What Is SEO? Understanding the Concept and How It Works

Denis F.
Denis F.
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SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, which follows a set of guidelines and strategies that improve a website's visibility in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). The goal is to improve organic rankings to increase website traffic from search engines like Google, making it easier for people to find the content.

SEO might seem complex on the surface, but it's more accessible than you think. In this overview, we’ll break down everything piece by piece to help you get comfortable with the fundamentals.

Understanding Search Engines

We can't grasp SEO without first looking at why search engines exist in the first place. Put simply, a search engine is a website that helps users discover information online. The undisputed market leader of search engines is none other than Google. Over 90% of searches happen on Google worldwide.

Google's Goal

Search engines rely on their accuracy to stay afloat. They aim to connect users with the most high-quality and relevant search results. Providing an excellent user experience ensures search engines remain helpful and competitive. If results were low-quality or unrelated to search queries, people would quickly switch to other options.

As such, the prime directive is to connect searchers with the best possible search results. But how does Google determine what is considered an excellent result? This is where their E-E-A-T guidelines come into play. E-E-A-T stands for Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness.

These core principles guide Google's efforts to filter for high-quality results and combat misinformation. Web pages must therefore prove the following to rank high:

  • Experience comes from real-world applications and first-hand knowledge of the topic.
  • Expertise shows extensive experience and nuanced technical skills.
  • Authoritative content comes from sources with proper credentials and qualifications to share certain information.
  • Trustworthiness involves positive user feedback and a lack of suspicious activities like manipulative SEO tactics or advertising overloads.

What Are SERPs?

SERPs stand for Search Engine Results Pages. Whenever you run a search query, Google displays a page with algorithmically ranked results. You'll notice paid ads and organic search results pop up in this list.

Paid vs Organic Search Results
  • Paid results refer to sponsored listings that appear on the SERPs which are also highlighted as such. Paid results reflect how search engines like Google make their money.
  • Organic results get their positioning solely based on relevance, not payments. SEO focuses on improving rankings for these organic results only.

Google and other search engines strive to show the most useful organic results at the top (below the ads) since that content likely matches the searcher's intent best. Multiple factors determine how Google ranks pages and orders SERPs, which we'll explore in a bit. First, let's look at how search engines gather the vast amount of content on the internet to provide relevant results to users.

How Search Engines Crawl & Index Websites

The internet is big – search engines wouldn't be very helpful if they didn't know what content existed out there, would it? That's why search engines use web crawlers (also called spiders or bots). They scan the web and gather information about websites through a process called crawling.

As these bots crawl websites, they extract data about pages, including titles, content, links, media, etc.

Search engines then organize and store all this data in massive databases via a process called indexing. At this point, content is retrievable and can be displayed in relevant SERPs.

How Search Engines Work Infographic

Search engines are constantly crawling to keep their indexes as current as possible with billions of web pages getting processed daily. When you update a website, search engine bots will eventually find and reindex those changes.

How SEO Plays into Search Engines

Now that you know the basics of search engines, where does SEO fit into the picture? SEO focuses on the best practices to optimize your website for search engine crawlers and their ranking algorithms. When done right, it results in high rankings.

Studies show that about 75% of all clicks go to the first four organic results, with the top position receiving about 40% of the clicks. This data already includes paid ads above the organic results, making it evident how impactful SEO and the organic results are to receive traffic.

Google uses a complex algorithm to evaluate pages and decide on the order in the SERPs. Quality content is important, but other signals matter too, including:

  • Keyword usage
  • User experience and engagement
  • Backlinks (referring links from other websites)
  • Mobile-friendliness and site speed

SEO is all about understanding the algorithm and finding ways to legitimately improve a website's standing. Since SEO includes several areas, it can also be divided into different types.

Types of SEO

There are four main types of SEO with each one being a vital part of the overall picture.

4 Main Types of SEO

On-Page SEO

This part covers optimizations made directly on a page, including but not limited to:

  • Incorporating relevant keywords in titles, headers, meta descriptions, URLs, image alt tags
  • Writing high-quality content
  • Using internal links
  • Optimizing pages for visual appeal and readability
  • Optimizing images

On-page SEO aims at helping users and search engines understand what your pages are about with a focus on your target keywords and delivering the best possible user experience.

Off-Page SEO

Off-page SEO deals with all ranking factors from outside your website.

