You should know what SEO is

Chances are you’ve heard the acronym SEO thrown around here or there. Maybe you took the time to ask what it stood for but zoned out. Or maybe you dumped it in your acronym garbage bin, nodded blankly and moved on. Either way, let’s break it down as painlessly as possible, shall we?

There are a lot of fabulous resources out there on mastering the basics of SEO, but we’re just going to get into what it is and why it matters. You should understand the nuts and bolts of it, because SEO is a big thing. It basically controls the information you see online.

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. Search engines are what we use to look up information online. Think Google, Bing or Yahoo! Those of us who are plugged in online use these all the time. We use them to define words, look up restaurants, hunt down movie trailers, research different topics, find people, you name it.

Ok, imagine we heard our friend raving about Sriracha lip balm and we must have it. We go on Google and we type it in and, voila! A list of results appears. These are the results from our search. You probably don’t think twice. You just click on the first or second search result that appears, and there you have it, Sriracha lip balm at your fingertips.

But there are a lot of factors at play behind this simple search for lip-burning balm. And this is at the heart of it. The order in which the links appear is the essence of SEO. Why does this matter? It matters because almost everyone clicks on the first or second link, and hardly anyone at all ever makes it to the second page of a search. When was the last time you hit that teeny, tiny “next” at the bottom of your search engine page?

The links that appear first get all the traffic. And traffic means MONEY AND POWER AND PRESTIGE. The more people clicking your site, the more cash that rolls in from advertising, the more people know your name and buy your product and the more social clout you wield.

So. The special internet magic that decides what links are listed first is very, very important. And that special internet magic is called algorithms, and these algorithms can be influenced through the practice of SEO. And this is why companies and people will spend millions of dollars paying people to work SEO for their stuff. Because they want to be listed first.

Now let’s bring it home. How many of you have heard of Rick Santorum? Well, this politician is known as much for his Google problem as he is his politics. This Mother Jones article Rick Santorum’s Anal Sex Problem says it all, so I won’t opine needlessly, but let’s just say – Rick Santorum’s name was hijacked by a peeved constituent and said constituent bought a website with his name and started to promote it. For a long, long time, any voter who looked him up would find this website in the top three sites that appeared in any search of his name.

Aaaaah. The mighty power of SEO. It can both make and break you.

Santorum and Sriracha aside, let’s summarize. SEO is the tactics that website developers and marketers use to increase their rankings. They do this because they want to be listed first. This can be for many reasons – for sales, for clicks, for humor, for power, for knowledge. As a consumer of the search engine results, you should be aware that there are teams of people out there working hard to push certain links to the top of certain searches (if you’re curious what some of these tactics are, I like this post explaining them). Needless to say, it’s not dumb luck.

So happy searching! And next time, take a moment to think about what appears and in what order and why. Be an informed consumer of all things!

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