What is SEO | The Best Analogy You've Never Heard.

If you did to a Google search right now for “what is SEO”, you will most certainly stumble upon technical definitions such as the ones below:

SEO stands for ‘Search Engine Optimization’. It’s the practice of optimizing your web pages to make them reach a high position in the search results of Google or other search engines

Yoast SEO

or one like this:

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is the practice of optimizing a website or webpage to increase the quantity and quality of its traffic from a search engine’s organic results


There are plenty of definitions such as those out there in the wild internet.

Though such definitions are accurate and extremely helpful, they can at times be too technical and therefore be hard for the average (non-SEO) person to fully understand.

Instead of giving you another one of those technical definitions, I decided to use an analogy instead, to help small business owners better understand what SEO is and why it matters.

What is SEO: A quick review!

Before I explain what SEO is, let’s go over a quick review to ensure we’re on the same page

What SEO means

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization.

What is a Search Engine?

A search engine is a piece of software that helps organize information. When I typed the search terms “what is SEO” into the Google search bar in my browser, Google return over 568,000,000 search results.

These results are not all created equal. Some content creators take a long time to create amazing content, and others do not. Some business owners take special care of their websites and others bypass this step.

So, we needed a system (software) that could organize all of these search results to show us the best, most important, and/or most relevant results first.

That’s what Google, Yahoo, Bing, and other search engines do. They search (crawl) the internet for all available information, and help us organize and/or make sense of that information when we search for it.

What is SEO: The great analogy

For this analogy, I’d like you to imagine a mall or a shopping center.

For the sake of this article, I created the illustration below to help you visualize a mall/shopping center.

This image shows a typical shopping center map. The shopping center help illustrate what SEO is.

First, let me go over a few elements of this shopping center that will help us better understand SEO later.

This shopping center/mall has 2 main entrances (located next to the two parking lots) and a few other smaller entrances.

The number of entrances to the mall has two implications:

  1. The entrances give certain store easier accessibility than others.
  2. This limit in store access creates areas of “high foot traffic” (highlited in green), areas of “medium foot traffic” (highlited in orange), and areas with “low foot traffic” (highlighted in red).

Areas of high foot traffic are areas that have a greater percentage of customers walking by those areas in a given time period. For example, on a busy Thursday night, if an area of high foot traffic sees 1000 customers/hour, a medium foot traffic area might only see 700 customers/hour, and a low foot traffic area might only see 300 customers/hour.

The high foot traffic areas tend to be closer to the entrances/exits because it’s the only way customers go in and out of the shopping center.

In this specific case, the high foot traffic areas are near the entrances of the parking lot. This is because that is where most customers will enter and/or leave the store.

The Internet: A shopping center of information.

Now that you understand this analogy, let’s see how it applies to SEO.

To see how the shopping mall analogy relates to SEO, you have to think of the internet as a sort of a shopping mall for information.

20 years ago, if you needed a haircut for a first date, a new pair of clown shoes as a gag gift for a sibling, or a walkman (those still existed back then), you would probably go to a shopping center or mall because that’s where shopping happened.

Today, when customers need similar products or services, they first search for it online.

In fact, retaildive.com estimated that 87% of shoppers now begin product searches online.

Now you can see why I liken the internet to a shopping center of information. It’s where customers go shop for information about companies before they purchase products or services from said companies.

Understanding internet foot traffic

One of the biggest differences between a normal shopping center and the internet is the sheer size difference. While a typical shopping center or mall can have as many as 50 – 100 stores in it, the internet is a shopping center with millions, billions, and even trillions of “stores (web pages)”.

Remember how my “what is SEO” search returned over 500M search results? This means that there are over 500M web pages that talk about the exact term “what is SEO” or terms related to it.

As I said earlier, not all of these 500M search results are created equal. Search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing rank these search results using algorithms to show us the best and most relevant content first.

After they rank all of this information, search engines use their websites to show us the results on search engine result pages. (SERP).

For the search term “what is SEO”, Google returned 23 search pages. I attached a screenshot of the 23rd search result page for that term, as I am sure you’ve never searched past the 3rd or 4th page of Google (most people haven’t. I didn’t either until I did some research for this article).

This is the 23rd search result page for the search term: What is SEO on Google. I used this image to help customers understand SEO

Speaking of searching past the 3rd or 4th search result page on search engines, 75% of customers never look past the first page of Google.

In a way, you can think of the first 3 pages of google like the high foot traffic areas in our mall map/illustration. That’s where most people will look first, look often, and look last.

As a result, many companies do everything they can for a chance that webpages on their website will appear on either one of the first three pages of search engines’ search results pages.

The importance of high (foot or online) traffic areas

To better understand the importance of appearing on the first, second or third page of Google or other search engines, let’s go back to our shopping center analogy.

If you were a store owner and owned a store in a shopping center like the one on the map/illustration, where would you rather have your store? If you have common sense, you’d probably want your store to be somewhere in one of the high foot traffic areas.

Whether your store is known or not, simply having it located in those high traffic areas increases the amount of eyes you you could potentially get on your store throughout the day.

More eyes on your store means more potential customers. More potential customers means a higher likelihood of increased revenue.

As I mentioned earlier, the first few pages of search engines are like the high foot traffic areas.

In the digital age, appearing in the the first three pages of search engines mean more eyes on your website, which means more potential customers, and in turn a higher potential for increased revenue.

What is SEO? Closing the analogy

Now that you understand high foot traffic areas in a mall/shopping center, and how they relate to SEO, it’s easy to understand what SEO is.

SEO is everything you do to get your storefront/business to appear in high online traffic areas in a marketplace.

In the example of a shopping center, the marketplace is the shopping center.

I have never owned a store in a shopping center so, I have no idea what it takes to own a store in a high foot traffic area. My best guesses are that you would need to do any of the following in no particular order:

  • Pay a higher fee
  • Comply with more restrictive cleanliness standards
  • Know the owner of the mall
  • Be a reputable brand
  • or all of the above

In the case of the internet, search engine pages are the marketplace, your website is a storefront, and what you can do to appear at the top of the pages include (but are not limited to):

  • Optimize all the tags on your webpages.
  • Optimize your webpages for performance (speed).
  • Ensure the webpages on your website are accessible (they can be crawled (searched) by search engines).
  • Optimize your webpages for Snippet/schema.
  • Create amazing content that is likely to be shared/linked to.
  • Find ways to be helpful to your customers.
  • Ensure your webpages have great user experience.

This article doesn’t discuss how to do SEO.

For deeper dive into what SEO is from a technical standpoint, and to learn more about SEO, here is a great article from Moz, one of the leading SEO companies in the online marketing industry.


There you have it: An answer to the million-dollar question “What is SEO” using a easy-to-understand analogy.

SEO is all about trying to get your business (whether its your website, your storefront, your brand) positioned in high traffic areas in marketplaces, to increase your business’ exposure to more and more customer.

In the online world, SEO means doing EVERYTHING you can to have at least one page on your website appear on one of the first three pages of search engines.

I hope you enjoyed the article. If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to leave a comment below.

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