What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. In simple terms, this is the process of improving your site to help it feature more highly on popular search engines like Google and Bing when people search for the keywords that you target. The theory is that your customers are searching and SEO helps you get in front of them – the right place at the right time.

The problem is, I am not sure how useful that explanation is.

There are different types of SEO. There are different parts of SEO.

In most cases, the SEO that you need will be completely unique to your business, location and current situation.

If you are after a simple explanation of what SEO is then you should probably just head straight to Google and search SEO. There is no end of serviceable posts out there attempting to answer this question.

Therefore, there is no point in this post being a retread of what is already out there, so I am going to try and do something a little bit different here. I want to give you some insight into why it is so hard to pin down exactly what SEO is and give you a way to explore this vast subject and identify what aspects of SEO are important to you and your business.

In this article, I am going to attempt to help you understand what SEO is for you and what you should do next.

Your Situation – Where Are You Now?

The first thing to consider is your current situation, more accurately described as where you are currently from an SEO perspective.

This covers your business, your marketplace, your competition, and a detailed analysis of your current SEO situation, most often called an SEO audit (we have a free one here).

Combining this knowledge of your current situation with your objectives lets us map out where you are, where you want to be, and, more importantly, how to get there.

Personalising SEO For Your Business

I would need to know where you are currently (your situation) and where you want to be (your objectives).

Then, we have to define just what exactly SEO means to you. How will SEO add value to your business and marketing programs?

Is SEO free traffic? Is SEO a magical marketing tactic that will solve every one of your business problems? Is SEO a secret, only known by the dark brotherhood of black hat SEOs? Or is SEO a con? Confused yet? You should be as SEO is all of these things and many more.

The straightforward answer, as above, is that SEO stands for search engine optimization. That is, optimizing your website for search engines so they can understand your site and return it highly in the search results.

In practice, SEO is a series of jobs. Some of these jobs are analytical and research-based. Others are creative. There is also a technical component, although I would argue that is diminishing for the majority of small businesses as the platforms that run small business websites become more standardised and search engine friendly (hello WordPress and Shopify).

From your perspective, as a small business owner, SEO is a way to get your business in front of people, a way to be in the right place at the right time, at the very moment a prospective customer searches for what it is you have to offer.

SEO is exposure on search engines in what are often the most trusted results.

So, despite the many challenges, SEO is still a highly important marketing tactic and a key way to get in front of new customers and promote your business.

Ok… But What Exactly Is SEO?

Fair enough, you deserve a better answer, but this is where things get a little more difficult as SEO is an umbrella term that covers a range of activities across a set of situations.

There are traditional SEO jobs like keyword research. This is important. You need to step outside of your industry lingo and consider how your prospective customers will search for the services you provide.

Then there are other jobs, things that will help your SEO, but less directly, like ensuring you have the very best answers to the questions your customers ask. That your product or service pages help your prospective customers confidently move forwards. The way I look at it, which is to base our approach on being the best possible result for relevant searches, all of this is SEO.

The best way to boil SEO down to a succinct description is to think that SEO is basically everything you can do to make your website the best possible result for the questions your prospective customers ask. By being the best, you will have a site that Google wants to return highly in the search results.

What Is The Matrix?

Analogies can be helpful. This one I think is helpful. Or maybe I have just watched the trailer for the new Matrix film a few too many times. You decide.

In the original Matrix movie, the protagonist, Neo, asks the wise old sage, Morpheus, a question: “what is the matrix?”

Morpheus tells Neo that nobody can be told what the matrix is, they have to see it for themselves.

SEO is a bit like this.

Nobody can tell you exactly what SEO is or what needs to be done for your site in a random article you stumble across on Google.

There are just too many variables – you have to dig in and determine what type of SEO you need – you have to see it for yourself.

I appreciate that this is not terribly useful. Not directly at least. But, in some ways, knowing what is not useful, is part of the way to knowing what can be. There is just so much bullshit out there when it comes to SEO, so much of it is just self-serving, thinly veiled promotional claptrap that I can only imagine how exhausting it is to try and find an honest opinion.

SEO is a big topic, and a new book coming in early 2022, the updated version of The Art of SEO, is going to be just under 1,000 pages. That is a lot of SEO. Which only a small amount will be useful.

Yeah, But, What Is SEO?

Okay, sorry, I have taken you down this rabbit hole, it is only fair that I at least try to give you some specifics and something you can latch on to.

To do this, I am going to make some assumptions, the key one being that you are a small business looking to know how to improve your visibility online. You want to know what activities are worthwhile endeavours and what is a complete waste of time.

If you fit that profile then the main factors to consider are:

  • The type of business
  • The location
  • The competition
  • Your website
  • Your content
  • Your brand messaging and logo
  • Your reputation

Even at a high level, there are a lot of moving parts here – and that is before we even look at anything that would traditionally be classed as SEO.

We can try to break this down though and look at the common parts of SEO.

SEO Fundamentals

  • Keyword Research
  • Competitor Analysis
  • Landscape Analysis
  • On-Page Optimisation
  • Technical SEO
  • Link & Authority Building

And of course, all of these can break down into sub-areas. 

