The moment you mention the words ‘search engine optimization’ (SEO) a complex picture crops up of services offered which border onto black magic, achieving results which border on the miraculous, practically overnight.

Yet, SEO, is one of the least complicated professions you can imagine. It is driven by mathematics and hard logic and powered by results which themselves have a rock solid foundation in reason. So why all the theatrics, the smoke and mirrors and the outlandish claims? The answer to this is the same one which applies to the question ‘Why do we still believe in magic?’

 When you have a lack of knowledge of what SEO is supposed to do and how, and a surfeit of snake oil salesmen, you are going to end up with misinformation and hearsay being the norm rather than the exception.

As a search engine optimiser who’s been active on the web ever since there has been a web to be active in, it is fair to say that I have seen practically every iteration of the profession and been exposed to many of the less honourable practices of the SEO industry. I have also been part of the development of many of its cutting-edge practices in terms of quality content and link building and have taken websites from zero to the first page of Google, though when that happened there was always a carefully worked-out SEO plan involved and it never happened overnight.

 If you have an online business, being visible to search is crucial to its success. The web is growing at such a rapid pace that search becomes the de facto navigation which means that if your website is not on the first page (or at least the second page) of Google, you are unlikely to get much traffic, have many customers or make many sales.

 Given the importance of search (and SEO) you’ll be forgiven here for expecting now to hear a ‘secret’, something which you will be able to apply to your website and see it magically rise through the ranks of websites listed in Google search. The thing is there is no secret, but there is something you can do to help your website perform better.

 Over the years I have seen a transition from web masters who were chasing customers (and wanted to use SEO to get more) to webmasters who were chasing search engines. Traffic and eyeballs became an end-game which seemed to justify almost any means and, as a result, we got spam content (content of little value beyond its role to get you to a web page), link bait (articles written only to be linked to because they were controversial) and websites which seemed to forget completely that once they had your attention they really needed to work to solve your problems and answer your needs rather than simply count you as one more point in their traffic numbers game.

Now, that approach is totally wrong. I know SEO can become all-consuming and finding out about new techniques and applying them can be a full-time job in its own right, but a webmaster, with an online business to run should focus first on creating the kind of online environment and online experience which totally satisfies the customer.

 Google makes between 40 and 50 changes to its search algorithm each month and completely changes it every couple of years and the cycle is getting shorter. Tie yourself to chasing search engines completely ignores the fact that search engines evolve to actually help you connect with your online audience.

 SEO is a tool, just like the shop sign over a bricks and mortar store. It is there to help create visibility, help potential customers find what they want and create online branding. If you focus on making every part of your website, from the design you implement to the content you create and every little bit in between, as good as possible for the online visitor, then you’ll find that the need to chase every single search engine change is counterproductive and unnecessary.

 In my experience winners in the online world are not those who have up-to-the-minute SEO knowledge and work each day to change their websites and apply it, but those who are totally focused on developing their online business and use SEO as a tool which is drastically revisited only when there is a real business need, and not before.

About David Amerland

David Amerland is the author of ‘The Social Media Mind’ and the best-selling ‘SEO Help’, ‘Online Marketing Help’ and ‘Brilliant SEO’. His books on online marketing, SEO and the social media revolution have helped thousands of entrepreneurs build successful online businesses. When he is not busy writing he advises companies and start ups on social media strategy and gives talks about the social media revolution on the web. He maintains his own blog at where you can find practical SEO and social media advice and spends more time online than is probably healthy. You can follow him on G+ or @davidamerland.