What is SEO?

I was at a breakfast meeting last week and I was asked a question which I hadn’t been asked before:

Photo by thestarmama“In what way is SEO different to website design?”.

In effect, he was asking – “What is SEO?”.  I’d been spouting on about SEO and internet marketing and he had no idea what it was.

That question hadn’t occurred to me before.  The guy I was speaking with worked in the gas industry and we got onto a discussion about how you make certain assumptions about what people know and that just because something is obvious to you, you can’t assume that it’s obvious to everyone. 

One of the assumptions that he made when he was speaking was that everyone would know what BG was.  It was only when I asked him that he told me it was British Gas.  In the same vein, he had no idea what SEO was and didn’t know the difference between internet marketing and website design.

I felt a bit stupid afterwards!  WHY should he know what SEO is?  He has no reason to.  As a marketer, it’s my job to give him all the information that he needs to make a decision and that means pitching at the right level – no assumptions!

Anyway, at next meeting I will be taking a bit of time to explain to my audience the relationship between SEO, internet marketing and website design but in the meantime I thought it’d be worthwhile laying out here what SEO is and how it relates to website design. 

  • Website design is the actual process of designing and building the website.  Things like the webpages, the images, the text and the layout.
  • SEO (or search engine optimisation) is the process of using techniques to try to get the website to appear in a prominent position in Google for relevant search queries.  Usually this doesn’t require major changes to a website but can require some text changes and in some cases, adjustment of the layout to make it more ‘friendly’ for a search engine.
  • Internet marketing is the process of publicing the website with the aim of getting many visitors to your website.  Like any business you need to attract people to come and use your services and a website is the same – you have to make an effort at marketing your website before you start to reap the rewards of it.

As you would probably imagine, there are a number of overlaps between each of the disciplines. 

SEO is all about driving traffic to your website which is the same aim of internet marketing and so it should be a large part of your internet marketing strategy.   Good SEO relies on on-site optimisation, which should form part of the website design and architecture, and it also consists of off-site optimisation – generally the process of getting relevant and authoritative links to point to your website.

Your internet marketing strategy will usually include SEO but may also include pay per click marketing (such as Google Adwords – those sponsored links you see on the right hand side of the search results), social networking (such as Digg, Twitter, and StumbleUpon) and perhaps some other elements such as blogging, newsletters, article writing and viral marketing to name a few.

SEO and internet marketing are often taken to be the same thing but they aren’t quite the same.  SEO is all about search engine popularity whereas internet marketing takes a much broader view.  SEO can be seen as a subset of internet marketing.

A good website is also part of your internet marketing strategy.  I don’t mean that it has to be pretty (although that would help) but that your website should have a goal and encouraging users towards that goal should also form part of your overall internet marketing strategy.

Does this explain the relative roles of website design, SEO and internet marketing?  If I’ve made any assumptions then please let me know so that I can sort them out!

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