What is SEO (part 2)
Search Engine Optimisation

What is SEO (part 2)

28th May 2015

This post is the ideal sequel of What is SEO and what it is not. A rant, which I published here on State of Digital a couple of months ago.

That post was – as the title clearly tells – a rant.

This one, on the contrary, has a positive nature and will try to clarify:

  1. What makes SEO a unique digital marketing discipline;
  2. How it is different from others because of its same main metrics;
  3. Why it is transversal and what this transversality really means;
  4. What are the figures composing the SEO ecosystem;
  5. What are the challenges SEO will face in the near future.

On the nature of SEO

to be or not to be

SEO is Technical Marketing:

  • It is Marketing, because its purpose is to promote a brand through its website and, in general, every online expression of the brand (eg: YouTube channel or Pinterest Business page);
  • It is Technical, because the means used by SEO to promote brands are the search engines: Google and all web environments that offers search capabilities, including social networks, mobile application stores and vertical engines.

SEO then, always works now and will work in the future in two bands:

  1. The algorithms that determine how search engines work;
  2. Users, whose behavior and intentions of those algorithms try to satisfy.

SEO therefore, is the most technical of all disciplines that contribute to the success of a wider digital marketing strategy.

However, the same search engines’ evolution (Google in particular) and the pervasive influence of social media environments in the field of search, means that SEO has recovered as its original focus the users – now SEO can rightly be defined as Search Experience Optimization.

In other words, we do not optimize Search Engines (well, we never did it), but we work on optimizing the visibility of a brand in every action users commit related to that primary human need that Search is.

Moreover, for achieving the greatest results, we base our strategy on the ultimate goal of creating visibility bridges between what users need and what brands can offer them in order to fulfill its needs.

Somehow and despite of what its technical nature could make us think, SEO is deeply humanistic.

SEO Metrics

The same nature of SEO explains its metrics:

  1. Visibility;
  2. Traffic;
  3. Transaction.



Organic Search visibility means the number of times a site appears in the SERPs.

To get the best visibility, SEOs must:

  • Work so that the website never loses its ability to be correctly indexable by search engines.

This involves deep knowledge about information architecture, taxonomy and ontology, continuous updating of the technical know-how and close cooperation with developers.

  • Work so that the website correctly responds to the targeted audiences’ needs.

This point implies that SEO must also have thorough knowledge of marketing, so to understand the interests and needs of the audience a Brand targets through its website.



With Traffic we mean the volume of visits a website earns thanks to its visibility.

Rankings, however, are only one metric linked to the goal of organic traffic, not the one-metric, because the same evolution of search engines (Google especially) has made the value of ranking relative (i.e.: one thing is ranking first in a page without Answers or other SERPs’ “polluting” elements, and the contrary).

In addition, the traffic source nature has changed in terms of priorities.

If once the priority was traffic from the same search engines, now – as it was already needed in the past (ask to those hit by Panda/Penguin) – the goal of SEO is to achieve a balance between the three major sources of organic traffic:

  1. Organic Search,
  2. Direct,
  3. Referral

This balance is needed for reducing as much as it is possible the dependence from a single channel: the search engines themselves.

This explains why SEO is obsessed with content.

Because it is content – meant as everything a website proposes to the public independently of its format – the means with which a Brand answers its audience’s needs and obtains recognition from the people and websites influencing its audience in form of links and mentions.

Only doing so, it is possible:

  • To obtain qualified referral traffic (audience targeting);
  • To improve the relevance of the site and its authority, thus contributing to the branding of the brand and to direct traffic, notably based on a Brand has power;
  • To increase the organic traffic, as links obtained directly or indirectly contribute to improving the quality of organic visibility of a website.

Consequently today:

  • SEO is maybe the only digital discipline not focused exclusively on the Buyer personas, but also the Audience ones;
  • SEO is that discipline that more tends to use more techniques typical of other disciplines (Social Media and Content Marketing), and that need to interact and collaborate with them;
  • The classic SEO Link Building specialty has substantially transformed into Digital PR.



With conversions we mean the capability that SEO has, both through internal and external actions, technical, but not only technical, to contribute directly or partially to the ability of a site to convert visitors into users and customers.

Therefore, although it is not a discipline that can be defined as belonging to SEO, SEO is doing CRO as part of its strategic remit.

At the same time, conversions justify the increasing importance of understanding and optimizing the so-called users’ metrics.

