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“Outside the industry, nobody knows what we do” SEO as seen by search engine optimizers and content providers

Sebastian Schultheiß (Department of Information, Hamburg University of Applied Sciences, Hamburg, Germany)
Dirk Lewandowski (Department of Information, Hamburg University of Applied Sciences, Hamburg, Germany)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 8 December 2020

Issue publication date: 18 February 2021

Abstract

Purpose

In commercial web search engine results rankings, four stakeholder groups are involved: search engine providers, users, content providers and search engine optimizers. Search engine optimization (SEO) is a multi-billion-dollar industry and responsible for making content visible through search engines. Despite this importance, little is known about its role in the interaction of the stakeholder groups.

Design/methodology/approach

We conducted expert interviews with 15 German search engine optimizers and content providers, the latter represented by content managers and online journalists. The interviewees were asked about their perspectives on SEO and how they assess the views of users about SEO.

Findings

SEO was considered necessary for content providers to ensure visibility, which is why dependencies between both stakeholder groups have evolved. Despite its importance, SEO was seen as largely unknown to users. Therefore, it is assumed that users cannot realistically assess the impact SEO has and that user opinions about SEO depend heavily on their knowledge of the topic.

Originality/value

This study investigated search engine optimization from the perspective of those involved in the optimization business: content providers, online journalists and search engine optimization professionals. The study therefore contributes to a more nuanced view on and a deeper understanding of the SEO domain.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank Daniela Sygulla for her help in coding the interviews.Funding: This work is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG - Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft), grant number 417552432.

Citation

Schultheiß, S. and Lewandowski, D. (2021), "“Outside the industry, nobody knows what we do” SEO as seen by search engine optimizers and content providers", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 77 No. 2, pp. 542-557. https://doi.org/10.1108/JD-07-2020-0127

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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