What the Hell is SEO, in Plain Simple English for Normal People

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You’ve got a hobby, and so far you’ve been treating it as a passion project. But lately you decided to go more professional. Build a website, attract clients with a blog, impress future customers. Whatever your exact goal is, I know where you’re coming from – I’ve been there.

I’m here to teach you the technical know-how of building a website and writing content that reaches people. I want to help you spread your ideas, and maybe better support yourself with this online project. As it turns out, optimizing your site for SEO is a huge part of being successful online.

But then you asked me, “What is SEO?” Don’t get me wrong, because it’s a completely reasonable question. So much so that I face-palmed, because how could I skip past this fundamental explanation?

Whenever I train for a new position, the supervisor asks, “How familiar are you with this?”

My answer is always the same: “Pretend that everything here is new to me. Start from scratch, that way I don’t miss anything.” I love this learning technique, because we all come from different backgrounds and training. It is shoddy work to assume we all know what the other knows, even if we are both familiar with the same topic. So today, let’s get into this search engine stuff using plain terms for people just being introduced to the idea. Even long-time bloggers could stand a refresher course.

Comic of a stick figure meditating

 

SEO itself is somewhat of a technical term that stands for Search Engine Optimization. I’ll keep using the acronym SEO though, because it’s shorter and easier to say (and write).

You may have already guessed, but Google and Bing are the two biggest examples of search engines. But, when people talk about search engine standards, they are usually referring to Google.

How SEO Helps Us (The Little People) To Make a Difference

Let’s say you’re building a fitness site to talk about the yoga classes you want to expand on. You already teach yoga and enjoy posting pictures up on Instagram. You are awesome at what you do, and you love to do it. People come to you with questions and follow your journey with yoga. But it’s time for you to turn this into something bigger. Something with a wider impact.

So how can you, as one person, effectively reach hundreds of thousands of people all by yourself? You already know the answer, or you wouldn’t be talking with me about it. You build a website.

Comic of stick figure publishing work online

A website is your little corner of the internet. You can build an online business, become an authority within your passion, change people’s lives… if only you knew how.

Going from zero to hero like this takes research, time and effort. You can’t just start writing and expect people to show up to read it on their own. The internet seems magical in this regard, but it is unfortunately not so.

You and I, as individuals with no budget to speak of, rely on things like search engines to spread the word for us. This is why SEO is so important.

To be successful online you need search engines to find, read, and understand your content.

Then the search engine has to deliver your writing to people searching for related topics.

It is a simple theory, but it has become quite competitive because it is so accessible. A lot of work goes into it. Like any good thing, you’ll need to apply elbow grease, but I know you have a lot of that – so you’ll be fine. You are clever, and you can handle this.

The Way Search Engines Work

You can make it easier for search engines to help you build a website that collects more than dust. But to do that, it’s time you learned what they do behind the scenes.

Search engines rely on a super-secret spy network. Yes, I’m serious.

Let me explain. Search engines send little digital spies into the internet. (Don’t worry, they are friendly and don’t hurt you! You can learn more here.) These spies find websites, new and old. They scour through every word, image, and video. They test how fast your website is. They record every nook and cranny. Then it sends all that information back to an enormous virtual vault to look through later.

Comic explaining SEO

Back in this vault, your writing gets squeezed through a bunch of inspections. The search engine analyzes everything, to try and determine things like:

  • Who wrote this content?
  • Does the author have trustworthy knowledge about their topic?
  • What other information is this related to?
  • Is this website new or old?
  • Do reliable people trust this website?
  • How many people talk about this website?

…and much, much more. There are many factors that weigh into how a search engine like Google answers these questions. The actual rules for this are called search engine standards. The final answers about your page get stored for later use. Over time, your content gets re-evaluated and the answers of these questions may change. This helps search engines stay fresh and relevant, moving you up or down in search results.

Once your blog post goes through this process, it is possible to show up as the answer to searches. Whether your posts actually do show up as a search result depends on

  • the queries people make, and
  • how much value your page has compared to the others on that topic.

Comic of Google search results example

Yes, that means your content competes with the whole world. It’s kind of mind-blowing, even intimidating when you think about it too much.

But not everyone else knows what you know, or can do what you do the way you do it. Not everyone else out there talks to the people you want to reach. Let me tell you something – the people building search engines care about that. To stay successful and relevant, search engines need the best possible answers for each unique individual. Search engines are dying to deliver results tailored to their users’ specific needs.

This is where you come in. Your take on whatever it is you’re most passionate about is like no other. Whether it’s yoga, photography, travel, cooking, or freelancing, nobody else can replace you.

SEO Is When You Deliver Exemplary Answers to Real Questions

The heart of SEO is quality content. There are a lot of technical ways to optimize, get competitive, and go the extra mile. You should absolutely do so, but only as you level up. Your SEO efforts don’t matter without a core of seriously excellent content.

Your content challenge is: Address the needs of those looking for your help, or watch your blog fail.

Right now, the only thing you should worry about is putting out quality and kick-ass work. You know your stuff. I know you do. It’s time you made that obvious for everyone else.

Here are the beginning steps to optimize for search engines. Whenever you publish something to your blog, ask yourself:

  • Who is this written for?
  • What question am I answering (or, what need does this fulfill)?
  • How is this different than what already exists?

If you don’t know the answer to these, neither will Google or any other search engine out there.

I’ll definitely teach you advanced SEO down the line. But remember, at the core of any successful site, you have to live and breathe this kind of content. Know the point you are making, and publish content in a way that makes sense. If your blog makes utterly clear sense to you and your readers, there is a good chance Google is gonna get it, too.

Next Steps: It’s Your Time to Shine

I hope that this has cleared up what SEO is for you. In the end, it’s a bit of a rabbit hole. I’m showing you that the rabbit hole exists because you’ll have to start exploring it if you want to get into online business or start a successful website.

But don’t worry! Creating amazing content is all you need to worry about for the time being. To do that, review these questions every time you publish a new blog post:

  1. Who is it for?
  2. What question or need does it satisfy?
  3. How it is different than everyone else’s?

So, what project are you building? Comment below to let me know who you want to reach with your website, and why. I’ll help you brainstorm through the answers to these three questions for your next post.

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About Anne Dorko

Anne is always sharpening her web strategy skills, from design to content creation. She helps people like you succeed online by sharing insight from her 10 years of experience. Go get your 30 minute consultation while orientations are still free!

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