In this post, you’ll learn what SEO is, how it works, and why it’s an important digital marketing process for the success of online businesses.
What Is SEO?
SEO stands for Search engine optimization. It is a set of rules for optimizing your website to achieve higher rankings in search engine’s organic results. With SEO, you increase the visibility of your website for searches related to your content.
The most important SEO tasks involve creating helpful content that will make users happy, promoting your website to gain search engines’ trust, and offering a great user experience.
Why Is SEO Important?
SEO is important because it can help you get free targeted traffic from search engines. Search engines serve billions of users per day and if you want to get a portion of the traffic, your website should appear in the top positions for related searches.
According to studies, more than 70% of search engine users are more likely to click on one of the top 5 suggestions in the search engine results pages (SERPS).
Besides improving search rankings and getting more traffic, SEO is important because:
Enhance User Experience (UX) – SEO is not only about search engines but good SEO practices improve the user experience and usability of a website.
Build Credibility With Users – Users trust search engines, and having a presence in the top positions for the keywords the user is searching increases the website’s trust.
SEO Is Good For The Social Promotion of Your Website – People who find your website by searching Google or Bing are more likely to promote it on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media channels.
SEO Is Important For The Smooth Running of a Big Website – Websites with more than one author can benefit from SEO directly and indirectly. Their direct benefit is increased organic traffic, and their indirect benefit is having a common framework (checklists) to use before publishing content on the site.
SEO Can Put You Ahead of The Competition – If two websites are selling the same thing, the SEO optimized website is more likely to have more customers and make more sales.
SEO Vs. PPC
One of the concepts beginners to SEO tend to confuse is the relationship between SEO, PPC, and SEM.
SEM or search engine marketing is the process of getting traffic from search engines either organically (i.e., without paying) or paid. SEM has two types, SEO and PPC.
PPC or Pay-Per-Click Advertising is the process of getting paid traffic from search engines. In the case of Google, if you want to appear on the SERPs for specific searches, you can use Google Ads to position your brand on top of the results.
SEO will help your website rank higher in organic results.
As you can see in the diagram above, paid results have the “Sponsored” label to differentiate them from organic results. To learn more, read our guide on the difference between SEO and PPC.
How Do Search Engines Work?
Before starting with SEO, it is important to understand how search engines work. Your goal with SEO is to influence search engines to ‘trust’ your website, and knowing how they actually rank websites will help you make better decisions.
In a nutshell, search engines follow a three-step process to present organic results to a searcher:
- Crawling – Using special programs (called crawlers or bots), they find publicly available pages on the Internet.
- Indexing – They extract part of the page data and store it in their search index.
- Ranking – Using sophisticated ranking algorithms, they present users with the most relevant and useful results.
With SEO, you can optimize your website for all stages so that it will appear high in the results for related queries.
Types of SEO
SEO has many rules and processes, and for simplicity, they can be grouped into 3 main types: technical SEO, on-page SEO, and off-page SEO.
The first stage in the SEO process is called technical SEO. As the name implies, technical SEO has to do with optimizing the technical aspects of a website. These are settings to make the job of search engine crawlers easier.
Technical SEO is important because if you have problems with crawling and indexing, it can negatively impact your rankings. Usually, once you get your technical SEO correct, you may not have to deal with it again.
The most common technical SEO tasks are:
- Creating fast websites that offer a great user experience on mobile and desktop.
- Optimizing your website structure and navigation.
- Using elements like structured data to help search engines understand your content better.
- Using canonical tags to guide search engines on which pages to index.
- Using robots and noindex tags to stop search engine crawlers from indexing specific pages of your website.
- Optimizing and submitting XML sitemaps
- Using Google Search Console to find and fix technical SEO errors.
To learn more about technical SEO, consider enrolling in a technical SEO course (there are free and paid options).
On-page SEO involves optimizing the content and other elements within your website’s boundaries.
Unlike technical and off-page SEO, the main focus of on-page SEO is to provide search engine crawlers with enough signals so that they can understand the meaning and context of your content.
