What Is The Definition Of SEO?

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I emailed a bunch of people in the industry and asked “What is your definition of SEO?”. I promised to keep my commentary out. Almost everyone responded except employees of search engines. Here are their answers:

Danny Sullivan AKA godfather of SEO:

An SEO is someone who understands how people search for information (on the web and in other ways) and ensures that they or their clients are visible in the unpaid listings that are provided. A search marketer, by the way, is someone that ensures listing in both paid and unpaid listings.

Matt Cutts: No response.

Tim Mayer: No response.

Rand Fishkin:

SEO is the combination of tactics and strategies, including, but not limited to, optimization of information architecture, usability, content focus, audience targeting, design, development, keyword research, keyword placement, link building, social media marketing and any other online or offline branding/marketing elements that support the goal of receiving more traffic from search engines.

Neil Patel:

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the art of understanding search engines and and using that knowledge to make a website rank high on search engines.

Andy Beal:

Making changes to the on-page and off-page relevance of a web page in an effort to increase the volume of quality traffic from the search engines.

Lee Odden:

Whatever can be searched on can be optimized. Optimization for bots improves content discovery, indexing and trust (algorithmically). Optimization for the user experience improves clickthroughs, conversions and community. People that called themselves SEOs in the past are really just online marketers leveraging a mix of technology, creative and fundamental marketing expertise to make sales online. They’re more marketing consultants then SEOs even though the “SEO” moniker persists.

Definitions of SEO will change as search channels and user behaviors change, so it’s a waste of time to try and create a standing definition – in my opinion anyway.

Michael Gray:

Search Engine Optimization: The process, of building, designing, creating, or updating a website, or it’s contents, with the goals of increasing visibility within search engines, and improved placement on search engine results pages, for a desired set of keywords terms or market segment.

Marcus Tandler:

The practice and methods of improving a website´s ranking in the organic results of searchengines.

Dax Herrera:

Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

The SEO’s mission is to organize the client’s information and make it robotically accessible and profitable.

Patrick Gavin:

The art and science of raising a web page’s natural search engine rankings. SEO is broken into two distinct buckets: on page factors and off page factors. On page factors including such items as: a website’s crawl-ability, internal linking set up, keyword selection and placement, meta tags, etc. Off page factors being building link popularity (inbound links) into your website. I believe link building to still be the single most important part of the SEO equation.

Aaron Wall:

SEO is the art and science of publishing and marketing content in a way that brings significant profitable and targeted traffic to your website. As the web has grown and Google has become more sophisticated, the field of SEO has been aggressively merging with traditional marketing, with emphasis on branding, framing, story telling, user engagement, viral marketing, and public relations.

Abraham Lincoln once said “With public sentiment, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed.” That is where profitable sustainable SEO is headed.

Rebecca Kelley:

In my opinion, SEO is simply a facet of traditional marketing that focuses on the Internet medium. It involves implementing strategies and changes that make your website both search engine and user friendly — search engine friendly so that your site ranks well in search engine results for appropriate keyword searches, and user friendly so that you can provide a solid customer experience and yield high conversions.

Darren Rowse:

How do I define SEO? Good question – there are a number of thoughts that come to mind:

1. the right answer – SEO is something that helps a website to increase it’s ranking in a search engine.

2. my ‘historical’ answer (ie what I would have answered a few years ago) – SEO is about manipulating Search Engines in order to get them to send you as much traffic as possible.

3. the ‘in practice’ answer (ie how it impacts me these days) – SEO for me these days is a combination of:

• about knowing some of the general principles that help a site or page to rank well in search engines
• building the best quality site that I can with content that meets the needs of readers (and as a result attracts links from other sites).

I guess I’ve come to learn that when you build a high quality website that SEO tends to largely look after itself.

Ted Murphy

SEO is the art of optimizing an online presence in order to maximize relevant search engine traffic.

Stephan Spencer:

In our view (here at Netconcepts), SEO is the application of techniques that make websites and web content more findable for particular keywords being searched on by search engine users. While SEO is not a hard and exact science (there is definitely an art to it), SEO experts do seek to apply rigorous logic to reverse engineer the “black box” that is the search engines’ algorithms, in order to “deconstruct” (identify, quantify and qualify) the hundreds of factors which play a part in search engine ranking. From those factors, SEO practitioners derive methods to engineer webpages whereby search engines will favor their content in the rankings. Classically, SEO addressed more simplistic factors such as the “spiderability” of sites/pages and the tuning of technical factors found directly on the pages and within the website’s architecture (such as URL structure). However, as the search engines continue to evolve, advanced contemporary SEO practices increasingly need to include attention to off-page factors which address meta-data about the linked content. These include, among other things, more subtle and indirect strategies such as syndication, viral marketing, social media “optimization”, and community-building efforts.