Then we have types of SEO

  • local SEO
  • National SEO
  • International SEO
  • News SEO
  • Enterprise SEO

And there are more search engines out there than just Google (I know – crazy right?)

  • Google SEO
  • Bing SEO
  • Yandex SEO
  • Baido SEO
  • Youtube SEO
  • Amazon SEO

Then there are a range of SEO tools and if you really want to go to town learning HTML, JavaScript & other programming languages can help.

And of course, you need to measure your results so you will want to understand:

  • Rank Tracking Software
  • Google Search Console
  • Google Analytics
  • Google Tag Manager

And whilst that is already quite the list, that really is just a taster, this is in no way exhaustive and even old hands like myself, with over twenty years in the SEO game, can’t possibly know every aspect of SEO.

What Does Google Want?

Rather than going down the SEO tactics rabbit hole, which can see you spend a lot of time on activities that will likely make very little difference, it is first to best ask another question: what does Google want?

The answer here is relatively simple: Google wants to return the best answer to any given question. To do this they want to organise, categorise, and rank order the world’s information (and they go into a little more detail in their mission statement [1]).

There is a whole world of information out there so we won’t go too far down the rabbit hole here as for most businesses, what matters is that Google wants to show the best result to each user.

So, if someone searches for a plumber, then Google will rank order the results based on the factors they believe matter for this specific type of search [2] which are:

  • Relevance – how well-suited each business is to this search
  • Distance – how close the business is to the searcher’s intended location
  • Prominence – how well known and trusted the business is

Key factors here as specified by Google [2] include:

  • Relevant business data – update Google-My-Business (GMB) and relevant directories and keep this consistent
  • Verified business locations – ensure you verify all locations in GMB
  • Accurate hours – keep your information accurate so Google can show relevant information in GMB
  • Manage reviews and responses – encourage relevant reviews and respond to them
  • Photos and business information – provide customers with additional useful information about your business

In this example, for a local business, a lot of this comes down to Google My Business [3] which is the central point for your profile on Google.

Other factors are also important, such as your website and external listings around the web (citations).

A lot of moving parts.

So, What Is SEO? Well… It Is Complicated

At a high level, SEO is simply making sure that Google understands and trusts your business.

The specifics of this are broadly covered by:

  • Your website and its technical configuration
  • The search terms and keywords you target
  • Links to your website
  • Business listings and brand mentions
  • The content on your website and its pages

But the specifics then depend very much on your situation and objectives.

What Parts Of SEO Matter To You?

The only way to answer this question is to do the research so you understand the search landscape for the kind of phrases you target and then conduct a review of your current situation, typically known as an SEO audit, to identify your SEO strengths and weaknesses.

With this information in hand, you can create a plan that details exactly what SEO means to you and what you should be working on.

The Best SEO Strategy Is…

The best SEO strategy is to be the best choice. That is it. Whatever you need to do to get there, that is the SEO you need to focus on.

Think about your customers. Look at your competition. Make sure you are the absolute best result for the keywords you care about. What that means changes for every keyword and every location, so you have to dig in and give it some thought.

But, if you can do this. If you can genuinely stand back knowing that your page is the best possible result for your customers, then this changes the game.

Now, you are not trying to manipulate, trick, or deceive the search engine. You are not trying to rank above other pages that are better than you. You are now just helping the search engine do its job, which is to rank the best page at the top of the search engine results page (SERPs). As they say, the cream rises to the top!

Google just wants to show the best results, so, be the best result. You put that work in to make your page the best. Then Google rewards you with improved search visibility.

Adopting a value-orientated SEO philosophy can really help here!

So, What Is SEO?

So what is SEO? Well, SEO is any job that ensures your page is the best possible result for the search terms you are targeting.

This includes many traditional SEO jobs like keyword research and content optimisation. But it should also focus on surfacing your highly valuable knowledge of your subject area to provide the best possible resource for your prospects. Help your prospective customers achieve their goals and SEO just gets so much easier.

This improvement to your site then increases its visibility in the organic (free) results when people search for your products or services. This increased visibility puts you in front of customers at the right time to generate more high-quality traffic to your site. This, in turn, helps you generate more business.

The main takeaway here is that you need a plan, a personalised SEO plan that details what you need to do to improve your lot in search.

Free SEO Audit

The trick to effective SEO is knowing exactly what to focus on and what will just be a waste of time or money.

If you want to know exactly what areas of your site need improvement then get in touch and we can provide a completely free SEO audit and SEO battle plan – simply drop us a line via our contact page and we will provide a plan showing exactly what you need to do to get results. Note: we can only offer so many free audits so please contact us today so you don’t miss out.


  1. How Search Works & Google’s Mission Statement
  2. How to Improve Local Rankings by Google My Business Help
  3. Google My Business – Your Business Profile on Google


  • SEO – Search Engine Optimisation
  • GMB – Google My Business (aka Google Business Profile)
  • SERP – Search Engine Results Page

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