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What is SEO or search engine optimisation

What is SEO or search engine optimisation?

Written by Andrew Larkin

Now this is a question I get asked quite often by business owners who are either looking to do search engine optimisation, or are currently doing search engine optimisation but don't fully understand what it is.


In this article I am going to take you through the text-book answer to the question what is search
engine optimisation? The problem I think lies within the answer, the impact that then has on your business, then my solution to the question.

This is a text-book answer taken straight from Wikipedia:

Search engine optimisation is the process
of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a search engines natural, or unpaid organic search results.


The problem with this answer

The basic problem which lies in an answer like this is it's very much geared towards people who already work in the industry of search engine optimisation. There is a basic level of understanding there, specifically around search engines, which most business owners may not have.

Business owners themselves are asking a simple question but they don't
necessarily get a simple answer. I can think of two questions a business owner might follow up with. Such as how does it affect visibility, or even what is visibility? What does natural, unpaid or organic actually mean.

So just to re-iterate I think the answer assumes a basic understanding of search engines which the majority of business owners DON'T HAVE.


The impact this problem can have on your business

The impact this then has on your business can go one of two ways. Business owners will either dismiss or disengage from search engine optimisation as they find it too risky. Which means they don't ask the business critical questions such as would search engine optimisation benefit my business? Would it benefit me business website? How would it benefit my business website?

The other way they may go, is just to proceed blindly with search engine optimisation for the wrong business reasons. Just because everyone else is doing it, doesn't mean you should. Just because everyone else is having success with it, doesn't mean you will.


Relate it to something you DO understand

So in order the answer the question properly I think you need to give people the basic understanding of what search engines actually are. What I do is I related to something business owners already understand. Give them that basic understanding which can allow them to understand the answer to the question.

In order to do that I use the analogy of a search engine as a library and a website as a book within the library.
So if you think of an example: of going on to the library and asking the librarian for a list of books on
"swimming pools". The librarian will search the database and come back with a list of books containing title, description, author, category and maybe even an extract from the book.

A search engine works in exactly the same way. You put in the search term "swimming pools". The search engine will then search through its database of websites and return a list of the websites most relevant to the term/category "swimming pools".

The fundamental difference is that libraries probably only deal with a handful of new books over a period of six months or a year. So the list you will get back will be quite small. Whereas a search engine is having to catalogue thousands if not hundreds of thousands of websites on a yearly basis. Most people are only interested in the top ten.

So the main challenge for search engines is how can they ensure they deliver 10 most relevant websites in anyone given category at anyone time.


Now simplify the answer

If you take this basic level of understanding, thinking of a search engine as a library and a website as a book. Then the answer I would give to a business owner who asks the question: What is search engine optimisation?

Would be:

Search engine optimisation is the process of categorising your website correctly so it can be found by people (potential clients) who are interested in your business, product or service.
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