Whether you run any kind of ecommerce business, or if you have a website and use social media to promote your brand online, you will no doubt have heard a thousand times that you simply have to invest in search engine optimisation (SEO).
Why exactly is SEO put on such a high pedestal in digital marketing?
To understand the importance of SEO, it helps to start by stripping things back to basics. The core original purpose of SEO was to help brands become, and then stay, more visible online. More specifically, its aim was to make it easier for people to find you using a search engine.
Search engines are important. Although they weren’t necessarily invented for that purpose, huge numbers of people use search engines like Google and Bing as proxy web browsers, typing in what they want to find to navigate their way around the web. Many people have a search engine as their homepage for this reason.
Microsoft and Google have even integrated their search engines into the navigation bar in the Explorer, Edge and Chrome web browsers.
Search engines are good for navigating the web because you don’t have to be precise. Instead of remembering and typing out a full URL, you can put a few words in and be guided to where you want to go. But that lack of precision is a problem for brands. Using a search engine, people don’t land straight on your page, they land on a list of search results.
If you want people to then get to your site, you have to make sure you are high on that list of results - based on percentage click-through rates, realistically one of the top five places.
Making your site useful through SEO
This aim of ranking high in search results - and therefore being visible to your audiences - remains at the core of SEO. But how you achieve it has become more complicated.
Once upon a time, SEO was a numbers game - get the right keywords in the right quantity, plus a few links, and you’d probably be ok. But search engine algorithms have evolved to become much more sophisticated and qualitative, largely because the way people use search has changed, too.
Search is now understood not just in terms of people looking up information, but in trying to complete tasks. When people want to buy something online, for example, the way they search - the terms and phrases they use - are different to the way they would look up facts or data. Search engines have therefore evolved not just to match query terms with relevant information, but to try to understand as clearly as possible what the searcher wants to achieve.
That way they can deliver results which are most likely to help the user complete their task.
This is challenging, and involves all sorts of value judgements being made about websites. SEO has consequently become much more challenging for brands as they try to satisfy these judgements. It boils down to trying to interpret how search engines interpret user intentions.
But take the search engine out of the middle for a moment - what you are really trying to do is make your digital content more useful to your target audience. If you do that, you satisfy the search algorithms, so you appear high in the search rankings, and you get good traffic.
That is why Moz says “an important aspect of SEO is making your website easy for both users and search engine robots to understand”. Ease of use and usefulness go hand-in-hand.
SEO has come to be about best practice in website development and management in a broad sense.
A good website will be appreciated by search engines and your audiences alike, and will reap rewards in the success of your online brand.