What is SEO? Graphic with SEO on laptop screen surrounded by icons. | Jen Clark Design

What is SEO?

If you want potential customers to be able to find your website and, by implication, find out more about your products and services when they perform a search on the internet, then Search Engine Optimisation (known commonly as ‘SEO’) is vital.  But what is SEO, what does it involve and why is it so critical?

As you’ve probably discovered, there are many and varied answers to the question ‘What is SEO?’ available on the web today. In a nutshell, as Murray Newlands, Author of Online Marketing: A User’s Manual points out, it is fundamentally “the art of making yourself easy to find through search engines” and concerns only the organic (or unpaid) results visible when a search using a search engine such as Google is performed.

As approximately 80% of users do not venture past the first page of results, and nearly half of those don’t even look beyond the top three results, the core objective of SEO is to appear as high as possible in the first page of organic results when someone in your target audience searches for a word or a phrase that is relevant to your business.  This word or phrase is known in SEO circles as a ‘keyword’ and should always be strategically and clearly linked to a commercial intent or purpose.  Example keyword phrases could include ‘physiotherapy clinic North Fitzroy’ or ‘professional plumbing services Carlton’.

The SEO process can be divided into four stages as follows:

Stage 1 – Keyword Research

The first stage in any SEO campaign should be to carefully research and select different keyword phrases for every individual web page that you wish to optimise.  Think of it as selecting a different main topic for each page that is of interest to your audience.

Start off with a keyword phrase or phrases that you think your target market will use in relevant searches.  Then use the Google Adwords Keyword Planner Tool to investigate what phrases or search terms customers really use (e.g. you might be selling refrigerators but customers are searching for ‘fridges’), and in what quantities they use them.  The latter affects how much traffic that keyword can potentially provide to your website.

After you have identified a few potentially attractive keywords, you need to assess the strength of competition that exists for each of them online.  If website pages that are owned by massive companies are dominating the first page of search results for a particular keyword, it may be very difficult to dislodge them without an enormous investment of time or money. Note as a general rule it is usually easier to rank highly in search results for longer keywords that include a location descriptor.

Finally, use your research into keyword usage and levels of competition to cherry pick the best opportunity for obtaining high rankings and increased traffic, within the time and/or budget to be allocated.

Stage 2 – On-page SEO

The main aim of on-page SEO is to ensure the search engines identify (and therefore index) your page for the keyword topic you have selected for it, and that in addition, they judge the page as being of high quality.  Therefore you need to ensure the page contains unique, high quality and relevant information about the keyword phrase or topic you are optimising that particular page for.  This stage includes using your keyword in a logical way (being careful to not overdo it) in the page’s headings and text, as well as in certain html tags such as the all-important title tag.

Finally, on-page SEO also involves optimising the technical infrastructure of the website itself, to ensure that, for example, the website is being crawled by the search engines and that the website is not slow to load.

Stage 3 – Off-page SEO

Off-page techniques encompass tactics that don’t involve directly editing the website but instead involve the external web environment.  Such strategies centre around obtaining ‘back-links’ from relevant and credible websites to the website page being optimised.  Each high quality link to a web page is viewed by Google as being like a ‘vote’ for that web page and therefore helps that page rank more highly in search results.

There are many and varied tactics used for off-page SEO.  One example is the creation of relevant directory listings and profiles that include links to your website.  Another example may be seeking online publicity by sending products to relevant websites and/or blogs and requesting reviews or a mention in their news section.  A third example could be requesting suppliers, partners or stockists link to your website.  A good way to start is by brainstorming for link opportunities that relate to your industry, target audience and/or location.

Finally, social media is becoming an increasingly important way of promoting your business and website.  Though most experts agree that links from social media to a webpage do not directly affect that page’s ranking in search results – they are none-the-less very important in driving engagement with your brand, and importantly traffic to your website.  As traffic is the end goal of ranking well anyway, social media should be a part of any on-going SEO campaign.  In addition, the evidence is that social media indirectly helps rankings.  For example, shared content on social media may then results in actual back-links or mentions on other websites of your brand or website, which will then in turn help your website’s SEO.

Stage 4 – On-going Content Marketing

Though SEO has never been a case of ‘set and forget’, this has never been as true as of late.  SEO now requires not just that your website is kept up to date, but that new high quality, unique, useful and relevant content is regularly added to your website.  This new content may be in the form of blog posts, embedded YouTube videos or additional web pages for example.  Whatever the new content’s format; research and optimise it as per the first three stages explained above and then also don’t forget to promote it through social media for maximum reach.


In conclusion, a variety of factors including your business’s marketing and sales objectives, the level of competition and your budget will impact the structure of an SEO campaign package built specifically to make your online business visible and profitable.

Want to find out more?

This has been a brief attempt to answer the question: ‘What is SEO?’. If you would like to conduct some further research on the subject there are plenty of excellent resources available online, including the following:

The Moz Website’s Learning Resources (including free downloadable Beginners Guide)  http://moz.com/learn/seo
Search Engine Watch http://searchenginewatch.com/
Murray Newlands Blog: http://www.murraynewlands.com/

Follow me on Twitter (@Libby_Rule) for online marketing advice specifically aimed at small to medium businesses.

Jen Clark Design offers a range of SEO starter packages aimed at giving newly launched websites an SEO boost, as well as more tailored SEO packages that are customised for a client’s particular goals and budget.  Why not send us an email or give us a call on (03) 9088 0755 to discuss how we might be able to assist you leverage the best results for your new or existing website?