It’s a three-letter acronym that can seem like magic or witchcraft to those who don’t really understand it, but SEO – search engine optimisation – is a vital part of the internet – even if it’s one you don’t see.  

It’s the process of affecting the online visibility of a website in search results.

SEO is all about words. But they have to be the right words, in the right order, leading to the right kind of website, before Google will pop your site up to the top of a search. 

And exactly how to attract Google’s web-crawling spiders is a constantly-changing mystery, with the search giant regularly changing its algorithms, and keeping its methods a closely guarded secret. 

Skilled operators can use SEO to generate thousands more clicks – and even to repair tarnished reputations. 

Communications and PR consultant Hazel Phillips talks to The Detail about some of the clients she’s helped, whose social or business missteps have required serious realigning to stop the internet throwing up their past mistakes. 

She uses her knowledge of SEO to shove that past off the front page of the internet, and help wipe their virtual slates clean-ish. Or at least, push them down the internet search results until they’re out of sight. 

“Ninety percent of people won’t click past the first page on Google,” she says. “The first page is absolutely everything. And about a third of people will click on the very first link that comes up.” 

If you let a mistake, such as a legal judgment against you, lie on the world wide web it becomes a burden – because everybody googles everybody. It can destroy businesses, and even lives. 

Phillips warns repairing a reputation is no magic wand, and the damage has to be genuinely fixed, and apologised for, before the carefully crafted YouTube videos, blogs and opinion pieces start to take effect. 

The Detail also talks to Krystal Abey-Leenders, RNZ‘s lead homepage editor. She takes us on a tour of RNZ’s CMS (content management system – the website’s back end) where all of that all-important but invisible work goes on. 

She says SEO is the subtle art of making RNZ‘s stories look good to Google so readers can find them easily. It’s all about key words. 

“You just have to ask yourself, if I was searching for this topic, what would I be searching for on Google?” she says. “And basically those would be the first key words you’d put in your sentences.”

Google trawls not just the first part of headlines but the captions on photographs, and it takes into account how new the site’s content is, how reliable the source is, and how much information it holds. 

And when it comes to breaking news, it looks at which organisation posted it first – as long as, in its hurry to lead the way, a digital editor hasn’t forgotten to put those all-important key words in.  

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