What is SEO? Despite Industry Growth, Tech Term Still Not a Household Name

As companies embark on their goals for 2012, this year officials at SEO.com said they hope to educate more people about how search engine optimization can improve their business. While marketers already realize that SEO is a rapidly growing industry, many people don’t even know what search engine optimization is.

Search engine optimization is a type of online marketing that helps improve the visibility of a website in search engines like Google and Bing. The major goal of Internet marketing is to structure, optimize and promote a company’s website in such a way that the website ranks near the top of the results when people use search terms related to the business.

But Claye Stokes, a Director of SEO at SEO.com, said his own family has no idea what he does for a living.

I try to explain it, but they really don’t understand what it is,” Stokes said. “Now I just say I’m in Internet marketing. The term search engine optimization tends to go above people’s heads unless they are in marketing or really familiar with the Web.

Instead of spelling out the acronym, Stokes said that people try to pronounce the name of his company as “see oh dot com.”

Though experts expect online marketing to grow to a $20 billion industry in 2012, even an explosion in the number of SEO companies, combined with efforts by marketing professionals to educate businesses about search engine optimization, has not greatly increased awareness of the industry.

However, Jon Reese, director of marketing for SEO.com, said that should change as more people eschew brick-and-mortar stores to do their shopping online.

Throughout 2012, Reese said SEO.com will use its website to show videos, blog and offer free webinars for those interested in learning more about search engine optimization.

There is a lot a business can do to improve where its website ranks in the search engines. We discuss those techniques,” he said. “We expect the popularity of search engine optimization to grow once companies realize that Internet marketing helps conveniently place a website in front of those who are already in the mood to buy.

Still, the term “search engine optimization” is still largely unfamiliar to the general public.

Randomly asking people if they knew the meaning of search engine optimization during a recent stroll in Salt Lake City produced some interesting results:

“It means faster ability to search,” Salt Lake City resident Jim Halcom said.

Others echoed Halcom’s explanation, believing that search engine optimization was something that occurred on the consumer end of the search engines.

“It means that I can find almost limitless sources of information in the right places. Anything I look for, there’s a lot of different things I can use to find it,” Salt Lake City resident Megan Torgersen said.

Some people admittedly had no idea what search engine optimization was.

Only one of the people who were asked knew the meaning of SEO, describing it as “calibrating the under-the-hood descriptions of a website so that it is searchable through search engines to increase the visibility of the website.”

That description was pretty close, said Jordan Kasteler, an online marketing strategist for PETA who is based in Salt Lake City.

Kasteler, a search engine optimization expert, said he has gotten used to encountering people who do not understand what he does for work.

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