Joost Devalk:

Search Engine Optimization is the practice of improving a sites’ content, code, server settings, internal structure and external linking, with the intent of making the site rank higher in the search engines. If done well, SEO is a part of each (online) marketing act, resulting in the improved visibility of the site.

Note that I do NOT think that a site should rank higher than “it’s meant to be” if there IS such a thing. In the end, SEO should make a site WORTHY of a higher ranking, not push it beyond what it’s worth. In practice, this means that if a site is sh*t, link building for it is neigh to impossible, so it won’t work, and we’ll tell people to improve their site. That means that in the end, an SEO is more off a total online marketer and site consultant than just someone pulling some tricks to quickly make a site rank better.

Quadzilla aka Seo Black Hat:

Web spam SEO is when somebody tries to cheat or take shortcuts so that their Web site shows up higher [in search results rankings] than it deserves to show up,” – Matt Cutts QuadsZilla

Todd Malicoat:

SEO is an evolving marketing school of thought born from the desire to rank high in search engines…not a process. It is the art and science of blending user experience, conversion, monetization, and search-ability for optimal web site performance. The irony with SEO is that the acronym is poor marketing created by a new generation of marketers – it should be WSO – Web Site Optimization.

Tamar Weinberg

SEO is a form of internet marketing that entails designing websites for search engine awareness and visibility as well as for user friendliness (especially with regards to relevancy). SEO is on-page optimization that focuses heavily on improving the site’s content with an emphasis on keywords in the site’s architecture, which includes link structure, navigation, title tags, and other on-page elements.
Thanks everyone for participating.

Chris Winfield:

SEO is a component (one of the most important) of Internet marketing. Good
SEO entails (a) giving a search engine spider what it wants (b) creating, or
optimizing, great content and (c) getting quality websites to link to your
website. Good SEO will result in targeted traffic and will drive sales.

168 thoughts on “What Is The Definition Of SEO?

  1. Matt Cutts

    Sorry that I didn’t get a chance to reply before you posted, but those look like a fine set of definitions to me.

    Other than Quad’s, of course. Maybe he didn’t get the memo that SEO != webspam? :)

  2. jan

    why you keep on posting stuff about seo? some time ago you stated that you are not an seo. whats next? heartsurgery? diy build your own aircrafft? stick to the stuff you know about. and thats not seo, as you said.

  3. Nvizion

    GREAT post…I’m starting to get more and more interested in SEO/SEM field and really related to the two and figure out how they actual differ. Question question would be, “What is SEM?” from the top marketers.
    *sidenote – I will be printing these out and cutting them up for when people ask me what SEO truly is*
    Thanks Shoe!

  4. Michael

    Basic SEO techniques will get your site to where it belongs in the search engine rankings. Aggressive SEO can place you much higher in the rankings than your site really deserves to be. All of this is based on the quality of your site in the first place.

  5. Chetan

    Loved the way how Darren Rowse and Aaron wall defined it :)
    But most of them mean only a single thing –

    “Understanding a search engine and making a website rank better in its search results”

  6. Keith Cash

    Great post on SEO could not have said it better. Now that is done and over with. Are we going to see the Shoemoney response on what is SEO…..Look forward to it.

  7. CT Moore

    I really liked Danny Sullivan’s distinction between SEO and SEM, and how the latter ushers an explicit business mandate into search listings — makes perfect sense.

  8. Karan

    Loved quadzilla’s defination ! Imagine an ideal world where people work on website and content and not for Search engines

  9. Michael D

    I think Dannys definition of SEO being someone rather than something is interesting. Applying his definition you’d (Shoemoney) technically be considered an SEO, based on your understanding of how people search.

  10. Coolest Man in the Universe

    SEO is what enables me to be the coolest man in the universe. A few back links, a few blog links, and voila… Now if only there was some monetary award for being the coolest man in the universe, but I will accept paypal donations or 1% of Shoemoneys earnings for a day.

  11. HipHoper

    SEO is the art of wasting time on a website then pray to get good rankings on Google.

  12. Eric Werner

    I agree that there are good reasons not to want to be limited to what a person’s conception of the acronym ‘seo’ might involve. Of the posted definitions I thought that a combination of Rand and Aaron might serve best. Rand’s was great, but I feel that adding ‘profitable and targeted’ is important. I would think that one could take it a step further and add ‘with a quantifiable cost per acquisition’ or ‘measurable return on investment’.

