A New Definition for SEO: SEO = RESULTS!

by Jeff Quipp March 3rd, 2009 

How do you define SEO?

The Problem With Current Definitions:
The reality is, most people and companies define it differently. Some define it as modifying in-page elements only. Others expand on that and define it as including off-page elements and services such as link building. I'll argue its this lack of clarity and consistency that is helping to give our industry a bad name, as it enables companies or individuals to point their fingers at others and say "you're not getting business from organic search because someone else did not do their job ... its not me!". Companies then get caught in the finger pointing confusion, frustrated with the entire experience, and begin look at the entire industry through tainted glasses.

At the same time, its hilarious really. Time and time again I listen to many in the industry try to define SEO. Inevitably, they always try to define SEO as a set of activities, practices or tasks. To me, this shows tremendous fault in both their logic and their company business models. After all, who really cares about the tasks that you engage in, if they do not produce RESULTS! Is there no expectation? I draw an analogy to employees who want paid for their time, when in that time they produce absolutely nothing. Purchasing a trampoline that won't bounce. Buying a new car that won't move, a pen that won't write, a shoe with no sole. You get the point. Isn't defining SEO as a set of tasks or activities really just a means of transferring responsibility and blame to someone else when the desired results are not achieved.

SEO is ...
There I said it ... my definition of SEO is about getting the desired results from organic search. Organic Search is the medium, just as are newspapers, radio, television. SEO (Search Engine Optimization) however is the process of getting the desired results from organic search using whatever tactics you feel comfortable using ... so long as you achieve the desired results! Merely improving results is insufficient, as it still does not necessarily mean generating any real results ... instead it has to be the achievement of the desired results.

I know this type of definition is a great departure from how all other marketing media are defined (eg. newspaper advertising, radio, television, etc.), but we're not like any other media? Also, in this new information age economy, its time we started to define marketing by success and results, rather than by tactics and tasks. Clients do not care what goes into an effort ... only what results. Products already do this ... when you buy a product typically, you buy it knowing what it will do ie. what the result will be.

So, for those of you who argue SEO is about in-page elements only, ask yourself this question; does your client think he's investing in your time, or does he expect something more like results? Keep in mind of course that results need not be defined as 'rankings', and that we as SEOs can never absolutely guarantee anything. We can set expectations though ie. desired results. And I'll bet he's investing to get those desired results!

In summary, to those of you who define SEO as anything other than the achievement of desired results ... stop pointing fingers. You know the old saying ... while there's one finger pointing at someone else, 3 are pointing right back at you!


Just my humble opinion!

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23 Responses to “A New Definition for SEO: SEO = RESULTS!”

  1. SEO Company says:

    This is the accurate definition of SEO and i thanks for sharing it with us. Regards

  2. Getting results from organic search is a definition of SEO I definitely resonate with. Results drive referrals and continued support from clients.

    Unfortunately the acronym SEO is becoming synonymous with underhanded doings and non-delivery on promises, hence I am becoming more and more inclined to use phrases like "online marketing" and the like in promoting my online search ranking efforts on behalf of clients.

  3. Zaslony says:

    People who don't produce any results yet want to get paid are destroying the good name of the entire "community". It's obvious that your client doesn't care about the way the site looks to the search engine – he cares about measurable effects.

  4. Hi! Nice blog! There are really so many definitions for SEO and that is really a nice one, i mean the definition that you have given to such. Have a nice day.! God bless you.

  5. Ryan Martin says:

    It looks like you are point Adam Smith's invisible hand 😉

    In regard to your definition of SEO, I agree completely. It doesn't matter what you do on, or off site if the results are poor. I associate SEO, with increased positioning of organic search results as well. Nothing more and nothing less.

  6. Agreed. If there is not an obvious ROI, then why bother doing it at all?

  7. Michael D says:

    I think your work in SEO is inversely proportional to your activity on twitter Jeff. Meaning you get a lot done. :)

  8. Martin says:

    Hi All,Thanks for thi interesting read.it is really good article and I agree with you Ryan Martin.

