SEO is an acronym for Search Engine Optimisation which is a discipline within digital marketing that is designed to increase the organic visibility of websites within search engines like Google. SEO is a tool that’s a part of SEM or Search Engine Marketing and digital marketing more broadly.
The basic principles behind SEO are easy enough to understand but are notoriously difficult to master. Even the most experienced and successful SEO practitioners will tell you that the discipline requires them to continually re-educate themselves and implement new strategies that respond to changes in search engine algorithms.
The notion that SEO is about appeasing the Google search algorithm would not be inaccurate, although it is somewhat narrow in its view. It is certainly true however that Google is the major player when it comes to search engines and the vast majority of SEO work is targeted towards satisfying Google’s frequent algorithmic changes.
Despite the far reaching shadow of Google over the search engine landscape, there are still other pockets where SEO can be performed. Competing search engines like Bing have their own algorithmic nuance that make it worthwhile to specifically tailor content for them.
So, how does it work?
Functionally most of SEO work consists of a combination of tactics such as keyword research, copywriting, backlinking, website optimisation and more. These methods are used in conjunction with one another and are mutually supporting.
Keywords are the bread and butter of SEO work, although their usefulness has been hotly debated in online circles. They inform the subject matter of a user’s search so that the algorithm can match that search with the most relevant possible content.
Targeting these keywords successfully means the development of engaging, quality content that uses these keyword strategically throughout. However, overuse of these keywords in order to aggressively inflate relevancy is actually punished by search engines in the form of penalties and bans.
Unethical or “black-hat” SEO techniques such as keyword stuffing, cloaking and link purchasing are considered an attempt to dishonestly manipulate the search algorithm. This is where SEO reaches a philosophical grey area as it could be argued that SEO is inherently a form of manipulation.
Despite this, search engines like Google have acknowledged SEO as a legitimate form of marketing consultancy and are clear about where the lines are drawn. Good SEO practitioners keep themselves up-to-date with algorithmic changes so that they never jeopardise the good standing of their client’s website.