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The Big Question: What IS SEO?

Almost everyone I talk to has a fuzzy idea of what Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is. But trying to answer that question when someone asks is…difficult. In part, it’s because there isn’t a single profession called ‘SEO guy’ — or rather, the guys who call themselves ‘SEO guys’ don’t actually do everything that falls into the SEO umbrella. That’s because there’s just too much under the SEO umbrella for any one person to really become accomplished in the entire field.

It’s kind of like saying “I’m a scientist.” Sure, great, but what kind of science? The SEO umbrella covers:

  • Web designers, who use the rules of on-page SEO to construct web pages that the search engines will easily find, identify the purpose of, and index appropriately.
  • Content creators, who use the rules of on-page SEO to generate content that the search engines can understand, identify the subject of, and associate with appropriate keywords.
  • Backlink builders, who use the rules of off-page SEO to create a network of links to a site from other sites in a fashion that tells the search engines that the targeted page is valuable enough to rank highly.
  • Relationship managers, who use the rules of off-page SEO when appealing to a variety of competitors and related businesses to form a mutually-supportive relationship between their sites and your site.
  • Social marketers, who use both on- and off-page SEO rules to guide the creation of their clients’ social media accounts and then guide their audience into building backlinks for them by mentioning the company on their social profiles.
  • Reputation managers, who use both on-page and off-page SEO to create content that improves their clients’ reputation and make sure that their content ranks highly so that people making relevant searches see the ‘good stuff’ first.

I’m sure there’s probably a few that I’m forgetting along the way, too — and that’s not even touching the other industries that are related to and partially overlapping SEO, like pay-per-click, viral marketing, branding, and others.

Of course, there is also plenty that SEO isn’t. SEO isn’t the right answer for every website — there are plenty of sites that would do better to spend their money, for example, on solid branding efforts or on Adwords campaigns — but it is the right answer for the bulk of

  • Smaller
  • Commercial
  • Non-Profit
  • Blogs
  • Entrepreneurial
  • Monetized
  • and New websites

These are the kinds of sites that make up the bulk of SEO clientele, because they’re the ones who need to drive passive traffic (and thus make passive money.) Larger, corporate websites are better off doing this with branding. Long-established websites aren’t as likely to be able to move easily into a new set of keywords to optimize for, and are better off using viral marketing when they need a burst of fresh traffic.

The Little Answer to the Big Question
The short answer is that SEO is a set of rules that people follow in order to make their website rank on websites — and that really is the best answer as well, because the long answer is far, far too long for anyone to reasonably listen to.

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