  13. Igor The Troll

    SEO is Snake Oil Salesman! SEO should be about customers and company! Supply and Demand optimization!

    Help the owner of a company to get the best ROI on their business! How? By providing the best product that is possible to customers at a optimal price for the company!

    If you can approach a company with such a strategy the rest of the SEO tools will fall under this umbrella.

    Or you can sell them some links! LOL

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  15. Zak Nicola

    Thanks for the compilation of quotes. Have to say Quadzilla takes the Trophy for best laugh, although to a lot of people Matt’s his definition is not far off.

  16. Wardo

    “A Search Marketing Professional is a specialist that helps online content providers strategically position their content to a qualified audience that uses search engines.” -Ward Tongen

  17. Ranked Hard

    Why didn’t you ask Jason Calacanis? Since he supposedly has “made his peace with SEOs,” his response would have been interesting. Go and ask him and add his response to the list :)

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  19. detlev

    Defining SEO is one thing. It’s the practitioners that make it what it is, but it’s all under the umbrella of Online Marketing. Defining SEO used to be simpler until PPC people wanted a separate identity and called their movement SEM. Remember iProspect’s SEOP box? Everyone wanted their label to stick.

    Folks, it’s all Online Marketing. SEO, SEM or Search Marketing – it’s all just a focus on search, an awesome subset of *Online Marketing.* Luckily, SEO is the best and most fun of all the Online Marketing mediums :) And for a change, it’s made up of mostly individual personalities and fewer corporate marketing folks (that were counting on email and got blind-sided by independent search marketers).

    The most fun stems from classic cases of little guys soundly beating the Goliaths and eating their lunch. Hello World!


    1. umer

      If on your site traffic very high so automatic your site in seo first plz send me over idea for over new site up in seo reply me

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  21. Sandy Naidu

    Danny’s and Darren’s responses are my favorites
    Danny Sullivan’s definition – very clear and concise. And Darren’s response is very practical…

  22. stuff poor people like

    I put less and less stock into SEO each day. The truth is, if you’re writing for fun, forget about it and focus on your writing. If you are trying to make money, then yeah spend a little time learning it. I do like your site though Jeremy.

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  24. oakling

    I especially love the focus on website optimization. That’s what it’s really about, right? Not manipulating others, but making our own side of the street work the best it can.

  25. Sean

    seo is becoming a “feature” within a developer’s skillset with fewer and fewer oportunities for seo as a seperate discipline. It might come back when the paradigm for search engines change like with the elusive semantic web or web 5.0 or something.

  26. Goran Website

    Its interesting to see what the “experts” say as to what SEO is. Maybe a thought for later what’s the difference between web marketing, internet marketing and online marketing.

  27. chuckallied

    Shoe, this is a nice counter point to “SEO has No Future”. From the many angles and nuances you see in the varied definitions, it seems like SEO does still have a lot of life left in it.

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  29. JB

    SEO is the opposite of WEB SPAM. so simple. WEB SPAM is unnaturally high ranking. SEO is naturally high ranking. Getting a site to where it SHOULD be, minus all the mistakes that cause it not to rank where it should.

  30. Terry Tay

    This page is already ranked 4th in Google for the term “What Is The Definition Of SEO?” and “Define SEO”, 5th for “Definition of SEO”

  31. Ranked Hard

    Yea, he did forget to ask you. But seriously, Shoe you should go ask Jason Calacanis, and then say you’ve updated this list to include him. You take a link-baity post and make it baitier.

    It would be amusing. You have all these serious quotes and then his at the end.

    1. Mobile Apps development

      Would love to comment on this amazing topic, there are thousands of website and everybody is looking for the definitions for me” SEO is an art of optimizing the keywords over Search Engine” By the way have you read my recent blog regarding the new Penguin Update, Must to read this blog “http://www.vectrasoft.net/drone-attack-seo-gurus-google-penguin-4th-version-2-0-updated/” Cheers keep coming guys have bookmarked your blog

  32. cook

    Great post on SEO could not have said it better. Now that is done and over with. Are we going to see the Shoe money response on what is SEO…..Look forward to it.

  33. shamess

    This is basically what I was going to say too. Good SEO is having your content readable, expert SEO is using title tags and such. Expert SEO is just trying too hard.

