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Decoding SEO: Understand What Your Consultant is Telling You All you know is that you want your website at the top of online consumer searches. Working with, and understanding, your SEO consultant, will help you get there.

By Andrew Raso Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Search engine optimization, or SEO, is the kind of techie, jargon-filled field that can give those outside the industry a feeling of dread. It can sound overwhelming and difficult, and it might be enough to turn you off SEO consulting for good. But it shouldn't.

SEO is just what it sounds like -- optimizing your website so that a search engine like Google ranks it favorably. In North America, SEO is pretty much synonymous with "SEO for Google."

Google it.

Google is by far the most popular search engine used. It is also notoriously hush-hush about exactly how their SEO strategy works (even if it's very transparent in other areas). We assume other search engines, including Bing and Yahoo, use very similar SEO strategies as Google.

Unfortunately, SEO can never be fully mastered because it's an evolving set of best practices.

That said, one of the most important aspects of good SEO -- and this will always be the case -- is content. This may include website text, images and videos.

Related: 10 Questions to Ask When Hiring an SEO Firm

Good content.

If you hear your SEO consultant say, "We'll use LSI keywords to suit recent algorithm changes and get you to the top of the organic rankings," your instinct might be to nod your head and go with the flow.

But what does that really mean?

In that jargon-filled sentence alone, there are four phrases that can be tough to understand. Let's break them down:

  • LSI: Latent semantic indexing, or LSI, is a strategy used by search engines that searches for synonyms related to your keywords. For example, if the title of a web page is "Top Decorating Trends of the Year," you'll likely see key phrases like "outdoor kitchens," "barn doors" and "granite islands."

  • Keywords: These are the most important words in your online content. These are the words potential visitors are typing into Google and other search engines. For example, if you operate a doughnut shop in Houston, a keyword is probably "doughnut." However, a key phrase is "best Houston doughnut." Increasingly, key phrases are more important than keywords because, as you can see, "doughnut" doesn't really narrow down searches so Houstonites with a sweet tooth can find you.

  • Algorithms: Technically, an algorithm is a set of rules/formulas to be followed for best results. The term is found in many industries. In SEO, it's the semi-secret formula search engines use to decide which websites rank number one, two, three and so on when somebody Googles a keyword or phrase. If someone Googles "guitar lessons Tampa," there's a reason a certain site pops up first -- it's because of Google's algorithm, which is constantly evolving and being tweaked.

  • Organic rankings: Organic rankings are rankings which occur naturally. There's really nothing natural about it -- a lot of hard work goes into your SEO strategy and search engine algorithms. The term "organic rankings" was created to differentiate it from "paid rankings." Have you ever noticed that when you Google something, paid results that say "ad" pop up first? Those aren't organic. Like everything else in life, you can pay to be at the top.

Related: Here's What Really Matters for SEO in 2016

Keyword variables.

You can probably guess that your keywords and key phrases will change over time. These are called keyword variables. For example, a variable of "Houston dog grooming" might be "Dog grooming Houston," "Houston dog groomer" or "Sugar Land groomer."

Keyword variables can change quickly -- even throughout the day -- or slowly, depending on your industry, the keyword/key phrase and trends affecting your business.

That's one of the reasons you're never finished with SEO, and why it's so helpful to have an SEO expert taking care of this constantly shifting landscape for you.

The importance of speed.

The speed of your website is another important SEO factor that your consultant should bring up. If he doesn't, it's time to look elsewhere.

Google's goal is to connect people typing in queries like "Houston dog groomer" to the best possible match. The best matches don't just have great content, but also load quickly and look beautiful.

Many factors determine the speed of a website. Some are in your control, and others, like the Wi-Fi connection of your visitor, are not. You can speed up your website by reducing clutter on your site, such as pop-ups and invisible text your web designer may have left behind.

Related: 7 Red Flags Your SEO Firm is Going to Rip You Off

To optimize the speed of your site, a skilled SEO consultant will analyze your site and determine what might be slowing it down.

Here are a few other pieces of SEO jargon that might come up in this conversation that are actually pretty simple to understand:

  • Mobile readiness: Like SEO, this phrase is also what it sounds like -- ensuring your site is ready to display well on any mobile device. This can be done by creating a mobile version of your website and/or by creating an app.

  • Responsive design: Again, it's all in the name. This is a website that's designed to respond well no matter what browser or device a person is using. Google considers the highest quality sites to have responsive design as a mobile readiness strategy.

  • Keyword stuffing: An old school trick that Google is very savvy to is taking keywords/key phrases and stuffing them on a website so much that it makes the content read like nonsense. Years ago, this made sites shoot to the top of Google rankings, but today you'll get a stiff penalty for it, sometimes being removed from Google's search results entirely!

It's possible that an SEO consultant might toss a lot of tech jargon your way, but they should be more than happy to explain terms clearly and speak in laymen's terms if you ask. That's their job! They're the SEO experts, not you.

If you're feeling lost, tell them you're new to SEO. If they don't change their lingo pronto, they're not the right SEO consultant for you.

What other tech jargon terms have you heard SEO consultants tossing around? Leave yours in a comment below and I'll translate:


Andrew Raso

Co-founder and Director of the Online Marketing Gurus

Andrew Raso is the co-founder and director of the Online Marketing Gurus, a fast-growing, award-winning search company working with some of the world's leading brands, including Coca Cola, Salesforce and Freshbooks. Follow him on Twitter @marketinggurus3. 

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