  9. Metaspring says:

    I have heard a lot of definitions of SEO and a lot of them are self serving. Yours, getting the desired results from organic search seems to be the most accurate one.

  10. Jeff, for just a second I thought you were going to say link development wasn't an SEO activity! If it's the last thing I do I'll convince you it's website promotion not SEO!;-)

    I always look to define the clients goals first so I know the quantifiable result to measure campaign success. IMO, most SEO's don't really do that. Instead they measure traffic, rankings or sales without really knowing what the clients goals are or worse really understandiing their clients business.

  11. Jeff Quipp says:

    @ SEOCompany … thanks! Glad you agree.

    @ SEO Tips South Africa … so true! Thanks for your comment.

    @ Zaslony … yup. Results, results, results.

    @ Chaunna Brooke … thank you for your comment.

    @ Ryan Martin … I did my undergrad in Economics, so Adam Smith's Invisible Hand Theory resonates with me.

    @ Custom Sheetmetal …precisely … why bother at all if you're focused only on the tasks.

    @ Michael D … haha. Yes, I save much time by keeping a low profile on Twitter. Again, for me, I look hard at results, and eliminating those activities that don't produce them for clients.

    @ Martin … thanks Martin!

    @ Metaspring … I like this definition too. Anything that results in a win-win is ideal!

    @ Terry Van Horne …you're missing the point Terry. SEO isn't activities. Classifying it as such provides too much room for failure to be accepted, and fingers to be pointed (ie. I can hear it now … oh no, those results aren't possible without link building, and that's web promotion not SEO. We don't do web promotion, so blame someone else. We did our tasks and want paid for them … results or not!)

    In reality Terry, SEO is a process … a commitment! Its solely about getting the desired results from organic search, not about defining what activities do and do not constitute it. My definition doesn't allow for failure … yours does. Which definition do you think clients will like better?

  12. Jeff, I do see your point. But we may have to agree to disagree. What you call finger pointing I call accountability. Who is accountable does matter. Determining what caused the poor results and who is accountable is the only way you can make adjustments to get the results you are talking about. I agree it takes time and commitment to the strategy but… accountability isn't finger pointing it's how you decide what needs to be adjusted to improve the results. In this day of SEO specialization I "get" what you are saying. There can't be finger pointing between the SEO, sub contractors and the client or anarchy and negativity result in never improving the result and a terrible experience for everyone.

    IMO, clients are beginning to think they can read a few blogs and manage their own campaigns. So they choose an optimization team to provide the SEO strategy and advise on technical issues. They hire a separate link other services. All the while not knowing anything other than the price is cheaper to differentiate services. Then they second guess all the providers through the whole process bacause they weren't sure about their first decision.. Ie to hire the contractor. Sorry, that won't work and IMO, is a recipe for disaster. if I'm accountable I'm making all the calls or I don't wear it… that's it in a nutshell. I won't allow myself to get intio that position, again, ever! Lifes wayyyyyy to short for that nensense.

    There are also some of us who think the fact any idiot who knows a little HTML, reads a few blogs and copies everyones' services can say they do what it has taken many of us a decade or more to learn. Without definitions and boundaries and a bar set for professionals to test there is nothing to differentiate the guy who charges $30K for a customixed CMS with built in SEO from the idiot on Guru who charges $3000 for optimizing a 1000000 page datadriven site, and may get the same results. Sorry… I'll never believe that is what a client wants.

    Mostly clients want to know that the money they spent wasn't on a pig and poke. I can tell you every complaint I hear is more about not understanding the communication from the SEO and subs. Therefore it comes across as mistrust. Case in point I have a client that I got only because I provide clients an itemized detailed list of what I charged them for and the time it took to do it. That client left a company that had them in a #1 position for their a term that dives about 30% of sales, but, wouldn't tell them what they did to earn their monthly fee. That's where the transparency is lacking and a big part of the mistrust because services and activity isn't documented because it's not defined.;-)

  13. Go Local SEO says:

    I have to agree with this post completely.