Remember that search engines don’t read a page like a human, so they look for signals to determine what a page is about.
The most critical on-page SEO factors are:
- Publishing helpful content written for people, not search engines (people-first content).
- Optimizing your URLs, page titles, descriptions, and headings.
- Use keywords in your content to make it more relevant to users.
- Optimizing images and other media elements.
- Adding internal and external links to the content.
The third SEO type is Off-Page SEO. Besides the changes you can make to your website (on-site SEO) to rank higher in the SERPs, the other way to influence your website’s ranking position is by using off-site SEO factors.
The most effective off-page SEO techniques are:
- Building high-quality backlinks
- Creating content for attracting natural links
- Building brand awareness through social media and influencer marketing
Besides the main SEO types, there are also subsets of SEO for specific website types.
- eCommerce SEO – a subset of SEO for increasing the visibility of online stores on search engines.
- Local SEO – specific SEO rules applicable to businesses with a local presence.
- Mobile SEO – additional guidelines on how to improve the user experience on mobile devices.
How Does SEO Work?
When a user types a search query, search engine algorithms look into their index and find the best pages to satisfy the user’s intent. Pages most likely to satisfy the user appear in the first positions of the organic results.
Ranking algorithms use many factors, and no one knows exactly what these factors are. It’s Google’s secret sauce that has been kept private for years. What has been known to influence rankings are the following:
- Content Relevancy
- Content Quality
- Page Experience
- Domain Authority
- User Interaction Signals
The relevancy of the content to what the user is searching for is the number one SEO factor. By analyzing the behavior of millions of searchers, Google knows what type of content they expect to see for a particular query.
In general, search queries can be categorized into:
- Navigational (e.g., “YouTube”)
- Informational (e.g., “calories in black coffee”)
- Commercial (e.g., “best laser printers”)
- Transactional (e.g., “book a table”)
For example, someone searching for “best laser printers” is looking for a list of the best printers to buy.
They don’t want a page on how laser printers work but want to read reviews and get guidance to make a purchase decision.
To create relevant content, you should follow these tips:
Perform keyword research: you can find what keywords and questions people have for a particular topic by doing thorough keyword research. You can use the outcome of your research to find ideas for creating content and optimizing your existing posts to match the user intent.
Analyze the content of the top-ranking pages: Examine the content of the pages appearing on the top positions of Google for your target keywords. Identify gaps in their content and areas where you can provide more detailed, comprehensive, or up-to-date information, thus making your content more relevant and helpful to users.
Get user feedback – one of the most effective but less used methods to create content that users find useful is to ask them for comments and use their feedback to update your content to directly address these interests and concerns.
Besides relevant content, search engines are trained to reward high-quality content. In terms of SEO, high-quality content meets the following criteria:
- Unique and original – content is created exclusively for your website and not a similar or an exact copy of already published content.
- Well researched – information and data presented in the content are accurate and the result of careful research and analysis.
- Unbiased – content is not biased towards a single idea but presents the different sides of a story.
- A complete description of a topic – if your content does not fully answer a user’s query and they have to go back to the search results and continue searching, this signals that the user is unsatisfied, which will negatively impact your rankings.
- Better than the existing search results – your content doesn’t have to be perfect, but it has to be better than the existing search results.
SEO best practices indicate providing the best possible experience to users. When ranking pages in the SERPs, Google is looking for the following UX factors (known as Page Experience):
- Core web vitals score – these are metrics related to how fast a page loads.
- Mobile-friendly – content should be optimized for users on mobile devices.
- HTTPS – content should be served over SSL.
- Ads – the position and amount of ads on a page should not distract users from finding the main content of a page.
- Intrusive interstitials and dialogs – websites should not use popups or other elements on mobile that cover the whole page.
The authority of a domain is a significant ranking factor. The domain authority is calculated by the number and type of incoming links (backlinks) a website has. A backlink is generated when a website links to another site.
In SEO, this is considered a ‘vote of trust’ and one of the top SEO ranking factors determining a webpage’s position in the search results.
