In some cases the reputation is justified and in others it’s not. You’ll also notice people proclaiming SEO as the greatest thing ever to happen, while others are proclaiming it dead.

One thing that’s usually apparent in so many discussions about the worth of SEO is that the arguments often hinge on the definition of SEO itself.

People argue to the point of wanting to beat each other up and more often than not it seems they’re arguing about completely different things. It’s like you defining a horse as a car and me defining a plane as a car and arguing about whether or not cars can fly.

The lack of an accepted definition of SEO extends into how outsiders see the industry. Those of us in the community can hopefully understand why the definition is so malleable (at least when we’re not fighting over it), but your typical outsider will have a harder time sorting through it all.

It’s one reason I’ve begin to think some kind of SEO standards might not be such a bad idea.

Not as something for those in the industry to be bound by, but rather as a way to help educate the public about what we do. Some outside the industry are seeing what we see, but many more, especially small businesses, are left confused and frustrated.

What’s Your Definition Of SEO?

Instead of sharing my thoughts in this post about what SEO is and isn’t and offering some kind of definition I want to put the question to you.

  • What’s SEO?
  • How do you define it and where do you see the process beginning and ending?
  • Is it the responsibility of the SEO to create a business model? Improve Conversions?
  • Does SEO begin and end with traffic or does it cross over into other disciplines?
  • Are there some things that go hand in hand with SEO, but aren’t technically part of the job description?

Feel free to ask and answer any other related questions.

Assuming you’re interested enough in this conversation, I’ll revisit the general question sometime next week and offer my perspective on what I think SEO is and isn’t.

Download a free sample from my book, Design Fundamentals.


  1. Well I see SEO as being the soil which you plant the seeds in to grow into plants.

    I have had sites that I did not do any SEO and so in turn spent alot of money trying to get people and lost over all due to target market and PPC cost.

    Now I am doing SEO and really tending to the quality of the soil so to speak and starting to get some results which will turn into the flowers.

    So I see as an essential part of my business


  2. I see SEO as being like packaging – it can help get the content noticed in the marketplace, and it can even bolster sales of a less than ideal product, but in the long run it can’t really compensate for an unappealing/low quality product.

    Is content quality and conversion process the responsibility of the SEO? Maybe not, but the SEO’s reputation will benefit by anything that improves the customer’s ROI during the relationship. I feel that it would be somewhat unethical to keep your mouth shut and take a customer’s money for pure SEO work when you know that they have bigger problems.

    • Interesting analogy. In some ways it’s along the lines about how I think of SEO, though I’ll save that for when I post my answer to the question.

      It’s hard isn’t it to identify where the boundaries are for an SEO? There are so many aspects we understand are necessary to the process, but how many of those are really the realm of SEOs?

      I’m with you about offering my opinion to clients, even when it may fall outside of my responsibility. It feels like it would be wrong to hold back info that I think will help.

  3. SEO is such a bad buzzword, I hear it thrown around all the time by people that have no concept of it. Somehow I am deemed an “SEO” by some people and I just let them go with it.

    That’s really not what I do, although certainly my marketing helps a client’s SEO in a big way.

    Anyway, I agree SEO does not = conversions. I have been roped into that before and in many cases have had success with bringing big amounts of traffic to someone without many conversions.

    Sometimes the product just doesn’t sell, whether it is tangible or intangible, and in effect they need to make it work BEFORE engaging someone to help bring it to the attention of the world.

    • I hear you about the bad buzzword. Sometimes I wonder if the term is unrecoverable as to it’s branding.

      I think one of the hard things for many of us is that we know things like conversions are important and so work them on our own sites and might even help clients with it on their sites, but is it technically seo?

  4. Hey Steven – I haven’t been here in a while, great post though with lot’s of interesting points raised.

    I would simply define SEO (and all of the encompassing factors that are involved) as ‘a means to generate new enquiries and sales online’!

    That’s the simple version yet I feel it summarizes SEO quite well, before going into the depths that follow :-)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.