“SEO” is a word we use a lot today. Many bloggers – in all fields – sooner or later split an article on the subject, some advice on what they learned or understood from the discipline … but what is the meaning of SEO? On what pillars is it based? How does it evolve over time? Let’s go for explanations …
A very simple definition of SEO
SEO, or “Search Engine Optimization” is the discipline that brings free and qualified traffic to a site from the search engines, so that the site achieves its objectives.
Traffic = people.
Qualified traffic = people really interested in what you are talking about. As my boss often says, “Better to touch the people who matter, than count the people you touch
Why do we need SEO?
Today there are a multitude of traffic sources: social networks, referral sites that talk about you, direct access via people who already know your name, advertising sometimes … and search engines.
They have the advantage of representing a huge traffic potential, an opportunity to reach people who do not even know that you exist and who do not even know that they need you.
Organic traffic (from search engines) is also a source of long-term visibility, which can last even during periods when you do not publish.
Gaining visibility: a real challenge
The difficulty, obviously … is that in order for these people to discover you, you have to appear in the first places of the search engine. And this for a very simple reason: Internet users are often limited to the first results.
Some companies do studies to assess click through rates based on your position in search results. That of Advanced Web Ranking, for example, shows that around a third of Internet users click on the first result, 15-16% on the second, 10% on the third, 7% on the fourth, 5% on the fifth …
In summary, after the 5th position of Google, you have already lost three quarters of the visitors who were likely to discover you. And beyond the first page, close to 90% of people will never see you.
SEO involves understanding several dimensions:
How does a search engine work ?
Concretely, the search engines do not communicate in detail on their operation. These are gigantic computer programs, which have been continuously improved for several decades. Initially, they analyzed a few rather simple elements on a page but today, they take into account several hundred criteria.
The more we understand which criteria are important, the easier it is to identify the problems of a site and to propose corrections. And the more we have a precise vision of these criteria, the more we manage to prioritize the actions to be carried out when we find that a site is not well optimized and referenced.
So you are going to tell me: how can you get an idea of these criteria if the search engines do not provide a list?
Here are some tips:
Manage sites: a beginner sometimes has the impression that we start by learning SEO … before embarking on the management of a site. In reality, it is by managing sites that you gain experience and intuitions on “what works” to be better referenced. Each site has its own universe, its competitors, its themes, its strengths and its weaknesses … and each site therefore teaches you things. An e-commerce site poses different challenges than a personal blog. A small site of a few dozen pages does not pose the same challenges as a site of 100,000 pages. And experience teaches you a lot, all the time.
Rely on studies: many agencies specializing in natural referencing carry out studies from the sites they manage or from sites created specifically to carry out tests … and draw conclusions on the criteria that allow them to gain visibility and which has little or no impact.
Follow the news of SEO: regularly visit specialized sites (AxeNet, SEOMix, Webrankinfo, Search Engine Journal, Search Engine Watch, Search Engine Land, Abondance, Moz, Search Engine Roundtable, groups like the Tech SEO discussion on Reddit) to keep abreast of developments in search engines, statements that sometimes make Google employees on the operation of the engine. These news are always to be read with a little hindsight. As the great philosopher Michael Jackson put it, “Just because you read something in a magazine or see it on a TV screen doesn’t mean it is factual and truthful.” Some Google statements tend to break open doors … or are sometimes at odds with realities on the ground.
The SEO consultant is therefore constantly on standby. we tend to bet everything on Google because it is the dominant search engine on the market with more than 90%. It is often considered that “if a site is optimized for Google, it will be for other search engines”.
But of course, if you look at another market in the world, things can change dramatically; engines like Baidu, Yandex, Naver can become strategic
How the digital world is evolving
SEO is not an independent discipline. On the contrary, it is integrated into an entire ecosystem. Some examples ?
Content that helps gain visibility on search engines can also feed social networks.
The way a brand communicates with the media makes it possible to obtain links from third-party sites, which boost SEO.
A TV or radio campaign can cause a spike in traffic to a site.
The strategic vision, the values that we want to transmit, the resources that we have influence the way in which we optimize a site.
How a web page is designed will affect the effectiveness of an AdWords advertising campaign.
And if you come out of your own universe, the digital world itself evolves. 20 years ago, everyone was browsing a computer. Today, we consult the sites from our computer, tablet, mobile and sometimes even our TV; we use applications.
There are no longer just “classic” search engines, there are also sites that have become real alternatives to search engines on certain subjects: for example, Amazon is a full-fledged search engine, YouTube too
Today, we are also trying to understand each problem in a much more precise way: we are no longer just wondering “what is SEO” for example … but we are thinking of local SEO, multilingual SEO, writing web, to very technical approaches like log analysis which allows to study the behavior of search engines on a site…
All of this to show you how important it is to keep an open mind and move on with the idea that you can’t separate SEO from the rest. I would even say that, on the contrary, it is better not to put all your eggs in one basket and not to bet everything on the same source of traffic.
Who are your visitors?
Long ago, in a distant galaxy, SEO consisted of reasoning for search engines. How do I get these dumb computer programs to understand my web pages?
Today, there is no longer any binary reasoning separating, on the one hand, visitors and, on the other, search engines. On the contrary, to properly reference a site, it is essential to understand its visitors: who are they, how do they express themselves, what are they interested in, how do they consume the content (on which device, under which format)?
These reflections then feed the subjects that we choose to treat, the way we treat them …
What is SEO? 3 fundamental pillars
In the industry, we generally agree that SEO is based on three pillars. Fundamentals that must be worked on to optimize a site and ensure that it is well referenced.