    I do local SEO and can rank some sites with a handful of links and a title change. However, some sites need a significant amount of additional work. The owners of these sites really only want to see their sites on page one of Google no matter what it takes to get there. They don't care what I do as long as it does not endanger their rankings. They want results. That's what they pay for.

  14. Ian says:

    Yes and no. I agree results are the main part, but you can do fully functional, proper SEO and not see 'results' if the product is junk and the desired result was sales. Just as you can advertise a junk product through TV and not sell anything.

    Is it the fault of the ad agency who bought the commercial time that the product sucks and didn't sell when they matched the target market and delivered visibility and attention?

    You *can* put lipstick on a pig… it's just stupid to do it. That doesn't mean the same practice is not SEO any more if the product doesn't sell.

  15. Todd says:

    Agree 100% with Ian above me. You can rank number 1 but if you don't sell because of a garbage product…who cares?

    Oh and btw OP, approving comments from people clearly trying to link build on a search blog and then taking the time to thank them for their comment really destroys any shred of credibility you have.

  16. John Clark says:

    Nice trend of thought. I am constantly pulled by clients who can only believe that if all their products ranked page 1 on Google they'd be on easy street – and why can't I get them there.

    Never mind that their search term is only looked for 100 times a day and there are 3 million sites competing for that term – just get them there. But ask them to represent themselves in social media sites, blog and do what's necessary for exposure and you get the 'deer in the headlights' response. Then they get another snake oil sales email promising them they can get it done single handedly – for $300 a month.

    It can be frustrating – so thanks for a little more ammo to help them understand we can't just meta tag them to success.

  17. Dieta says:

    When a company pays for SEO they expect that it'll bring them more traffic and therefore new customers. The don't care if the site gets optimised and everything is done the right way but the website STILL ranks low in search enignes. It's obvious that they pay for results. My mother's company for example pays only those months when her website is in the first 5 google results. If it's 6 or 7 she doesn't need to pay.

  18. John Clark says:

    This is odd to me. The question comes to mind as in ranking top 5 for what? If your site is abcwidgets.com and people search for abcwidgets, you are going to be in the top 5. No problem. If you are a divorce lawyer and are expecting to be ranked in the top 5 for 'divorce lawyer' with 5 zillion other competing for that term there isn't much of a chance.

    I can always promise top 5. I can't always promise top 5 for terms that people actually use and matter. Besides, search is also locally geared. A person in England won't get the same results for 'divorce lawyer' as a person in Georgia. Google knows you are interested in a English court lawyer, not someone in Atlanta.

    I can promise top 5 for 'divorce lawyer bill smith atlanta' no problem. Traffic from that? I can promise 0. The specifics on 'top 5 for what' are all important here.

  19. Ilia - SEO says:

    Why not give it a dictionary definition of something along the lines of:"The process of improving your search engine rankings" and then SEO companies can call it whatever they want to call it :)

  20. Well the biggest problem in my eyes is that there are so many ideas and definitions on SEO and what it is. Everyone measures it different also. Some people want just rankings, some want visitors and some don't know what they want.

  21. Nick that's the issue, the measurement! Jeff is spot on you have to measure results. Rankings aren't a "suitable" result metric specifically because Googles' personaliztion and Universal SERPs are impossible to use because the results can and often vary for every user. If the industry said "measurement" of SEO effectiveness is best based on a quantifiable (true sales metric) like performing a measurable action by the user then a lot of the problems are gone. The only real environment where visitors is a "conversion" is when the visitor has value ie: site is monetized by ads or the goal of the site is to generate new visitors.

    IMO, the whole problem is that SEOs don't base measurement of success on client goals. Clients are allowing the SEO to choose… often based on how their reporting is able to measure success. ie if the SEO is using WP they measure rankings.

  22. Good points. SEO has to be considered in on-page and off-page. Both of these elements factor into getting organic search results, which, as you mentioned, is THE GOAL of SEO.

  23. Agreed with a few comments here. SEO should be measure with popularity of your brand as well. If you have a product and no one talks about it but does well due to SEO – it will not last. If there is not an obvious ROI, then why bother doing it at all?:)