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  35. Tom Pick

    First off, feel free to email me next time you have a question like this. :-)

    Danny Sullivan’s definition is closest to nailing it (no surprise there), though Lee Odden’s is also very good.

    I describe it as a set of practices that assists clients in improving their visibility and business results on the web.

    Reputable, legitimate SEOs are a strategic asset. “Cheap” SEOs who use unethical or questionable practices are a plague.

  36. pankaj

    come on dude it’s an art of manipulating SEs. So don’t you shoemoney ?? ahh pls don hide this anymore…. 😉

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  40. Barbara Ling (aka Owlbert)

    SEO is simply the skill one developers, minus all the hoopla of blackhat techniques, of getting one’s page to rank high within search engine based solely upon site and page construction.

    I’ve been doing SEO ever since Infoseek did real time indexing back in 1997, and broke the Google code for high SERPS back in 2004 for a few months. Nowadays, I simply write compelling articles and let the overall design process/methodology work its magic.


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  46. Melencio

    My god, the amount of shit talked in some of those answers makes you wonder how some of those guys got successful. Is it that hard to say “SEO is trying to get ranked higher on search engines”?

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  56. Kelowna Web Design

    SEO, is a form of Internet marketing that seeks to promote websites by increasing their visibility in search engine results also called the search engine results page (SERP).

    I believe that narrows it down to a pretty simplistic layman’s term everyone can understand.

  57. Kelowna Web Design

    Search engine optimization, or SEO, is a form of Internet marketing that seeks to promote websites by increasing their visibility in search engines also called the search engine results page (SERP).

    I believe this narrows it down to layman’s terms everyone can understand.

  58. Micky - SEO Content Writer

    I find it interesting that some people tend to think of SEO as a person rather than a technique. I think that may be more common in some parts of the world than in others – perhaps in the US people tend to say “I’m an SEO” as in search engine optimizer? Here in Australia that’s not so common. I can do SEO for someone’s site and write SEO content but I would never call myself “an SEO”. But who knows, in a few years’ time that may be a completely acceptable and widely used and understood job description here too…

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  61. Heathcare Software Guru

    SEO seems to me akin to investing – DIVERSIFY DIVERSIFY DIVERSIFY. With a good mix of white hat SEO (articles, on page optimization, good quality backlinks through everyday normal business activities, good content, participation in industry events, news articles about your company, etc.) – you never put all your eggs in one basket.

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  66. Webbedmarketing

    All SEO gurus have explained SEO according to their experience, and which is good for people like us.
    Thus this will benefit us all in internet marketing, online marketing and search engine marketing

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  68. Rooturaj

    Fine set of Definitions. I am a bit surprised though that some of these web-gurus have so vague definitions to provide. They could have taken your mail more seriously if they knew it would be clubbed with other kings of the game.

  69. Rajeev Subedi

    When i am reading these vision, they are very vast deffination of new and upcomming students for SEO. So that, I am trying to give short for SEO, “the process of increasing the amount of traffic to a web site by ranking high in the search results of a search engine. The higher a web site ranks in the results of a search, who have the higher traffic (visitors) to the chance that site will be visited by a user. It is fashion of Internet users to not click through pages and pages of search results, so where a site ranks in a search is essential for directing more traffic toward the site.It helps to ensure a site is accessible to search engine and improves the chances.”

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  73. Eric Fransen

    Love what Danny Sullivan said… “An SEO is someone who understands how people search for information (on the web and in other ways) and ensures that they or their clients are visible in the unpaid listings that are provided. A search marketer, by the way, is someone that ensures listing in both paid and unpaid listings.”

    This is still relevant today.

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  79. Benita Gabrielle C.

    LOL to all the definitions of SEO you have here. I’m not geek, but I encoutered SEO when we decided to put up our own website and yes, I find the services strange and expensive, but after 6 months, we received inquiries and conversions unlike before. Even if I can’t fully understand what it means, I think it’s helpful to learn or to hire somebody.

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  82. Joydeep

    Seo is a combination of art and science that are used to effectively drive traffic to a website by improving better crawlability and user friendliness of a website. Seo understands the working of search engines and make changes to their website in order gain good results.

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  84. The Pro Marketing

    well that was really nice to hear all about SEO’s definitions but according to me “SEO makes your web pages easily to find and readable for search engines” ans another part “SEO is an art to optimize your webpages according to your niche or keywords ” that’s all i know about it :)

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    You must possess your greatest dedication in
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    A high keyword density ratio within your content is one of the best ways to increase your
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    same, not changed but merely reinforced with
    new ideas.

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