Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a term used to refer to the process of optimizing a website to perform well in search engines. The better a website performs, the more visible it will be in the organic results of a search engine. And the more visible it is in the organic results, the more web searchers will find the website. This often translates into more traffic, conversions, readers, or whatever the particular goal of your website may be.
There are two ways to gain visibility in search engines:
1. Organic listing
2. Paid advertising
Paid advertising is often the fastest way to gain search engine visibility, considering that all you need to do is open an advertising account and competitively pay for clicks. Paid advertising is, however, not going to bring you as much traffic as top organic listings will.
Organic listings are trusted by searchers more, primarily because they know that those are the search engines’ best recommendation for their query, as opposed to an advertisement they know has been paid for. Because of this trust, organic listings enjoy 85% of all clicks on a search engine results page (SERP). This means that advertisers are paying for a share of only 15% of available traffic and the moment they stop paying for it, it’s gone. Organic listings, on the contrary, not only get more traffic but are trusted more by searchers and you won’t be charged for their clicks.
SEO is the process of earning these valuable organic listings. In the early days of the Internet these listings could be achieved simply by optimizing the website. Back then, search engines relied on information provided by the website to determine how well it should rank for particular queries. So in order to rank well in search engines, site owners would optimize their text, photos, meta tags and internal links as a way to control their search engine rankings. This is when the term “Search Engine Optimization”, or “SEO” for short, was born.
These days, optimization only plays a small role in how well a website ranks in search engines. Search engines have evolved past the point of having to rely on us to tell them what our websites are about. It’s also not in their interest to rely on us, since many unscrupulous website owners have abused optimization in a blatant effort to deceive search engines. Nowadays, search engines rely more on what other websites have to say about you. They look at both the quantity and quality of other websites linking to you as a way of determining how trusted you are by others and how relevant and valuable your content is for a given query.
Many search engine professionals have tried to promote the use of more modern and relevant acronyms such as SEM (Search Engine Marketing), but to little effect. SEO is still the common term for the practice of ranking well in search engines, even though optimization itself only plays a small role in the process.