What is SEO? A 20 minute presentation

I’m often asked ‘What is SEO?’ and usually give the simple answer – Getting websites to the top of Google. But in reailty there’s much more to it than that! Find out what’s involved in modern SEO!

This short presentation was originally created to be presented to a selection of clients who, like many other people I talk to, were having a hard time understanding why SEO is important and why it’s not simply a one-off process. The presentation lasted approximately 20 minutes and aimed to answer the simple question ‘What is SEO’ in a way that clients with little digital marketing knowledge would understand.

Slide 1: What is SEO?

Before jumping straight in ask yourself the question “what does SEO mean to me?”. It’ll likely be slightly different to the person you’re sitting next to. Some think it’s all about making money through Google, others a way of shouting about your brand online. Other’s think it’s simply black magic. With the exception of the third suggestion, you’re probably on the right lines.

The truth is, SEO is a combination of technical computer knowledge and creative content marketing, all with the aim of getting more people to visit your website through increased exposure in search engine result pages, known as SERPs. Let’s take a look at an example SERP.

Slide 2: An example Search Engine Result Page (SERP)

In the example SERP the question ‘What is SEO?’ has been asked. Google, in 0.82 seconds has reviewed over 153 million pages which have some relation to that term and returned the best ones in its organic results. However, the best result from Google’s calculations isn’t the top result.The top result in the SERP is RankingCoach.com – A paid advert. The second result, 123-reg.co.uk is also a paid advert. These adverts compete in their own way, and are still affected by the quality of a website, but often appear above organic results.

So why not just pay to be top of Google? Well, other than cost, here’s one reason that you need to compete in the organic space:

Search engine users overwhelmingly click on organic results on Google and Bing by a margin of 94 percent to 6 percent. That’s according to new research from GroupM UK and Nielsen, published today by eConsultancy, based on a sample of 1.4 billion searches conducted by 28 million UK citizens in June 2011.

An article by Search Engine Watch

So, the top organic result is in-fact SearchEngineLand.com. However, in the example there’s also a quote from Wikipedia appearing above the top organic result. This is a relatively recent move from Google to answer questions directly without the need to leave the SERP at all. This is known as ‘knowledge graph’.

Slide 3: The definition of SEO

So it’s safe to assume that if Google’s knowledge graph is returning that statement to the query “What is SEO?” then that’s a pretty good place to start.

“The process of affecting the visibility of a website in a search engine’s unpaid results.”

Visibility is the key here: It’s not nececerily about sales, brand awareness or anything else (although they’re often very closely correlated). It’s simply about how visible a website is within the unpaid results of a search engine. This has always been true of SEO – But the process itself has changed significantly over the years.

In mordern SEO, it’s no longer about sticking as many keywords onto a page as possible, or simply getting as many links to your site. Modern SEO requires us to think about the people, too. Good SEO and a great user experience go hand-in-hand, and it’s long been Google’s ultimate ambition to deliver the best possible experience.

Slide 4: The focus of good SEO

Google’s mantra, “Focus on the user and all else will follow”, is a smart one. If people have a good expereince then they’ll more likely return. That increases the amount of searches being made, which consuquently means more ads being shown (remember those paid ads?). Ultimately, a better internet experience means more money for Google. And let’s not forget, it’s a pretty morally solid approach to take, too!

By delivering the best results, showing the best content and recommending the best experience to people searching on Google, people are more likely to leave with what they needed and come back when they need the answer to something else. So how does Google know which websites best meet these criteria?

Slide 5: Google’s algorithms

Google, like every other search engine, runs on complex algorithms which are computer programs that aim to return the best results as quickly as possible. There’s three algorithms in perticular which have had a lot of exposure to the SEO world in recent times.


The Panda algorithm focused on content, in perticular quality and uniqueness. If I’d taken my content for this article from another presentation, for example, it’d be Panda’s job to identify that and make sure the original source got the best score.


Penguin shook up the SEO community with its arrival, focusing on the links that are made between websites. Links should be recommendations to other sources of information, so links from dodgy websites should be avoided or removed.


Pigeon’s job is to make sure that local businesses and store locations are given more exposure in search engine results for local searches. These can be explicit (eg. “Shoe shop in Nottingham”) or inferred (eg. “Shoe shop near me”).

Each algorithm that Google uses takes various signals from websites. These signals, or clues, are used to derermin which websites have the best content.

Slide 6: SEO signals

Signals or clues are the things that search engine optimisers try to strengthen and make sure Google is aware of. Whilst not all of the 200+ signals are known, lots of SEO agencies and websites have done thorough research. Copy, content, links, technical elements and social media all have correlations with search presence.

In modern SEO high quality content is a focus point as it not only provides a substantial amount of content to Google but also receives links and social awareness if done well.

Slide 7: The periodic table of SEO

The periodic table of SEO success factors, produced by SearchEngineLand.com, shows some of the signals that make a successful SEO campaign. The infographic is a great example of content in itself, receiving lots of attention on social media and discussion (plus links) on relevant websites.

From the table you can see that there’s positive and negative factors, and signals work together to increase liklihood of success. There’s also on-the-page and off-the-page SEO, which we’ll go into next.

