What is SEO?

Google search engine query

Most small business owners and marketers are constantly thinking of new ways to promote their business. One of the most affordable and effective tools is a well-crafted website and knowledge of search engine optimization (SEO). But what is SEO exactly?

Search engine optimization (SEO) involves making strategic and technical adjustments to your website structure and your web pages in order to earn higher rankings on search engine results pages (SERP).

It can take a lot of time and energy to get SEO done right, but Google and other search engines genuinely want their search engine results pages to be helpful. While they guard their algorithms closely, the search engines want truly relevant content to be found, regardless of the size of the organization or website.

Search engines

Search engines are complex algorithms that act as matchmakers between searchers and web pages. Although search engine algorithms are very advanced these days, the goal is clear: to help a searcher find exactly what they’re looking for. Search engines scour the internet to index content to serve up on search engine results pages.

These algorithms are kept under lock and key, but what we do know is that each search is very unique. Searching for the exact same keyword in Lincoln, CA and Nashville, TN will produce different results. The searcher’s browsing and search history can also be factors. On top of that, web pages and their domains are constantly changing in the eyes of a search engine. Rankings fluctuate based on many different factors that Google and other search engines consider important.

You may notice that I refer to Google a lot more than other search engines. The reason is that Google pretty much owns the search market. According to StatCounter, Google’s share of the search engine market is nearly 91%. As a society, we even turned google into a verb.

Google Search, or Google Web Search, is the most popular search engine, by far, with more than three billion searches each day. The search engine is 21 years old today (launched September 15, 1997) and performs searches in 197 languages.


You might ask, “So how does Google know how relevant my web page is?” The answer: robots. Not the science fiction kind, but the computer code kind. Each search engine has its own robot; some of them have multiple bots. And while they certainly are taking over the digital world, they seem to be friendly, so not to worry.

These robots crawl a website’s pages collecting data to determine what the website and its pages are about. These bots are pretty smart, but they still have nowhere near the cognitive processing power of the human brain. That’s why it’s so important to structure your pages in ways that robots can read and understand.


A keyword is a search term used in a search engine like Google. Though the term keyword originally referred to a single word, it now represents anything a person types into the search bar. So it could be something like “shoes” or “best running shoes in nashville tn”. Both are considered keywords. The second, longer term is called a long-tail keyword. This is the type of keyword you should be targeting as a small business.

A long-tail keyword is a more specific search term that targets a niche and is therefore less competitive on the search engine results page. It’s generally considered to be at least three words long.

Why target long-tail keywords? There’s less competition. There are fewer web pages out there targeting a particular long-tail keyword, so when a searcher types it into the search bar, your page is more likely to show up. Furthermore, somewhere in the neighborhood of 70% of searches are for long-tail terms, because people know what they’re looking for, and they are specific in their searches.

Be a good citizen of the web

SEO is a complex subject, but it can also be simple. I like to tell people that if they’re a good “citizen of the web” they can rank well, but there are some technical aspects of a web page, too, that help search engines determine how relevant the page is for someone searching for something.

SEO is a legitimate practice, so don’t think that the goal is to manipulate search engines into ranking your site closer to the search bar. The major search engines have gotten really good at determining if a page is using bad practices like keyword stuffing or hiding content. Misleading titles and descriptions won’t help you, either. If a searcher clicks on your result from Google and realizes the page or site isn’t what they thought it was, they will leave. Not only is this person frustrated that you didn’t give them what they wanted, but Google now knows that this page isn’t a good result, so the page will rank lower.

So what is SEO?

It’s an ongoing process. SEO is a journey with no destination. It can be both fun and frustrating, but if you’re truly committed to providing meaningful content on your website, applying a little bit of SEO magic can go a long way.