To classify the authority and relevance of your website, search engines look at what the rest of the internet does with your content.

The greatest influence for SEO comes from backlinks, i.e. links to your website on other websites. Search engines evaluate the standing of these referring websites, the context in which they are related to the topic on your page, and the number of total links your pages receive, among other criteria to assign them a value. This value has a direct impact on your rankings, especially for those pages they point to.

Other off-page factors include engagement on your social media channels and your overall online reputation which mainly involves reviews and mentions.

Therefore, off-page SEO refers to strategically building backlinks, attracting attention through channels such as social media, and interacting with voices talking about you (positively and negatively).

Technical SEO

Technical SEO ensures search engines can easily access your website and process the information on it. It includes:

  • Ensuring pages can be crawled
  • Website code optimization related to structure, size, and speed performance
  • Mobile-friendliness
  • Security measures
  • Eliminating errors (broken links & pages, issues with redirects, duplicate content, false hreflang implementation, outdated sitemap data, etc.)

Efficient technical SEO requires periodic audits that serve to check the website for problems and opportunities for improvement at regular intervals.

Local SEO

Local SEO is relevant for location-dependent businesses such as plumbing services, physical retail stores, and real estate agents. It focuses specifically on optimizing online visibility for local searches to stand out to customers searching for products/services in a specific geographic area.

Important local SEO factors include:

  • NAP listings (using the same name, address, and phone number across platforms)
  • Location-optimized content
  • GMB listing (Google My Business page)
  • Review management (encouraging and responding to local reviews and citations)

Strong local SEO is invaluable for driving foot traffic and conversions from nearby searchers looking for stores and services.

Core Benefits of SEO

We briefly touched on why website owners should prioritize SEO earlier, here are more details related to the core benefits it has.

Increased Website Traffic and Visibility

High SERP rankings translate directly into organic site traffic increases. Popping up on the first search results page makes a massive difference in attracting targeted visitors to find your business instead of your competitors.

Improved User Experience

SEO best practices focus heavily on website visitor satisfaction. Fast load speeds, engaging content, and seamless navigation are essential. Optimizing for users leads to lower bounce rates and more pageviews per visit. Google notices positive engagement metrics and rewards them. Not only that, but it also makes good business sense to have a website that users enjoy visiting. The better the experience you provide, the more likely they are to return and engage with your brand.

Higher Conversion Rates and ROI

Getting more visitors through SEO is nice, but converting them into customers is even better. SEO-generated leads are 8 times more likely to convert than outbound leads. Targeted organic traffic resonates with your brand, feels less intrusive than ads, and is more primed for conversion from the start.

Higher conversions + minimal advertising spend = Better ROI

Better Audience Understanding

Analyzing keyword and visitor data provides invaluable insights about your target audience. You can craft content that speaks explicitly to their interests, concerns, and search patterns. Staying on top of audience trends and pains allows you to understand buyer behavior and predict changes before your competitors do.

Final Words

SEO is an essential part of online marketing. Putting effort into optimizing your website for search engines makes your pages more visible, creates a better experience for your visitors, and leads to more people taking the action you want them to on your site.

Even with ads taking up prime spots at the top of search results pages, organic search results get more clicks. This shows that people tend to skip over ads and choose organic results because they see them as more trustworthy and relevant to what they're looking for. For example, when there are two ads, their total click-through rate (CTR) on average is only about 3.5%, and even with four ads at the top, it's still just about 6%. It proves that organic listings are extremely valuable and thus is SEO.

Investing in SEO means more than just following trends. It's about making sure your website stands out in the crowded world of search engine results. With billions of searches happening every day, optimizing your website for organic search also connects you more effectively with your target audience with the benefits of more traffic to your site and higher chances of turning visitors into customers.

Remember, the digital world is always changing, so it's important to keep up with the latest algorithm changes, best practices, and online trends. Whether it's choosing the right keywords, making your website faster, or getting other sites to link to yours, every part of SEO is important to make your mark online. To make things a lot easier, consider supporting your efforts with comprehensive SEO software. Visit our Best Picks where we rank the best all-in-one solutions based on a detailed analysis and testing to get an overview of the top performers in the market.


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Digital marketer with the conviction that properly deployed organic marketing delivers the best ROI in the long run. I'm deep into SEO but also enjoy sports, traveling, and absolutely love food.