We will focus on the way the site is designed on a technical level: does it load quickly, is it compatible with mobiles, does it have good markup, are the title and meta descriptions they filled in, are 404 errors missing, is there a good menu, can we easily access all the content or are they, on the contrary, buried in the depths of the site?
We literally ask ourselves a thousand questions: are there any duplication problems on the site, pages that the search engines index when they shouldn’t be dealing with them … or vice versa, is the code well written or not, etc.
What is this job for? To verify that your site can be viewed in good conditions by the visitor, as by the search engine; that there is no blocking point (slowness, errors) and that we can easily understand, thanks to elements of the code, what is the hierarchy of information on the site
The second pillar of SEO is “semantics” … which is often summed up a bit roughly to the “content” of the site.
It is a question of evaluating if the contents of the site obtain the expected performances: do they generate traffic via search engines or not, do they rely on the right keywords, are they sufficiently detailed and up to date , how are they organized in relation to each other, how are they structured? Do they use clear and understandable language for the Internet user?
We often determine a list of several hundred or thousands of terms on which it would appear relevant for a site to appear on Google. We then look at how your site is positioned on all these terms: on what are you already in the top 3 of Google? What are you on the doorstep of the Top 3 or on the second page, which represents a potential to exploit? What content to create to try to position yourself on keywords on which your site is not present at all at the moment?
We are also interested in competition: who are your competitors on all these keywords? How are they doing? What are they doing more or better than you?
This dimension of the work makes it possible to verify that your way of expressing yourself is in phase with that of the people you are trying to reach … and that your concerns are theirs. It allows you to see on which themes you are already legitimate thanks to your content, on which subjects you need to make yourself known… and to what extent it is realistic to position yourself on it (wanting to be n ° 1 on “travel” when you getting started is not necessarily a realistic goal, for example!).
The third pillar of SEO is about links, because the links your site receives send a strong message about the level of trust you can place in it. Are you quoted by renowned sources? In what context, with what terms? Were these links acquired naturally or are there a little “dubious” patterns (for example, a sudden explosion in the number of links, too many irrelevant sites)?
The objective? Make sure that your site is cited by reliable sources, on subjects relevant to the themes you are addressing, and this in as natural a way as possible.
I always add the “fourth dimension” to these three pillars: strategy.
Today, there are a host of SEO tools that can provide a billion pieces of information on a site … but all this data is useless if we do not know how to prioritize it: which problem to solve first? What actions will have the maximum impact?
Similarly, it is impossible in my opinion to improve the natural referencing of a site without knowing why we do it … and how we can do it.
SEO does not exist without “why” and without “how”
Behind any process of optimizing a site, there are questions in the background.
Why want traffic?
Why do you want to have more traffic? In itself, traffic is obviously a positive dimension, which boosts motivation and ego … but there is a stage where it is read by 50,000 or 60,000 people does not change much. It’s rewarding in either case.
SEO is asking the question of what you expect from your traffic: that people perform an action (call on your services, request a quote, buy via an affiliate link), that it highlights your expertise to find a job or start your business, does it give you psychological support? Everyone, on their own scale, can have various motivations, professional or not.
To take the example of my travel blog, which I keep as an “amateur” in my spare time… I have a LOT of traffic, of the order of 100,000 unique visitors per month… and one of the advantages of this traffic is that it allows me to earn a little money through advertising and affiliation, in particular to finance my trips and contribute to significant personal projects such as the purchase of an apartment.
Finding your own “why” will influence the choices you make in natural referencing: what subjects you deal with, how you try to make your blog known, to what degree you will seek to optimize your site…
For example, my travel blog is simply “a plus” but I already have a full-time salaried job, on a permanent contract … so I’m not looking to devote whole weekends or jump on the slightest opportunity. Conversely, if it was an issue to be able to pay my expenses, I would probably have a different approach
How can you act in SEO?
The second question I suggest you ask yourself is the “how”. It’s good to identify the problems of a site and the actions to be taken to correct them … but then, how are you going to put all this in place? Do you have the ability to do it yourself or do you need to be accompanied? What budget can you devote to it?
It happened to me to work with people who had no one to set up SEO recommendations … Or with people who wanted to monitor their SEO but had no budget to put in place the actions necessary to improve it. Or which were limited by technical, budgetary or human constraints … or all of this at the same time!
So when you ask yourself what SEO is, this is an aspect to keep in mind: these are actions to gain visibility but they are above all guided by a specific objective, taking into account the existing constraints for “Do the maximum” in a sometimes very limited area.
You cannot wait for miracles without investing time, skills and sometimes money
SEO, at the heart of a changing web
There are probably a thousand ways to define SEO … and I hope the vision I share in this article will help you better understand the discipline.
If it is based on fundamentals which are – relatively – consensus, it is also evolving towards an increasingly sophisticated approach, where one is interested in very specific subjects: the new formats which make it possible to reduce the speed of loading (AMP format, Progressive Web Apps), behavioral modifications (development of voice search and voice assistants), local or international dimension, video referencing, referencing on Google News, referencing on e-retail sites such as Amazon, the referencing of mobile applications…
We are also increasingly looking to build bridges with other disciplines: data, to analyze data finely, monitor visitor actions with precision; marketing and UX, to improve conversion on a site; SEA (search engine advertising), to have a more global vision of online visibility taking into account both natural referencing AND advertising, which share the Google / Bing results pages…
It’s a rich, complex discipline, sometimes packed with jargon … but that we can always try to explain;)