Slide 8: The four corners of SEO

SEO can be split into on-page and off-page, as well as technical and creative.

On-page vs off-page

On-page refers to anything that takes place on your own website. For example this may be changing the code of your website or amending the wording on a page. In comparison, Off-page relates to anything that doesn’t happen on your own site, but rather someone elses. This includes links to your site and articles on other websites.

Technical vs creative

Technical elements of SEO are concerned primerily with code and links; These are the scientific parts of SEO and relate closely to website development. Creative aspects of SEO include content creation and marketing. These are focused on copywriting, web design and being able to build relationships with influencers.

These two views of SEO produce four unique areas, each of which focuses on different princibles.

  • On-page technical: Your site’s user experience
  • Off-page technical: Websites linking to your site
  • On-page creative: Great, unique & relevant content
  • Off-page creative: Markeitng your content to the right people

Despite being different in their approach, they are closely related and reliant on one-another in order to see real benefit.

Slide 9: User experience (On-page technical)

Google has been increasing its expectations of websites user experience in recent times, with the Summer 2015 mobile-friendly update demonstrating that mobile user experience is more important than ever before. User experience covers the entire experience whilst on your website, regardless of device. This includes the time it takes pages to load, the way that content is structured and how your website scales to different screen sizes.

Content structure

When we talk about content structure, we can refer to two things. The first is the way that pages are related to each other. This is commonly known as information architecture. For example, on a gifting website it may make more sense to order your pages by recipient (eg. For him, for her), rather than price (Under £20, £21 – £30).

The second meaning of content structure is how content is written on the page. Each page should have a heading, sub-headings and annotated images to make sure that Google can quickly scan and make sense of a single web-page’s content. This is done through HTML using heading tags, and is just the tip of the iceberg for on-page SEO.

Slide 10: Links (Off-page technical)

Knowing how to handle the links (recommendations) coming from other websites to yours (called a ‘backlink profile’) and take required action makes up a large part of the off-site technical quarter. Again, in modern SEO we shouldn’t be paying (or even really asking!) for links back to a website, but relying on people wanting to naturally share the content that we’re putting online. Whilst this isn’t always strictly true, you should never pay (in money, chocolate, love or anything else!) for links.

Not all links are created equal. The higher quality a website that links to you, the better the result. For example, a link from BBC.co.uk, a highly respected and authoritative website, is a much better recommendation than one from a small blog (Although there’s room for high quality links from blogs, too!).

Some sites can be a little dodgy, probably because of some bad or out-of-date SEO. Receiving links from sites such as this can negatively affect your ranking in Google’s results and should be flagged to Google. Once flagged (known as disavowing) these links should no longer affect your rank.

Slide 11: Content (On-page creative)

Here’s where it gets fun! On-page creative covers any creative assets that appear on your site. These can include the copy and images that make it onto your product page, or the large infographic that you produce showing product popularity across the globe. Whatever the content, it should always be great, unique and relevant.

Great is not the end goal, it’s the entry-point!

Rand Fishkin of Moz (A super-awesome SEO agency in LA, USA) recently discussed the “Great, unique and relevant content” conundrum in a video. In it, he explains that due to the increasing competition from the increasing amount of content, “great” is simply the entry-point to SEO success. In reality, the content you produce should always be at least the best peice of content you can find on the subject, whilst aiming for 10x better!

Slide 12: Types of content

The guys over at SmartInsights produced a very cool infographic to demonstrate the different types of content and how they can be utilised for different purposes. I wrote an in-depth article on the content marketing matrix previously which is worth checking out.

Slide 13: Content marketing (Off-site creative)

So you’ve created the most amazing peice of content on the internet, now what? Well, the ultimate goal is always to get picked up naturally, but more often than not you need to part-take in a process called “content marketing”.

What is content marketing?

Content marketing is the process of talking to people to inform them of your amazing content. It can be done by talking directly to your audience, or by talking to people that your audience follow and listen to. The people that your audience follow are known as influencers, and they’re often targeted as they’re much more likely to produce a link to your content than someone in your audience.

But remember, you shouldn’t be asking for links. So how do you stand the best chance of getting one? That’s where relationship building comes into play: Building relationships with influencers means they’ll be much more likely to want to share your content when you let them know about it!

Digital PR in an SEO strategy?

Including digital PR in your outreach efforts is garunteed to give better results, and is mutually beneficial for both your digital and PR teams. You’re much more likely to get those high quality links you’ve been after, and it’s free, brand-building and engaging content for your PR team to talk about.

Slide 14: Take-away points

So, hopefully that gives an overview of SEO in 2015. There’s a few take-away points worth remembering;

  • Google’s algorithms change, so keeping up-to-date is important.
  • Content marketing is essential and best practice in modern SEO.
  • There’s many signals to consider, which fall under a number of categories.
  • SEO is a “creative science” which includes technical knowledge and creative flare.
  • Great is only the point of entry, not the goal.

And most importantly;

  • Focus on the user and all else will follow.
John Alexander Rowley

An enthusiastic digital marketing professional passionately dedicated to increasing the online presence of businesses and individuals in order to improve engagement and ROI.

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