To conclude, visibility, traffic and transaction, and those others metrics depending on them, explain why SEO is such a heavily data driven discipline and that shows in data analysis as its main source of information and decision making.

The transversality of SEO

Because of its nature and metrics, SEO should be considered as a cross-discipline in the field of digital marketing.

SEO triage

Technical SEO involves daily contact with the programming area of a site, as well as the areas of marketing and even sales of a company.

Digital PR entails close, almost symbiotic relationships with Social Media and Content Marketing.

The importance of conversions justifies the increasingly growing relationship between SEO and Web Analytics/CRO.

Nevertheless, what should be clear is that it is not – for example – the duty of SEO to create content, but to work to make content the more visible and discoverable, and to be better and more responsive to the targeted audiences.

SEO, then, should not interfere with Social Media and Content Marketing strategies, but collaborate with them, helping and informing them, and vice versa.

At the same time, as I told so many times, we should not consider SEO a synonym of Inbound Marketing or Growth Hacking, but just an element of those two strategies, with which it shares common goals.

SEO Figures

We have said before that SEO is a technical marketing discipline.

This means that the SEOs are technical marketers, hence an SEO professional must have a strong technical knowledge, but also an equally strong marketing knowledge.

The latter, unfortunately, it is not reflected in the classic SEO job postings, where it is still almost exclusively requested a technical know-how similar to the one asked to a developer.

And unfortunately, the need to know marketing still seems far from being felt as such by many SEOs too, which is one of the reasons why many campaigns we see are so poorly effective, albeit – maybe – technically excellent.

SEO, today and even more in the near future, is a discipline where different specialized figures concur:

  • Technical SEO;
  • The local search SEO specialist that focuses its work on things like Google Maps but also in vertical search engines such as Yelp or Tripadvisor;
  • The Video SEO specialist, with YouTube and video marketing in general being its more specific work area;
  • Specialized SEO Ecommerce, because of specificities of this niche;
  • The News site SEO specialist;
  • The ASO (App Store Optimization) specialist;
  • The Digital PR, a figure that shared with Content Marketing.

Obviously, there is also the figure of the SEO Strategist, whose function is to inform, design and coordinate the general Search Marketing strategy and its synergies with the other digital marketing disciplines.

Credit: moz.com
Credit: moz.com

Anyway, every SEO should be a T-Shaped marketer; a professional specialized in a specific field of SEO, who at the same time has an extensive knowledge not only of the other areas of Organic Search, but also of the nature of the other disciplines of web marketing and how they work.

It is this T-Shaped nature which makes SEOs so different from all others marketers.

SEOs have been always accused of working in a silo, but – ironically – now that is not something of which they can be accused, but Social Media and Content Marketing marketers.

An SEO, that real SEO who knows the science behind his art and take advantage from getting dirt with other disciplines, is the Inception master.

He’s like those specialists who decide what color will be fashionable in a couple of years, just being able to understand the incoming trends (why do people love white cars now? Wasn’t it a cheap color?).

Every SEO, independently by his specialization, should aim to be that SEO figure I described. If not, he will be just a worker and his actions won’t really have an impact able to stand the pass of time.

SEO as industry brand

SEO has undoubted brand reputation issues. We all know it.

The problem though, it is not the ignorance that companies can have the SEO. Companies are well aware – although sometimes in a wrong way – of the importance search marketing can have for their success online.

The real problem of the SEO Brand are the SEOs themselves and their (in) ability to sell themselves and then their (in)ability in making stand clear the difference from what SEO really is and what it is not.

That is why, talking in plain english, a client cannot understand why he should pay 5,000 pounds (or more) for something another “SEO” sells for 200.


Credit  www.adamdince.com
Credit www.adamdince.com

The challenges SEO will confront with are already here:

  1. Über-Personalization;
  2. Glocalization (as saying, creating a global brands but paying attention to local specifities);
  3. Voice Search and ubiquity of search;
  4. Predictive Search;
  5. Vertical Search Engines optimization (eg: Amazon).

These are the challenges we should work on right now and they are such to wish a very long life to SEO, because – you know – SEO is about Search and searching is and always will be a human need.


Written By
Gianluca Fiorelli is an SEO and Web Marketing Strategist, who operates in the Italian, Spanish and English speaking countries market. He also works regularly as independent consultant with bigger international SEO agencies.
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