Practical Ecommerce

When SEO Isn't Really SEO

A potential client recently asked a good question. She regularly reads various search-engine-optimization websites, and she was confused as to the current meaning of the term “SEO.” What, she wondered, was the difference between SEO and online marketing?

Search engine optimization, or SEO, is constantly changing. As the major search engines update their algorithms and redefine how their search results will be determined and displayed, the SEO industry must adjust and redefine to follow those trends. But there is a new trend as well: Search optimizers going well beyond search engine results and into other marketing areas but still calling it SEO. It gets a bit confusing.

What is SEO?

By definition, SEO refers to the process of optimizing a website with the goal of having major search engines (primarily Google, Yahoo! and MSN Live Search) return pages from that website in highly-ranked search engine results. SEO is almost always employed as a form of marketing, but it is a very specific form of marketing that takes place within the search engines.

Lately, some industry blogs have suggested that SEO has grown beyond its primary parameters, suggesting that successful SEO includes expanding into other realms of marketing. I don’t think that makes any sense. By definition, SEO – search engine optimization – does not include any form of marketing that goes outside of search engines. The use of the term SEO in such a way is disingenuous and confuses many webmasters and owners of ecommerce sites.

Let’s be clear: Online marketing (also referred to as web marketing and Internet marketing) is a term that includes SEO as one marketing aspect among many and not the other way around. It may be a matter of semantics, but as there are well-defined terms to describe the wider practices of marketing on the Internet, why is there a need to redefine SEO to reflect that process? It’s a very useful term as is!

Some SEO professionals may be recognizing that search engine optimization is moving away from a stand-alone industry and towards being one arrow in the quiver of the online marketing industry. They are compensating for this by simply including more forms of online marketing under the SEO heading.

Will SEO expand it’s meaning?

But SEO practitioners shouldn’t fear this move. If the natural path of SEO is to interact with other forms of online marketing, so be it. One can hold this SEO position quite confidently because SEO is not going away. Or, SEO practitioners can expand their boundaries to become more general online marketers – and call themselves just that. But, it should be one or the other; there is no point in redefining terms.

What does this imply for ecommerce sites that are simply trying to employ some SEO to boost sales? Well, first and foremost, a well-optimized and usable site is still priority number one. The best bang for your buck (or your time) is addressing the basic SEO assets of an ecommerce site because natural search engine results are still one of the best ways to drive traffic and sales.

If the SEO is solid for a website, look to augment it by incorporating other forms of online marketing, especially social media. Get involved in the blogosphere whether you do it yourself or hire an outside firm. Taking into consideration a website’s focus and demeanor, consider using YouTube and other video sharing sites to promote a website and drive traffic directly. Remember that PPC (pay per click) search advertising, while often overpriced, can augment a natural search campaign.

But don’t be confused by those who are twisting terms. SEO is still SEO – search engine optimization. Make SEO the skeleton of your online marketing efforts, but don’t be afraid to hang a little muscle and meat on those bones. If your optimization is strong, other online marketing avenues may be a natural – and logical – step towards more sales.

Jeff Muendel

Jeff Muendel

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  1. Legacy User April 1, 2008 Reply

    I think the article explains it very well. Always agreed that Internet Marketing is the broader term, while SEO was much more specific, mostly onsite SEO. SEM is another term tossed around a lot. I relate that term to be more geared toward PPC management, separating SEM from SEO or making SEM part of SEO or vice versa. How do you define SEM?

    — *Chris McElroy*

  2. Legacy User April 1, 2008 Reply

    This article provides clear thoughts on seo.
    A very good article.

    — *Owner of*

  3. Legacy User April 1, 2008 Reply

    In essence yes, but it also true that SEO's engage in marketing areas, technical areas (suggesting more SEO friendly platforms), content areas, copywriting, etc …

    Maybe it is that Online Marketing people should think SEO.

    — **

  4. Legacy User April 1, 2008 Reply

    Talking about 'social media' is appropriate. Now the trend is so that social media is 'in'. The other term for it is
    'viral marketing' or 'word-of-mouth'. I am sure it will keep developing / growing.

    — *Jacob*

  5. Legacy User April 1, 2008 Reply

    SEO is a smaller part of online marketing efforts, however, both disciplines must be conscience of each other for best results.

    — **

  6. Legacy User April 3, 2008 Reply

    Thanks for the comments from everyone so far. Per Chris McElroy's question on SEM, that too becomes a semantic issue. While the term is often interchangeable with SEO, SEM (search engine marketing) is sometimes used to include PPC efforts while SEO is used to denote natural search optimization…which of course brings the term NSO (natural search optimization) into the mix! But, each of them imply search engines at their core.

    — *Jeff Muendel*

  7. Legacy User April 4, 2008 Reply

    I relate that term to be more geared toward PPC management, separating SEM from SEO or making SEM part of SEO or vice versa.

    — **

  8. Legacy User April 4, 2008 Reply

    This article provides clear thoughts on seo.
    A very good article.

    Manager of:

    — **

  9. Legacy User April 10, 2008 Reply

    Great article! I'll use this as a resource to help others understand the difference. One company recently told me they were overwhelmed with all the "online acronyms." Thanks for the write-up.

    And you might want to read SEOmoz's post by Sarah Bird where she discovered that someone is trying to register "SEO" as a service mark:

    Pulling a Fast One: A Clever Internet Marketer Is Trying to Trademark "SEO"

    — *Dana Lookadoo*

  10. Legacy User July 10, 2008 Reply

    An interesting discussion. Though I thought it was pretty clear that SEO would be part of a larger marketing initiative rather than the other way round. I'd thoroughly recommend Per-so-na as a digital expert on optimising all search, viral and marketing needs. From what I hear they're also hot on information architecture and useability for business websites that can dramatically improve conversion rates for your site

    — *Roger Billington*

  11. yash_ September 23, 2008 Reply

    It’s been very true that all major Search Engines generally update their algorithms, but how any SEO can know that how exactly the search engine is indexing & what actually i think is not just advertising through those mediums, even now a days one more advertising coming up in great scale, i.e. by human publisher that will fairly comment on Blogs, forums etc & then drive traffic for some other website, & as that website got entry links from that particular popular community, google will definately start indexing them.

    -Yash Suri