What is an SEO strategy anyway?

I remember wondering this and discovering mixed opinions and differing ideas on how to best define this often mentioned but rarely explained component of website ownership.

Particularly it seems to depend on who you ask. Bring the question to your technical team and get one perspective, and usually the most detailed one, request clarification from a company's marketing team and receive another perspective but notice the response begins to lose some conviction, ask your business leadership team and in many companies get redirected back to the tech team. However, in this author's opinion, an SEO strategy is most successful when all three business units above take an active interest and make a dedicated effort in their own ways.

By explicit definition, SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization.

From that we gather that something needs to be optimized to create some desired effect on search engines. Okay, but clearly we are not going to all this trouble simply to benefit some search engines. The actual desired effect is increasing awareness and traffic to your website. So what is the difference between SEO and traditional marketing?

Generally speaking – nothing at all. SEO is a succinct way to say marketing the website.

Some people may argue that this term only applies to making the site itself contextually friendly to search engine spiders. To which I respond, why then are one way and reciprocal links a corner stone of SEO strategy? It's near common knowledge that good one way links are the most heavily weighed consideration by the Google system of ranking. So while some companies content may be relying on title tags and meta data, more ambitious organizations will take a more comprehensive approach and reap the benefits.

In my opinion, SEO can be divided into the following two main elements; content relevancy and online footprint. A website dedicated to cell phones should not rank anywhere on a search for sail boats. Just like a site dedicated to Wal-Mart would not rank as high as Wal-Mart.com itself. In this example, not only is the latter's content most relevant to the search term – but Wal-Mart's multimillion dollar marketing budget, solidifies their rank domination.

The keys to content relevancy are, understanding the nature of your content, defining and enhancing that content, and continuously expanding upon the content.

Search engines crawl your pages and certain pieces of data will receive greater weight based on how that data is defined. Definition occurs at the HTML level. The most heavily weighted words are obviously – the FQDN, or site name itself. A domain name will override nearly all other factors.

Other strongly weighted pieces of content include, your title tag, content wrapped in heading tags and a page's meta description. Putting the right content in your url's, titles, headings and meta tags is your method of communicating to the search engine what the content is and how importantly that content is relative to the rest of the page. On the low end of the spectrum would be content wrapped in paragraph tags or content not defined at all. Another example is providing accurate description in your image's ALT attribute. A search engine spider has no idea what a graphics illustrates. However, by including descriptive text in the title and/or alt attributes you are able to inform search engines that your site contains those 100 pictures of Selma Hayek - which consequently improves your relevancy to any Selma Hayek searches. Equally important is making sure a search engine spider can navigate your entire site.

These are the fundamentals, or the basics. Slightly more advanced is the process of keyword analysis. With single product e-commerce sites identifying your keywords is straightforward. However, with a news or informational site even understanding your keywords becomes much more complicated. Regardless of one product or thousands of different product types, the battle over keywords and key phrases is highly competitive.