What is Search Engine Optimisation?

As a developer it’s always apparent to me that different people have different ideas about what search engine optimisation (or “SEO”) actually is. The most popular opinion, by far, is that search engine optimisation is a series of ‘magic’ tweaks and secret handshakes to make pages rank higher, resulting in perceived usefulness and more sales. I think that this is a backwards way to look at it myself.

The point of a search engine is to deliver relevant results to the user. User enters a search term, search engine goes through it’s index and delivers the content it thinks is best to User. The search engines want to be seen as the best at delivering the ‘right’ content, so it’s important that only decent content ranks highly (especially as beyond a certain point in the SERPs, users either change their search terms or use another engine).

Throw enough money at a page and you can get it ranked high enough to deliver the much-wanted sales. However, if your outgoing expenditure on SEO or advertising is greater than that of the returned sales, you’re wasting time and money.

In my experience, the key is to turn that around on it’s head, putting yourself in the shoes of the user (or in fact the search engine). Spend time and money on improving the relevance of a page, and the relevance of your site overall, and all of a sudden you’ll find you’re working with the search engines instead of against them. In turn, this improves the experience for the user, which is much more likely to result in the kind of sales (and positive experiences) that clients really want.

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3 comments so far

  1. Jo said:
    On November 24, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    I totally agree that SEO should be about delivering the right content for the user and it can be really hard having conversations about SEO with clients, especially if they have limited technical knowledge. I’ve even had a client tell me that the website I built for them (which they were completely happy with) was surplus to requirements because it wasn’t “at the top of Google”. I had to tell them I wasn’t an SEO expert and they’d only employed me to build the site, but suddenly I was a fraudster who was no good at my job. An extreme case I know, but illustrates a point.

  2. Louise said:
    On November 25, 2010 at 6:50 am

    Just as I thought! :D

  3. Carly said:
    On November 26, 2010 at 10:12 am

    As an SEO in another life (OK 4 months ago!) I have to totally agree. It’s nothing to do with ‘secret handshakes’ as you put it, but it’s everything to do with quality and relevance – ‘working with the search engines.’ It’s evident that Google wants that too, or why would they put out so many Web Master Tools SEO help videos and guides, reiterating quality and user everytime!