By now we are all aware of the basic principles of SEO, and a good deal of us understand that search is a critical channel in some way for every business. But, if you had to explain what goes into SEO, do you think you could do it? If you could do it, do you think an SEO professional would agree with your description? Ultimately, the more you know about SEO, the better your marketing becomes because you’re able to direct content creation with stronger purpose and get all of your teams speaking the same language (literally and spiritually.) So, what is search engine optimization, really?

Is SEO all about keywords? Is SEO just about having a pretty website? Can I just pepper in some meta descriptions, headers, title tags, schema, and my site will suddenly skyrocket to the first page?

Well, no, maybe not, but it can definitely help. However, SEO is not an exact science and no amount of SEO keyword pixie dust is going to be able to get you ranking for a competitive term when your content isn’t relevant to it.

Conversely, if you created a phenomenal piece of content that brought in a colossal amount of traffic, but you still didn’t gain any clients from it, did you really win anything? Did that ranking and traffic happen mostly by accident?

You see, SEO is a complicated, fickle beast and there is a whole bevy of bad information out there on it. There are also a ton of companies that will try and assure you they have the skills nobody else has that will garner instant, overnight results. (Spoiler alert: they don’t. And given enough time, bad practices could get your site de-listed from Google altogether.)

So, what exactly is SEO other than a crapshoot affair? Well…it’s a lot like really good jazz. Complex and inaccessible for some; intriguing and accessible for others.

Now, rather than spending an exorbitant amount of time data dumping about how search engines operate, or what SEO terms you need to get to know, or how Google’s ever-changing algorithms work, it might be best to first focus on one thing that has been constant about SEO…the user’s intent.

Create for users, not for search engines. Google looks to you and me to tell them what should rank. Satisfying users is the new (and old) satisfying the search engine. Google is just DYING to give people all of the best, most comprehensive, unique, useful, data-backed, trusted, and relevant content that it possibly can. It’s not trying to get your company to manipulate its results.

Homer Simpson Thinking

What is SEO?

Well, the textbook definition of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is that it is the practice and effort of optimizing a website so that it ranks higher in search engine results, with an end goal of generating good quantity and quality organic traffic.

So, there you have it. Everything is as clear as an unmuddied lake now, right? Yeah, we didn’t think so.

SEO is an easy thing to overthink and overcomplicate. Let’s try to avoid that here.

How Does SEO Work?

Google (and probably Bing and DuckDuckGo) only cares about one thing: Getting the right answer to the query, right away. Our philosophy at 4B when it comes to search is to always provide the best answer to the terms we want our clients to rank for.

Using their complex, secret, and heavily guarded formula, Google reviews and re-reviews the web at a massive scale, then it attempts to categorize pages and sites as answers to questions people may be asking. It attempts to prioritize the most relevant content for a user’s search from what is easily the largest and most up to date index in the world.

Sure, Google’s algorithm can at times seem more enigmatic than KFC’s recipe for their herbs and spices, but what we do know is that Google will rank websites and web pages based on their relevance, authority, and usefulness.

How does one create a webpage that aligns with a user’s search intent? By utilizing the vast array of SEO tools and research, of course!

Sure, the benefits of on-page SEO, such as targeted keywords, title tags, header tags (H1, H2, H3s etc.) image tags, internal linking, schema, rich snippets, and accelerated mobile pages can help your site immensely when it comes to crawlability. But what good is any of this if you aren’t answering the questions people are asking?

If a page is well SEO’d but a user never looks for it, does the page even exist?

When it comes to the best practices of on-page SEO, content is king! Creating high-quality content that’s optimized around specific key ideas is fundamental to good SEO.

It’s good practice to choose key queries (searches) you want to rank for on Google, but also make sure that you are doing the research to ensure that you are answering questions about your product or service that are actually being asked. Search your competition to see what high volume terms they are ranking for and make sure you’re attempting to get a share of voice in those searches, too (SEMrush* is a great tool for seeing what your competition is doing), and make sure your content covers the topic in full and that you are covering ALL the things users might be searching for around the subject of any given page. Never stop working on content and remember QUALITY is better than quantity. 1,500 boring and irrelevant words don’t have the power of 300 words that are helpful to the visitor.

Final Note

John Coltrane Thinking With Saxophone

Great SEO’s are artists and I say that with no shame. We here at 4B aspire to be the John Coltranes of SEO, because as I mentioned earlier, SEO is like jazz. It can be complex, nuanced, and daunting to the point where people feel it is over the audience’s head. It can be mathematical and labored with technique and skill. But it can also be an improvised, artistic thing of beauty, brimming with masterful flourishes where the rhythm could (and it usually does) change at the drop of a hat. Ultimately, when it comes down to it, in order for it to work, it has to be pleasurable and speak to people. And, like jazz, not all SEO is good.

*-We love and use SEMRush. It’s an authentic endorsement by 4B of their product. We also want to be transparent that the link to their site is an affiliate link.