I wish I could wrap it up for you succinctly, but I cannot. SEO is so much more than a one or two sentence definition.

People tend to think of it as making websites appear in search engines or content marketing - focusing on just one of its many parts.

To really understand SEO, it's best to think of it as the following:

  • Aligning on and off-page digital efforts – standard
  • Continually monitoring, maintaining, and/or updating site architecture, page errors, accessibility, page load, search engine crawlability – technical
  • Promoting the brand, product or service – creative

The above processes comprise the SEO framework. Now it's just matter of accurately defining each.

So, let's unpack this "SEO" thing and define each of its subparts. My hope is that by the end of this you'll have a greater understanding of what SEO is and truly appreciate its value.

The Standard

SEO's will address each of the following on every site they optimize, and although I refer to them as "standard" that should not be confused with unnecessary or unimportant:

  • Keyword integration: Keywords will soon be a thing of the past - I'm pretty sure all SEO's get that. However, today, there is still much to be gained by researching and incorporating the right keywords.
  • Meta Content: Do the <title> and <meta name="description"> tags accurately reflect page content? Each piece of the SEO puzzle must be in place, and creative meta content is an important piece.
  • Alt Tags: Do the images include equivalent alternative text? Many users are unable to view images for a variety of reasons (e.g. slow machines, Lynx, poor vision). Providing those users with alternative text enhances their experience.
  • Headings: Does the site make use of the h1-h6 tags? Are they being used appropriately? You would be surprised how often these are misused (multiple <h1>, <h2> and <h3> come before <h1>, etc.).
  • External Link Building: How many external links point to the site being optimized? This may not be as vital for an established site, but it is for newer sites. Links connect pages to the web - the more links, the stronger the connection.
  • Internal Linking: Not all pages are created equal. By that I mean some pages will have higher page authority than others. It can be beneficial to intelligently link higher authority pages to lower authority pages. This will help spread traffic and authority throughout the site.

The Technical

When an SEO says they're "optimizing" the technical aspects of a website, they're doing the following:

  • Analyzing Architecture: Does this site align with the mental model it creates? Once I begin clicking through a site, I'm going to begin making assumptions about where things are, so if different directories have different structures, I'll likely get lost. Take note, lost users quickly become frustrated users, and frustrated users tend to leave sites.
  • Testing and Improving Page Load: Do the pages load quickly? Fast loading pages lead to higher engagement and more conversions. Conversely, slow loading pages produce poor engagement and fewer conversions.
  • Scanning Markup: Clean, properly tagged sites matter. Paragraphs should be wrapped in <p> tags, headings in <h> tags, definitions in <dl> tags, etc. Appropriately tagged sites help search engines understand meaning.
  • Implementing Microdata: Microdata adds a layer of meaning to HTML and helps search engines understand content. This is becoming increasingly important as the web is becoming increasingly semantic.
  • Page Status: 200, 301, 302, 404, 500...I don't even know how many different page statuses there are, but I do know there's a time and a place for each of them. SEO's will scan sites to ensure all pages behave as expected. 404's (not found) are not necessarily bad, but if a 404 should be a 200 (OK), it must be addressed and corrected.
  • Notifying Search Engines of Parameters: In order to avoid duplicate content penalties, it's important to make search engines aware of session IDs or any unique parameter that offers the same content on a different URL.
  • Improving Accessibility: Web accessibility optimization (video transcription, skip links, text provided for non-text content) ensures that people with disabilities can interact with the pages on your site and enjoy their experience.

The Creative

Top-tier SEO's have discovered that unique experiences tend to create the best results:

  • Unique Selling Points: USP campaigns typically require larger budgets and a variety of resources (design, development, analytics, etc). That said, they also have the potential to pay great dividends in terms of virality, link building, and brand promotion. Here are two examples of campaigns that have done just that:
  • Content Marketing: Think of content marketing simply as great writing, great images, great video, great data, etc. Thought leadership, regardless of form, can do a lot of good for SEO. Content marketing efforts typically earn bookmarks and a lot of return visits. This, of course, is great for SEO because the user behavior (repeated visits, click-through) sends strong signals to the search engines that the content is useful. Useful content often earns favorable visibility in search results.

So, how is any of this valuable?

Think of it this way - there are over 3.9 billion indexed pages on the web today. Earning visibility with that much noise isn't easy. SEO helps website owners promote the pages on their site, and it ensures they perform well when visitors begin showing up.

Thoughts or questions? Send them to me at (