Your ranking will be positively affected if the links come from well-known and trusted sites. If they are paid links or a result of a link exchange, your ranking will be negatively affected.
The best way to increase domain authority is getting more backlinks, and the most efficient ways to do this are:
- Publish link-worthy content – like case studies, statistics, and original research.
- Contribute content on other high-authority and related websites.
- Find and replicate your competitor links.
EEAT stands for Expertise, Experience, Authority, and Trustworthiness. Google wants to show in the results websites that exhibit high levels of E-E-A-T. In practice, this means.
- Experience -You should demonstrate your experience with a topic in your content. For example, if you’re reviewing a product, you should add original images, tests, and other data to prove that you have real experience with the product.
- Expertise -Enhance credibility by including author bios and credentials, showcasing the authors’ qualifications and expertise in the subject matter.
- Authority – This mainly relates to increasing trust by getting backlinks from other websites.
- Trust – You can gain user trust by constantly producing high-quality content, offering a great UX experience, and following transparent practices.
User Interaction Signals
User interaction signals refer to how users interact with your website in search results. These signals include key metrics like click-through rate, time spent on a page, and bounce rate. While you cannot directly control these, you can optimize your site to influence them positively. This involves:
- Improving Click-Through Rate (CTR) – Craft compelling titles and meta descriptions to entice users to click on your listing in the search results.
- Reducing Bounce Rate – Ensure your landing pages are relevant to the search queries and offer valuable content to keep visitors engaged and on your website for longer.
- Encouraging User Engagement – Include clear calls-to-action and other elements to avoid users returning to the search results.
How To Get Started With SEO
The best way to learn SEO is to practice SEO. Besides learning the different concepts and theories, the only way to find out what works is to apply the various SEO techniques on a website and monitor your rankings.
If your rankings and organic traffic increase, you are probably in the right direction. If not, you must revise your SEO strategy and action plan.
Here is an example of what an SEO strategy looks like:
- Set Clear Objectives – Define what you want to achieve with SEO. Analyze your audience needs and specify which keywords you want to achieve high rankings.
- Start With Keyword Research – Identify the keywords and phrases most relevant to your goals.
- Perform a Competitor Analysis – Study what content ranks on Google for your target keywords and find ways to create better content and user experience.
- Create Helpful Content For People – Focus on producing original, valuable content that addresses your audience’s needs and questions.
- Monitor and Analyze Performance – Regularly track your SEO performance using tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console.
- Stay Updated on SEO Best Practices – Keep learning about the latest SEO trends and algorithm updates to refine and improve your SEO strategy.
Resources to learn more
- The Complete SEO Course – A complete SEO Course covering all aspects of SEO with step-by-step examples and case studies.
- How to Become an SEO Expert – A guide with a list of resources to stay informed about new developments in the SEO industry.
- SEO Checklist – A handy checklist to ensure you have optimized all elements.
- SEO Certifications – a list of the best SEO courses to learn SEO and get certified.
- Google SEO Courses – a list of courses specifically on Google SEO.
Introduction to SEO – Video Tutorial
Watch our video tutorial for a quick introduction to SEO, how it works, and why it’s an important digital marketing process.
SEO And Digital Marketing
Beginners to SEO often confuse SEO with Digital Marketing. To clear up the confusion, look at the diagram below. SEO is one of the channels available in your Digital Marketing arsenal.
SEO can be part of your overall Digital Marketing strategy, which usually includes other things like social media promotion, PPC, content marketing, email marketing etc.
SEO can help you get “free” traffic from search engines. It’s a very effective digital marketing technique, but it takes time to work.
To rank your websites on top of Google, you need to work hard to create useful content (that’s on-page SEO), promote your website on the Internet to increase your domain’s trust (that’s off-page SEO), and optimize your website’s infrastructure (that’s technical SEO).
When you get all the parts right, sooner or later, your website will get noticed by search engines, rank higher in the results, and receive valuable organic traffic.