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Search Engine Optimization
Copyright 2021, Faulkner Information Services. All
Publication Date: 2108
Report Type: TUTORIAL
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a marketing strategy designed to
increase traffic to a Web site by improving where it ranks in search
engine results. SEO is one of the hottest topics in marketing today, but
it is also one of the most difficult strategies to execute because it
requires companies to constantly think about how people would search for
them and their products. This report provides recommendations about what
it takes to implement an effective SEO program and identifies some of the
potential pitfalls that must be avoided.
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When people search for something on the Internet, they usually click on
the first few results that appear.
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Policy and Practice Tutorial
If they do not find what they are looking for on the first page or two of
results, they try another search instead of cycling through page after
page of results. With these consumer habits in mind, companies use the
practice of search engine optimization (SEO) to get their Web sites at or
near the top of the results when people search for certain terms.
SEO can be a key component of any company’s Internet marketing strategy
since it can help to improve brand awareness, attract potential customers,
drive revenues, and provide a competitive advantage. The trick to a solid
SEO strategy, however, is not just getting more people to visit a Web
site but also getting the right people to visit. Therefore, organizations
that are rolling out an SEO strategy need to put themselves in a potential
customer’s shoes and think about how those people search for things
online. They then have to do design work that makes their sites
appear at the top of a search engine results page for particular terms.
For instance, a shoe company would want its page to be listed at the top
when users search for “shoes,” “sneakers,” or “sandals.”
SEO is complicated because search habits are constantly changing and
industries are always creating new ways to talk about themselves. In addition, the major search engines use different page-ranking algorithms, so a
strategy that works on Google may not work on Bing or Yahoo!.
Once it began to capture the imaginations of marketing people, SEO became
more complicated with the increased use of mobile devices, and now has to
fit into a world of voice-based questions and uploaded pictures, so
optimization strategies have a wider range of technologies and
techniques to consider.
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There are several search engine optimization strategies available to
companies looking to improve their Internet presence. A search on a site
like Google, Bing, or Yahoo! will result in a list of “sponsored links”
somewhere on the page. The companies whose sites appear in these places have
paid to be there, but people are more likely to click on a link that appears
on the list of “organic” search results instead of on a sponsored link.
Figure 1 shows the organic results versus sponsored links on a typical
Google search page.
Figure 1. Diagram of a Typical Google Search Result
Businesses face obstacles when developing their SEO strategies:
- Competition for prime Internet real estate. A higher
ranking on a search engine’s results page can translate into a
substantial increase in Internet traffic, so there is often fierce
competition for a spot among the top results, but there are only a
handful of spots on the first results page. The rest is filled with
sponsored links, related search terms, and links to news stories, blogs,
and books, for instance.
- Different algorithms. Search engines each have their
own ranking algorithm, so an SEO strategy that is designed around one
particular engine may not work as effectively on another. The engines
revise their algorithms from time to time as well, so even a successful
strategy may eventually cease to work.
- The organic nature of the SEO market. SEO strategies
are constantly evolving and they change in different ways. A company
cannot become complacent once it achieves its desired SEO results. A
business that turns up on the top page of a certain Google search one
month may not appear there the next month if other companies do a better
job of keeping up with their SEO initiatives. And the way people search
online is constantly changing as our vocabulary evolves. For example, a
call center company that uses agents who work out of their homes might
show up at the top of a search for “at home agents.” However, the call
center industry might later start labeling this business model as “home
shoring.” If a company does not keep track of its industry and the terms
used, it may drop in the rankings.
- Black Hat SEO. SEO can backfire if a search engine
penalizes a Web site for using so-called “black hat techniques.” One
example of such a technique is a link farm, which is a group of sites
built just to link to each other, giving the impression of relevance to
Hiring SEO Help
Companies can hire an SEO consultant to optimize a Web site instead
of doing it themselves. SEO consultants know the tips and strategies that
can boost Web traffic, but outsourcing this type of work has some
drawbacks. A consultant might not know a customer’s business well enough
to write about it clearly and accurately, even if the writing draws Web
Potential customers of an SEO consultant need to perform their due
diligence. Internet marketing is a big business, but the SEO portion of it
includes many small, start-up companies that promise to get clients into
the top ten rankings of a Web search. These sorts of companies should be
viewed skeptically. In fact, they have attracted attention from the US
government for their lofty claims. Ideally, companies that are
thinking about hiring an SEO firm should do so when they are getting ready
to launch a Web site or as part of a major site design. This is a
recommended best practice because it may be difficult for a company to
shoehorn its SEO content into an existing site.
