traffic > ProWeb SEO Services
SearchEngineLand (The same people that made the SEO Periodic Table) have also created a very beginner-style intro video for people who want to know “What is SEO?” Since I still get asked “What is that?” every time I tell someone that I do SEO, I thought that this would be worth sharing. (I’m still not sure why I don’t tell people that I’m in “Internet Marketing” or something more easily discernable when they ask me about my job… maybe next time.)
The video touches on the basics of search engines, their ranking algorithms and the simplest ways to get traffic through searches. Essentially, search engines are the librarians of the internet …except they have complicated recipes (recipes? Don’t ask me, it’s not my analogy :P) to help you find the information that you are searching for.
Before I get to the question, I would like to share a recent experience. (If you are only here to find out what SEO is, please skip to the next section.) Not too long ago, I had a somewhat-enlightening conversation with a good friend by instant message. For the purposes of this blog post, I will refer to him as “Skeptic.” The exchange went something like this:
ProWeb: Hey, I’m currently looking for SEO work, if you happen to run across anything. Just figured I would throw that out there.
Skeptic: What is SEO?
ProWeb: Aren’t you in the computing field?
Skeptic: Apparently not that part of it.
ProWeb: Search Engine Optimization
Skeptic: No wonder
Skeptic: F that BS noize
Skeptic: What exactly do you do?
ProWeb: Optimize sites so that the search engines value them more, increasing traffic, etc.
Skeptic: How many have you done so far?
ProWeb: One, for about two years and several others for less than a year.
ProWeb: But… the main site is in an *extremely* competitive industry in Vegas.
Skeptic: That has always seemed like a scam industry, definitely not what I consider “computing.”
Skeptic: I hear hidden keywords at the bottom of the html works.
ProWeb: Keyword stuffing is outdated. Search engines dislike hidden text and misrepresentations. That’s late-90s stuff.
Skeptic: I know the company I was working for has someone do stuff for them, but I have never looked into what exactly people are doing.
Skeptic: Nick, download the free Microsoft development tools and learn to make web APPLICATIONS.
Skeptic: That is where the money is.
ProWeb: Well, I already possess the SEO skillset
Skeptic: Obviously a lot of others do too…
ProWeb: …and I do realize it might sound like mumbo-jumbo to some people, but the difference between being on page 2 of Google and page 1 is *enormous* and SEO is much better than PPC advertising in the long run.
ProWeb: Anyway, just trying to network a bit. :P
Skeptic: No worries… Sorry to sound like a jerk.
ProWeb: No, it’s cool. Gives me a new perspective.
The skeptic in this conversation has been working with computers for years. He’s currently designing web applications for a big company and did not even know what SEO stands for. (This blows my mind. I really thought he was joking at first.) Then – when I explained what SEO was – he immediately referred to it as a “scam industry” and referenced a specifically scammy (and long-outdated) way of tricking search engines into thinking your website has more to do with a particular topic. If technically literate people like him have such a skewed perspective on Search Engine Optimization, then I’m going to have a tougher time with internet marketing than I previously believed.
What SEO is
This all depends on what the definition of “is” is… Okay, not really.
SEO is an acronym for “Search Engine Optimization.” (You’re probably thinking, “But the question was not ‘What does SEO stand for?’” and you’d be correct, but we have to start with the basics.) SEO is also – to put it in simple terms – the process of optimizing a web page to be more prominent in the search engine results pages (SERPs) naturally, or organically, (which just means “without paying for advertising.”) Additionally, SEO is just telling the search engines specifically – and in a way that machines can understand – what your website is all about. Search engines want what is best for the users and good SEO works best when it focuses on the users as well. A basic understanding of how search engines work and how people use search engines to find what they are searching for is essential for effective SEO. Search Engine Optimization is not a particularly difficult discipline, but it does require specific knowledge, attention to detail, (more than) a modicum of creativity and a desire to learn …and to keep learning in a constantly changing landscape.
