What SEO really is, and what it really isn’t.

In this post I want to talk about SEO, and I just want to enlighten any bloggers / webpreneurs / business people who’re reading this, about what SEO really is, and what it isn’t.

OK so you know SEO is Search Engine Optimization, so it’s just about optimizing websites for the search engines, right?

Well, yes but what does it mean to optimize a website for the search engines?

Firstly, I’ll say something slightly controversial – Google is the only search engine, there aren’t any others!

What’s that you say, what about Bing, what about Yahoo – what about them? They account for a minuscule percentage of search traffic currently in comparison to Google. I’ll take the traffic that comes from the other search engines, but when I optimize a website for “the search engines”, I’m really just thinking about Google.

So SEO is basically about optimizing websites for Google search.

But what does that mean, to optimize a website?

The phrase gives the impression that it’s about tinkering, and OK there is some tinkering that goes on, but it’s not about that, tinkering with meta tags and so on is part of SEO but it’s not really what it’s about.

What SEO really is, are you ready for it… is about adding value to the web, and making sure Google can see the value that your website is adding.

Imagine that Google is a big tall glass of water. Every new piece of content that is added to that glass of water, Google want to ensure that the better the value of this content (a blog post, a web page, a feature on a website, a video or whatever) the closer to the surface it floats. If someone adds something to the glass of water that doesn’t add any value, they want it to sink into oblivion.

This is all you need to know to be able to figure out all of Googles algorithms, and every new update that is unleashed, it’s all about being able to better determine the ACTUAL value of web content.

What do I mean by “actual value”?

There is a difference between the real value of something, and the perceived value of it.

Lets say I’m a dodgy used car salesman, like Danny DeVeto’s character as the dad in Matilda. I would buy a piece of crap car, glue the exhaust on and so on, and try to raise the perceived value of the car, rather than actually doing the work to raise the real value, such as replacing the exhaust.

This is what a lot of people used to do with websites, instead of creating real value, they would fake it, with tricks – just like a dodgy car salesman trying to sell a piece of scrap as a decent family car.

Lets jump back to before Google, and to early Google. I was doing SEO stuff before Google was even around, and it was frustrating, because no matter how great a website was that I was working on, no matter how much content and how valuable it actually is to the reader, I couldn’t compete against people who were using tricks to give a much higher perceived value to search engines which were terrible at being able to distinguish between perceived value and actual value.

Keyword stuffing was the main culprit, people would have a website with the text they wanted people to see in a colour which contrasted with the background (black text on white background for example) and then lots of other high keyword dense text which wasn’t good for the reader, in a colour which was the same as the background, so the spiders picked it up but the human eye didn’t.

Google came along, and things really started to change quickly, it was a lot harder to stay a step ahead of Google than it was any other search engine. There were still ways to do it, and it was relatively easy until Larry Page came along with Pagerank, and offpage factors began to play a bigger role. People are resourceful though, and what pagerank brought with it was this new currency, known as “Link Juice”.

If a high pagerank website linked to another website, then this fed some “linkjuice” to the site being linked to, and the more links you could get from the highest PR web pages possible, the more PR your website would have, and the higher up in the results your website would end up.

Basically, all that needed to be done was that you would divert enough link juice to your website, and it would fly up the Google rankings. An industry was created, and millions of dollars changed hands thanks to this new invisible commodity called pagerank or linkjuice.

Paid backlinking was huge, and in fact I remember a time when many SEO companies and freelancers were mainly just working as a middleman, buying and selling backlinks basically.

Between 2003 and 2005 there were some really huge Google updates. They’re all given names, and the first one to really rock the web marketing world was called Cassandra, in 2003, it lead to masses of websites just vanishing into oblivion, there was outrage!

I recall a time (October, 2005) when it seemed like all of a sudden the SEO industry had ended, because of the No Follow rule, which meant among other things, that any website selling a backlink were only allowed to sell the physical interaction of the visitor clicking on the link to go to the linked site, but they weren’t allowed to pass on the link juice. They had to use the NoFollow attribute in order to stop the linkjuice flowing, and if they didn’t – Google would turn off the link juice tap that was flowing to the website that was selling the linkjuice.

Since then there have been lots and lots of updates, and although some have seemed to really hit small businesses and bloggers hard, they’ve all had the same purpose, to ensure that the best value stays at the surface, and the crap sinks.

So what is SEO? It’s about delivering the best value possible, and ensuring that you’re not doing anything to make it appear that your website gives less value than it actually does.

With my websites, I focus on creating the best possible content, whether that’s text content (which is my specialty), apps, other features, videos, images, and I pay close attention to my stats, I’m looking at pages per visit, time on page, bounce rate and so on, and I’m continually working on improving all of these. If I’m doing all of this, then I know I’m doing the right thing.

When it comes to making sure that you’re not doing anything to make it appear that your website is less valuable than it actually is, a major factor here is ensuring that there are people talking about your website, people linking to your website. This doesn’t mean buying lots of backlinks as it did several years ago, it means doing whatever you can to get people sharing your website or blog, via social media, on their own websites, and by old fashioned word of mouth, it all counts.

So that’s it, SEO is really about offering the best possible value you can online, and about making sure you don’t do anything to give Google a lower perceived value than the actual value of your website, for instance by having no backlinks, no social media presence, or having some really crappy spammy backlinks.

As an example of how to not do it – Lets say you build this amazing website, with incredible content in the form of blog posts, incredible features such as info-graphics and online tools, and your content is all amazingly put together, and it’s all 100% unique, no copying and spinning going on or anything like that.

But then lets say that’s all you do, you don’t tell anyone about it. Google will partly take into account the fact that you don’t have any offpage activity going on, no one singing the praises of your website, and it will lower your the perceived value of your website.

Lets say that instead of the above, you do lots of offpage or “offsite” work, but you do it by utilizing spammy methods such as linkfarms, forum spam, blog comment spamming and so on. This will have an even more profound effect when it comes to lowering the perceived value of your website with Google.

So SEO isn’t at all about offering mediocre actual value via your website but doing all you can to raise the perceived value of your website with Google, which is the way that many people think it works, and many people certainly in recent years have addressed SEO in this way. It’s the other way around, it’s about actually creating the best real value to visitors, while avoiding doing anything to lower the perceived value.

So now you know what it’s about :-).