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A Continually Changing Environment
Search engines will continue to modify how they rank pages, forcing
organizations to pay close attention to developments and to respond
quickly. These changes often occur without warning or much explanation,
and they can create “winners and losers” among Web sites that are helped
But attempting to ease fears about algorithm updates, SEO consultant ELI
Schwartz says, “Every time there is a rumor of a Google algorithm update, a
general panic ripples through the SEO community.”2 But he calls
these reactions “entirely misplaced.” He contends that organizations are
better off improving the user experience on their sites than trying
to outsmart algorithms.
The Rapid Growth of Mobile Search
One major trend to follow is how mobile technology is influencing SEO
strategies. A study published in 2018 predicted that mobile searching will
account for 69 percent of the paid search market by 2022.3
Search engines and marketers are responding to this major shift in
searching habits. For example, Google has a search algorithm nicknamed Mobilegeddon that increases the rankings of mobile-friendly Web pages
when a user searches from a mobile device.
The boom in mobile search is pressuring companies to think somewhat
differently about how Web sites should be designed. Pages need to load
quickly on slower connections and must display well on smaller screens.
Helping users search for apps is also a consideration. One trend that has
emerged in response to mobile searching is “mobile first design,” the
concept that Web sites are most effectively designed mainly for mobile
users and secondarily for desktop users.4
The increased targeting of mobile users also relates to another trend,
which is the increased localization of search results. The connection
between the trends occurs when, for instance, a mobile user does a search
and then gets localized results. Interest in localization was in part
spurred by 2015 research from Google, which found that mobile users are
more likely than non-mobile users to visit a store after finding it in a
Mobile technology has also increased the use of voice searches, which are
changing the dynamics of SEO. In particular, smart speakers have led to
many more voice searches, which tend to be composed in a natural language
that is different from the wording people use when typing.6
Optimizing for Answer Engines and Visual Search
Increasingly, people are searching by speaking to devices that recognize
natural language voice questions. These “answer engine” devices work
somewhat differently than traditional Web queries, so optimizing the
results is different as well. Perhaps the most prominent difference is
that answer engines tend to provide a single result rather than a long
list of responses.7
Another emerging area of interest for search optimization is image-based
searching, in which a user uploads a picture that defines the query. (For
tips directly from Google about SEO for image searches, see “Google Image
Best Practices.”8) A significant development on this front was
the 2017 introduction of Google Lens, an app that analyzes images that
users upload and provides information about them or performs other
actions.9 And the photo-sharing site Pinterest released a
similar app, also called Lens. The entry of Pinterest into the field could
change the market landscape, notes technology entrepreneur and
investor Kristopher Jones.10 “Pinterest’s search engine
only redirects [users] to posts on Pinterest,” he explains, “meaning
you’ll need to develop a presence on this platform to reach those audience
members.” Amazon, Bing, and Snapchat
also have visual search capabilities.11
At the moment, most SEO efforts focus on traditional text-based
searching. But over time, alternatives like answer engines and visual
search will play larger roles in how enterprises think about optimizing
their searches. In particular, image-based searching is likely to become
popular among retailers. Already, companies such as Forever 21, Home
Depot, Target, and Wayfair support image searching.12
Amazon as a Search Engine
Many users now think of Amazon as a search engine when they are looking
for products. A study of Web searches from 2015-2018 found that Amazon
grew to be more popular than Google for shopping searches.13 A
key element of Amazon’s emergence as a de facto search engine is the
popularity of its smart speakers, which let users order products via voice
commands to the built-in personal assistant Alexa.