In their Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide, Google says,
“Search engine optimization is often about making small modifications to parts of your website. When viewed individually, these changes might seem like incremental improvements, but when combined with other optimizations, they could have a noticeable impact on your site’s user experience and performance in organic search results.” (Google’s SEO Starter Guide)
“Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the visibility of a website or a web page in search engines via the “natural” or un-paid (“organic” or “algorithmic”) search results. Other forms of search engine marketing (SEM) target paid listings.” Wikipedia also says, “As an Internet marketing strategy, SEO considers how search engines work, what people search for, the actual search terms typed into search engines and which search engines are preferred by their targeted audience.” (Wikipedia entry on SEO)
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the method of enhancing the rankings of a website in the unpaid search results. This is usually done with many small changes to the website and frequently results in more organic traffic. There are many other components to SEO, but on the very most basic level, SEO is about optimizing your website so that the search engines realize what your site is about.
What is “black hat” SEO? (or: What SEO is NOT)
Unfortunately, most people – like the Skeptic above – seem to believe that all SEO is a scam industry. It’s not. Don’t get me wrong… there are a lot of shady people out there claiming that they are doing “search engine optimization” while manipulating the search engines, (and frequently, their clients.) This is generally referred to as “black hat.” The SEO industry as a whole gets a bad name because of Black Hat SEO. This method of “optimization” is also called spamdexing and it degrades the quality and relevance of search queries and the ultimate goal of the search engines is to find and remove the websites that use these spammy tactics. These are the most common ways that people try to manipulate the search engines:
- Link Fraud – Backlinks to a website count as “votes” for a website and Link Fraud is artificially enhancing those votes in order to make the search engines believe that your site is “more important” than it actually is… JCPenny was recently penalized because their SEO consultants were using this practice.
- Content Manipulation – Keyword stuffing is just one form of Content Manipulation. Content aggregators, content farms and content scrapers steal existing content that they sometimes change slightly (article spinning) or they hire people to produce cheap, low-quality content with the intention of gaining traffic from the search engines.
- Cloaking – Some websites will show different information to the search engine spiders than the users see when they visit the site. Cloaking is any type of content manipulation that shows (or hides) information from either the search engines or users. Hidden keywords at the bottom of your site would be considered keyword stuffing, but it would also be considered cloaking – which is just as bad or worse – but you can still find websites with hidden keywords all over them.
- Hacking – Hacking is when someone gains unauthorized access to a website in order to change the data or to infect the site with malware or spyware with the intention of tricking the search engines.
Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising is a highly competitive form of internet marketing where advertisers bid on specific keyword phrases that will typically appear above or to the side of search engine results or next to related content on blogs or other websites online. The advertisers only pay for these ads when a customer clicks them.
Pay Per Click does have some advantages over search engine optimization: it is easier, results are frequently seen much faster, there is often a higher conversion rate and a PPC campaign can be changed and updated much more quickly than keywords and anchor text can be updated in an SEO campaign.
More than 85% of traffic comes from organic searches, however, so a higher conversion rate on a smaller number of customers is not always best and the long-term benefits of search engine optimization drastically outweigh the initial short-term benefits of Pay Per Click.
Why is SEO more important than buying ads?
Here’s an excerpt from an online article about Pay Per Click versus SEO:
“However, when it comes to the long term lifeline of your internet marketing, the result is clear – SEO offers the better value in search marketing. You won’t rank #1 overnight, but SEO is more affordable and the long-term benefits have been proven. All of these facts demonstrate that your company should spend more of its time and resources focusing on SEO vs. PPC.” (from SEO vs. PPC – Which Provides You the Better Value? on New Media Campaign’s Internet Marketing blog.)
This is what Rand Fishkin, the CEO of SEOmoz* has to say:
“Search engines get hundreds of billions of queries each month. According to Google, around 14% of the clicks from those queries go to ads (the PPC portion) while 86% go to organic results (the SEO portion). Putting 90% of your budget and effort in a place that draws 10% of the traffic is a terrible missed opportunity.” ~Rand Fishkin (from An Interview with Rand Fishkin on ZDNet’s SEO Whistleblower blog. )
*SEOmoz is an SEO company with the top-rated SEO blog on the Internet, according to (the mighty) Google. (Depending on the source, Google gets somewhere between 65% and 85% of the search engine market share for the entire world.)
Also, for further reading, here is a year-long Search Engine Optimization versus Pay Per Click Case Study on SEOToolBox: SEO vs. PPC Case Study