Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the volume and quality of traffic to a web site from search engines via “natural” (“organic” or “algorithmic”) search results for targeted keywords.
A few months ago Shoemoney posted to declare that SEO has no future. While the post was most likely nothing more than an attempt at linkbait, the reaction was interesting. Your view of whether Shoe’s post was right or wrong probably had a lot more to do with your definition of SEO than anything Jeremy said in the post.
The post takes a narrow view of SEO and in doing so is generally correct. The SEO Shoe is talking about is going away, but most SEOs would define what they do in much broader terms and when you consider the more liberal definition, SEO isn’t going anywhere.
Shoe’s post is hardly the only one where the argument depends on your definition of SEO, but it’s one of the more recent posts to come to mind.
A couple of weeks ago I asked how do you define SEO? My post was in reaction to criticism Dave received for not including conversions as part of SEO when he talked about the evolution of SEO. I promised to offer some of my own thoughts about what SEO is at the end of my previous post, though before getting to my thoughts what do others think the definition of SEO is?
Who Coined the Phrase Search Engine Optimization?
It shouldn’t be surprising that there isn’t a very clear definition of SEO when you dig into the origins of the phrase, though the question of who coined the phrase has been asked. You might think Danny Sullivan was the first to coin the phrase (I know I did), though Danny himself seems to indicate it was Bruce Clay who first used the word optimization in relation to search engines.
Regardless of who first used the phrase search engine optimization, if you read Danny’s post above, you’ll notice the phrase originated without any formal definition being applied. Despite efforts to promote a better phrase, search engine optimization is the one that stuck.
But does it really describe what an SEO does?
SEO Definitions from the Experts
Shortly after Shoe’s post proclaiming the death of SEO and the resulting criticism about his definition, he asked a number of industry leaders for their definition of SEO. I’ll leave it to you to read through all the definitions and decide which you like best, but I’ll pull a few snippets from their definitions here.
An SEO is someone who understands how people search for information and ensures that they or their clients are visible in the unpaid listings that are provided.
Making changes to the on-page and off-page relevance of a web page in an effort to increase the volume of quality traffic from the search engines.
Definitions of SEO will change as search channels and user behaviors change, so it’s a waste of time to try and create a standing definition – in my opinion anyway.
As the web has grown and Google has become more sophisticated, the field of SEO has been aggressively merging with traditional marketin
SEO is the art of optimizing an online presence in order to maximize relevant search engine traffic.
The irony with SEO is that the acronym is poor marketing created by a new generation of marketers – it should be WSO – Web Site Optimization.
A couple of things stand out to me with the snippets above and the full definitions from Shoe’s posts. SEO as you’d expect is concerned with search engine traffic and as such is often concerned with search engine ranking. Many things though might contribute to what’s considered optimization.
A few things that were mentioned as being part of SEO:
- information architecture
- keyword selection and placement
- link building
- social media
- viral marketing
- user experience
The above is far from an exhaustive list. Is it realistic for one firm to be skilled in all the possible items that might be included in helping a page rank? Is it realistic for a lone SEO to be skilled in all?
For fun here’s Google’s Webmaster Help Central page about search engine optimization. Google doesn’t define SEO, nor would you expect them too, but they also list a few services SEOs might offer.
- Review of your site content or structure
- Content development
- Managment online business development campaigns
- Keyword research
- SEO training
- Expertise in specific markets and geographies
When you consider the definitions from the industry and potential services an SEO might offer you can begin to understand why it’s hard to define SEO.
Your average lone SEO would have a hard time becoming an expert in every potential aspect of helping a web site pull search traffic. It wouldn’t be easy for a full service firm either.
One other thing to note is that so many of these potential services aren’t really improving search traffic directly, but rather indirectly.
For example social media doesn’t really affect ranking directly, unless you consider any direct links you might get. The real SEO value is in the connections you make with people who later link to you.
You’ll find even more value in social media not directly related to search traffic, of course. Does that then make social media part of SEO or is it something separate that could indirectly lead to improved SEO? Is social media SEO or is it something different?
You could ask the same question of many different services SEOs offer.
My View Of SEO
Neil Patel’s definition from Shoemoney’s post most closely aligns with my own view of SEO.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the art of understanding search engines and using that knowledge to make a website rank high on search engines.
I’d broaden the definition a little:
SEO is the art and science of understanding search engines in order to make more informed decisions about your website and marketing your website.
My definition takes what I consider to be a more holistic approach to SEO and marketing. Ultimately you have a website and you want people to take one or more actions on your site, usually leading to some revenue.
Say I have a site selling widgets. All I really care about is selling more widgets. If more search traffic leads to more widget sales, great. If more sales come as a result of a handful of nofollowed links on some widget sites, that’s great too.
I want to understand as much as possible about search engines because search traffic is potentially quality traffic. But I’m aware that search engines are only one source of traffic and only one aspect of the overall marketing of any site I work on.
The problem with defining SEO is that the Wikipedia definition at the start of this post is really as good as it gets, yet that definition doesn’t mention all the possible disciplines that might entail. It also
ignores the idea that most SEOs know that search traffic isn’t the only traffic.
Is it possible some kind of SEO standards could help? Most SEOs don’t really need a definition. We do what we do regardless of what you want to call it. But what about the public? Would the reputation of the industry gain a boost if there was an official definition of SEO?
The next time you come across a post about SEO that affects you strongly take a step back and consider how the author is defining SEO. Odds are they’re both right and wrong depending on how you define SEO.
Optimize: (verb) to make as effective, perfect, or useful as possible.