Amazon’s smart speakers made up 69 percent of the smart speakers sold
between June 2017 and June 2021,14 giving the company a strong
advantage in product-based searches overall. And the market for such devices
is already large – there were 126 million smart speakers in use in the US as
of June 2021 – so Amazon’s lead appears likely to heavily impact the search
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Many companies hire SEO firms to help boost their ranking on a results
page, but companies that intend to do their own SEO should consider the
Establish a List of Keywords and Phrases
Companies should thoroughly research their industry and come up with a
list of keywords and phrases that they think people will use when
searching. For example, if an arts and crafts store has “painting
supplies” as its only SEO keywords, it could be missing out on being
ranked on several different Internet searches, such as “arts and crafts,”
“scrapbooking,” “art supply stores,” and others. There are several tools
available that can help businesses analyze potential SEO keywords, and
many search engines offer their own keyword research tools.
Add the SEO Phrases to the Web Site
The next step in executing an SEO strategy is to integrate the keywords
and phrases into the Web site. Companies can hide their SEO keywords in a
site’s HTML code, but major search engines now frown on this practice and
will rank a page higher if the words or phrases appear somewhere in the
actual body of the site. Therefore, it is better to develop Web content,
such as white papers, press releases, or other articles that use the SEO
words or phrases. This strategy may even drive additional traffic to a
site if other sites provide links to those articles.
Consider the previously cited example of a call center outsourcing company that just
started offering a “home shoring” solution in which agents work out of
their homes. The company might learn that potential customers use similar
phrases like “homeshoring,” “at home agents,” “remote agents,” and
“virtual call centers.” Instead of creating a long list of meta tags
based on those words, the company could publish a white paper that talks
about how the call center industry is starting to use at-home agents
because they do not experience any of the barriers that are sometimes
found with offshore call centers. The company would include all of
its desired SEO phrases in the white paper so that its site ranks highly
in a Web search, and the white paper might be mentioned in online trade
publications, driving even more traffic to the company’s site.
The other problem with meta tags is that Google and Bing ignore them when
ranking pages. The SEO keywords may appear in the short blurb that appears
below the Web site name in the search results if they are used in the meta
tag, but they will not affect the actual page rankings.
Once the SEO phrases are in place, companies looking to start driving
more traffic to their site should start building inbound links, which are
links on other sites or portals that go to a particular Web site. These
links can affect page rankings because Google PageRank, the primary
mathematical algorithm behind the search engine that determines a site’s
ranking, considers “a link from page A to page B as a vote by page A for
page B.”16 Furthermore, “votes cast by pages that are
themselves ‘important’ weigh more heavily and help to make other pages
In the past, Webmasters would try to cheat search engines by creating
doorway pages, which offer nothing to real users but are simply designed
to be at the top of a search for one SEO phrase. When someone visits one
of these pages, he or she is redirected to the company’s “real” home page.
Search engines, however, have caught on to these types of strategies,
which are sometimes called spamdexing, and now omit sites that use
such schemes to falsely inflate their page rankings.
The more acceptable way to build links is through a targeted marketing
campaign. For example, a company might attract inbound links by
distributing a press release to wire services who would then post it on
multiple news sites. Alternatively, businesses can draw attention to their
Web sites by commenting frequently on sites that focus on their
Consider Social Media and Content Marketing
Web searches now focus much more on social media content then they did in
the past. Google and Bing also evaluate social media activity as one
way to determine a page’s search ranking. Bing has said that tweets from
people who have more “social authority,” a factor that considers how many
Twitter followers they have and how many people they follow, can add
weight to a search engine listing. So, if a celebrity mentions a certain
company in a post, it will help to raise that company’s name in the SEO
results. Similarly, Google said it tracks how many people share an article
on social media sites and then uses that information in its search engine
In order to take advantage of the potential SEO benefits that social
media offers, companies can include links to press releases, blog posts,
or other relevant content that allows readers to share them on their
favorite social networking site, or include widgets on their sites that
display their Twitter feeds or popular posts, providing easy ways for
users to tweet about the company.
Another popular supplement to an SEO strategy is called “content
marketing,” which involves creating free Web site content (such as blogs)
to attract visitors. These approaches work in conjunction: The content
creates a reason for people to visit a company’s site, and SEO helps to
direct more Web users to the content. But simply creating any content is
unlikely to be successful. Instead, organizations can increase their
likelihood of successful content marketing by defining their audiences and
measuring Web traffic and other metrics.17
Companies that want to evaluate how much traffic is being directed to
their sites through social media networks can configure Google Analytics,
an example of which is provided by Figure 2.
