SEO as most people think about it, doesn’t exist. Most people think of SEO as a technical exercise where a nerdy guy (rarely a girl) writes some magic code on a website and “poof” that website ranks at the top of Google for anything that SEO wizard wants.
The reason that people think SEO works that way is because that is actually how it used to work. Early on, search engines weren’t very sophisticated and didn’t to a great job of ranking one website above another one. If you understood the factors search engines used to rank websites you could simply change those factors on your site and, voila, you are numero uno.
The value of ranking wasn’t as great as there were only a small fraction of the 17 billion searches that happen today. Now, ranking high in Google can drive millions of visits to a website and millions of dollars in revenue. There is real money in SEO. Almost every modern business owner understands the value and the desire to rank high in Google has never been higher.
Google has improved it’s algorithm to rank websites considerably from it’s early days. If it didn’t constantly improve it’s algorithm, the highest ranking sites would only be the ones that exploited Google’s algorithm. But these sites often aren’t the sites a searcher is looking for. If Google served bad search results, searchers would start going to another search engine. Google earns over $45 billion in revenue by serving ads next to these results so they have a bit of an incentive to maintain the quality of search results.
It’s no small feat to serve users the best search results. There are billions of sites out there and “best” is pretty subjective. Google is continuously at war with people who want to serve their site at the top of the results, even if their site isn’t particularly good.
One of the most important ways Google determines how “good” a site is is by counting the number of times other websites have linked to it. They also look at what topics that site covers and how authoritative that site is. So the number of links don’t matter as much as how trustworthy the links are. This is an oversimplification, but you get the idea.
It’s hard to fake getting a link from The New York Times or the Wall Street Journal and it’s even harder to fake getting links from many reputable sites that relate to your topic. That’s why Google relies on these signals so much.
Which brings us back to PR. The most valuable thing you can do to rank highly in Google, is to get links from reputable sources. Getting those links is not a technical trick and SEO is no longer a technical exercise. SEO is now an exercise in PR and marketing.