SEO stands for search engine optimisation, a process for attracting more readers to a website from search engines. Web pages can be edited in order to improve their visibility in search engines, with the aim of appearing at the top of the list of results for a popular search term. The higher up the list of results for a search term a web page appears, the more people will click on it.
Search engines such as Google or Bing serve as a huge index of websites. Users use search engines to find web pages with information on a specified topic or subject, and search engines return a list of results ranked according to both the relevancy and authority of each web page on that topic.
The more specifically relevant a web page is to a given search term, the more likely it is to appear on the search results page. The web page must also have good authority to appear high in the list, usually indicated by other websites linking to it in relation to that subject.
Google provides its own guide to demonstrate how websites can work with search engines and ensure that content is appropriately indexed. The SEO process becomes competitive when many websites try to appear at the top of the list of results for the same popular term.
Search engine optimisation can be particularly important for reputation management around a specific term, such as a name. If a brand wants to control what information appears when people search for their name, they must make sure their own pages appear above those of others in search engine results. They must push positive mentions above negative ones.
A huge number of factors can influence the ranking of a web page in a list of search results, including the page's relevancy and authority. Search engines such as Google use a secret algorithm to rank their list of results, and SEO professionals spend time working out what those factors are so they can take best advantage of the system.
If the web is full of criticism of a brand, those web pages will appear when people search for that brand. An SEO-based reputation management strategy would involve optimising web pages with positive mentions and trying to have them ranked above the negative web pages in search, hiding them from the view of casual browsers.