Figure 2. Social Media Statistics in Google Analytics
Source: seomoz.com (now moz.com)
Keep Up with Changes
The Internet is a volatile place where terminology evolves as quickly as
the ways people look for information. Search engines are also constantly
tweaking their algorithms. As such, a company’s SEO work is never done. A
strategy that helps a company get onto the top page of organic results on
Google one week may not work the next if a competitor develops a better
strategy or if Google changes its algorithms.
Evaluate the Effectiveness of a Strategy
SEO is a form of marketing, and as with any marketing initiative,
companies want to be able to calculate a return on investment (ROI).
Ultimately, SEO is not about getting more people to visit a Web site; it
is about getting more of the right people to visit. If SEO increases
the amount of Web traffic to an online store but few of the new visitors
make a purchase, the strategy is ineffective. Instead of looking only
at Web traffic as the ROI metric, companies should also look at a
conversion metric, such as increased sales or getting people to sign up
for a company newsletter.
“You won’t get far in SEO unless you know how to measure your results,
interpret those results, and use your analysis to make meaningful changes to
your approach,” says Jayson Demers. Describing Google Analytics, which he
considers “the best tool for the job” – particularly for novices – he
recommends the following: “Spend some time experimenting with different
metrics and reports, and read up on Analytics knowledge base articles.
There’s a deep world to dive into.”18
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- 1 Jan Grundmann. “Google Update 2019: Winners and Losers of
the March 2019 Core Update.” Searchmetrics.com. March 19,
- 2 Eli Schwartz. “Don’t Panic: ‘Algorithm Updates’ Aren’t
the End of the World for SEO Managers.” Tech Crunch. June 9,
- 3 Robert Williams. “Forrester: Mobile Will Drive 69%
of Search Ad Growth by 2022.” Mobile Marketer. January 5,
4 Reshu Rathi. “Mobile-First Web Design: Why You Should Make
It A Priority In 2021?” LambdaTest. January 15, 2021.
- 5 Jayson DeMers. “Six Local SEO Stats Every Online Marketer
Needs To Know.” Search Engine Land. August 13, 2015.
- 6 Ricky Wang. “Voice Search SEO Guide: Trends and Best
Practices.” Search Engine Land. September 2, 2020.
- 7 Rebecca Sentance. “The Rise of Answer Engine
Optimization: Why Voice Search Matters.” Search Engine Watch.
February 7, 2018.
- 8 Sean Si. “How Visual Search Impacts the Future of
SEO.” SEO Hacker. May 16, 2019.
- 9 “Google Image Best Practices.” Google. August 10, 2021.
- 10 Kristopher Jones. “What the Development of Visual Search
Will Mean for SEO.” Search Engine Land. January 8, 2018.
- 11 Blake Smith. “What Does Google’s Visual Search Push Mean
for You?” Impact. April 23, 2019.
- 12 Ibid.
- 13 Dan Alaimo. “Amazon Now Dominates Google in Product
Search.” Retail Dive. September 7, 2018.
- 14 Ibid.
- 15 Todd Bishop. “Amazon Maintains Big Lead Over Google and
Apple in U.S. Smart Speaker Market, New Study Says.” GeekWire.
August 4, 2021.
- 16 “Steps to a Google-Friendly Site.” Google.
17 Alex Thomas. “How to Create a Winning Content-Marketing
Strategy in 2021.” Entrepreneur. August 2, 2021.
18 Jayson Demers. “The First 9 Things You Should Learn in
SEO.” Forbes. February 28, 2018.
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- Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/
- Bing: http://www.bing.com/
- Google: http://www.google.com/
- Google SEO Starter Guide: http://static.googleusercontent.com/external_content/untrusted_dlcp/www.google.com/en/us/webmasters/docs/search-engine-optimization-starter-guide.pdf
- Moz: https://moz.com/
- Pinterest Lens: https://about.pinterest.com/en/lens
- Snapchat: https://www.snapchat.com/
- Yahoo: http://www.yahoo.com/
About the Author
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Geoff Keston is the author of more than 250 articles
that help organizations find opportunities in business trends and
technology. He also works directly with clients to develop communications
strategies that improve processes and customer relationships. Mr. Keston
has worked as a project manager for a major technology consulting and
services company and is a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer and a
Certified Novell Administrator.
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