Back in the day when I got the “What is SEO?” question from new website owners, I'd say that it's like the Dewey decimal system for the Internet.
I stopped doing that when I realized how hard I was dating myself. Let's just say that I was “adulting” long before the Internet was a thing.
It's still mind blowing to me that no matter what question I think of, the answer is on my phone just a few seconds away.
Back in the stone age, if you wanted information, you had to go to the library and work for it. The information you needed was inside a thing called a book. And that book was located somewhere inside that huge building. All you had to do was find it.
I'll spare you the details on that wonderful process. Needless to say, it's a lot easier being able to say “Hey, Siri” or “Hey Google.”
What is SEO? Organizing the Internet
If you've got a website, you want people to find it. It's probably a good idea to make sure Siri, Alexa and Google know it's there and what it's about. That's what SEO is all about.
Before we get going, let me prepare you. This is going to be be a general 5,000 foot overview into “What is SEO?” For a deeper dive, check out the information at the end of the article.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) sounds like some big scary complicated thing, but it's really not that hard to understand.
So here's how it works. Let's say you're on a website like Amazon.com and you want to find something. You type a phrase into the search box on that site and a page full of choices pop up showing what's available. You can then sort and filter these results to your hearts content.
Makes sense. You'd assume that Amazon knows everything that's listed on their website so it shouldn't be too hard for them.
Let's take that concept up one level. What if you don't know what website to start on? You know you want “a thing” but you don't know where that thing is. What do you do then?
That's where sites like Google, Bing and Yahoo come in. These sites do what Amazon does on their own site, they just do it for the entire Internet.
Don't let it hurt your brain, but you gotta admit, that is a crap ton of information.
What is SEO? How They Do It.
There's two parts to the process. Find the information. Organize the information.
To find the information, these search engines scan the internet with programs that are affectionately called spiders. They earned the nickname because they essentially locate web pages and crawl all over them to collecting information.
They're pretty nosey too. They don't just look at the words that are written on the page, they look at the images you put on the page as well. These spiders will even follow any links to come across to see what's there and how helpful it is for the article it came from.
The spiders collect all of these data points for the second part of the process. Running them through the algorithm that makes sense of it all.
Each search engine has its own specific formula for crunching all that data. How they do it isn't important for this discussion. What's important to understand is why. There's some serious cheddar involved if you can get it right, so for the companies that run those search engines, it's worth it.
What is SEO? Why They Do It.
Knowledge is power. To be more accurate, knowledge is money. In 1998 when Google appeared on the scene, we started getting spoiled. They made it their business to get better and better at providing the exact answers to the questions we were typing into their search engine.
Now, it's not good enough for search engines to show us a bunch of results that are kind of what we're looking for. We expect the best results to show up on the first try.
Being able to do that one thing is worth over $160 billion dollars to Google each year. Bing and Yahoo aren't nearly as big by comparison, but that one thing is still worth about $11 billion to them each year.
So where is all that cheddar coming from? People go to Google more than any other search engine to find the information they need.
Google now processes over 40,000 search queries every second on average (visualize them here), which translates to over 3.5 billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide.Internet Live Stats
That's a lot of attention being directed at properties that Google owns. Google makes money by selling access to all that attention in the form of ads.
To keep the gravy train rolling, Google needs to do everything they can to keep people using their search engine. So Google's entire business model rests on figuring out how to present the absolute best answers to the questions people type into their search engine.
Their algorithm has no problem with the easy question like the difference a search for Granny Smith apples as opposed to a trillion dollar tech company.
The challenge is in deciding where to place the listings from websites of businesses that are very similar.
Why Is It Important to You?
Google uses over 200 data points to sort through the millions of website on the Internet. Search Engine Optimization is the process of shaping the information Google sees about you. The goal is to influence where it rank your website on the search results page when potential customers search for a product or service you provide.
Go here for a deep dive explanation of search engine optimization. I think you'll find this guide to be quite useful. It'll give you a solid understanding of the this ongoing strategy so you'll be able to tell how much, if any, help you'll need.