Are you new to the world of search engine optimization (SEO)? If so, you may be looking for a breakdown of what it is and how it works.

If so, you’re in the right place. Keep reading to learn everything you want to know about SEO and how it works.

What Is SEO?

The simple definition of SEO is the process of improving your website to increase visibility when someone searches for the services or products you offer on Google, Bing, or another search engine. The higher rank your site achieves in search engine results pages (SERPs), the more visibility you have and the more likely you are to be found by someone interested in what you offer.

Why Is SEO Important?

SEO is considered an essential part of digital marketing. Each day, trillions of searches are conducted. In many cases, these searches are conducted to find information about services and products.

For most brands, digital traffic is a main source of customers.

Increased visibility and ranking higher in the search results than your competition can positively affect your business’s bottom line.

While this is true, search results have evolved over the past several years, providing users with more direct answers and access to information that is more likely to keep people on the results pages longer rather than sending them to another website.

You can also use features like Knowledge Panels and rich results in search results to help increase visibility and offer users additional information about what you offer right in the search results.

SEO is the basis of any holistic marketing environment. If you learn what users want, you can use that information throughout your campaigns (both organic and paid efforts), throughout your website, social media pages, and more.

How Search Engines Work

All search engines use something called “bots” to crawl web pages. They go from one site to the next, gathering information about the pages and then storing it in an index. The index is a huge library where librarians can access a book (or web page) to help you find just what you are looking for.

The next step is the algorithm. These analyze all the pages in the index. It will consider hundreds of different ranking factors (also called signals) to figure out the order of the pages that should be placed in search results for a certain search. The algorithm is used to determine how well your webpage answers a query.

Unlike a paid ad, it is impossible to pay search engines to give you a higher rank in organic search results. This is when SEO professionals come in. They will ensure your pages meet the requirements to rank well in SERPs.

Key Factors in Ranking a Site

As mentioned above, there are hundreds of ranking factors that Google and other search engines consider. While this is true, some are more important than others.

Some of the most important ranking factors include:

Accessible and Secure Site

The URL of your site should be one that bots can easily find and crawl. The bots must be able to visit the page and understand what the content is about.

If you want to ensure the bots can do this, you need:

  • Well-coded site
  • txt file
  • Sitemap

While having an HTTPS site (secure site) is not a determining factor in search rankings, Google said it plays some role in where your site appears. Also, having HTTPS is good for your users.

Page Speed

In July 2018, Google announced an update to the algorithm that focused on mobile page speed. If your site does not load fast enough, it may be penalized. You can find free online tools to see how quickly your site loads.

Mobile Friendliness

Today, more people search on mobile devices than they do on traditional desktop computers. Because of this, you need a mobile-friendly site. Again, if your site doesn’t meet these standards, it may be penalized and fall in the rankings.

Authority, URL, and Domain Age

Approximately 60% of the sites in the top ten positions on Google are at least three years old. In fact, few sites that are under a year old have achieved one of these top spots.

Sometimes the domain matters, too. Having the target keyword in the URL may lead to a penalty, but usually, that only happens if your site is spammy or has thin content.

Other Important Ranking Factors

Some of the other important ranking factors to consider include:

  • Optimized content
  • Technical SEO
  • User experience
  • Links
  • Social signals
  • Real business information

Each of these will play a role in how and where your site ranks in SERPs.

Importance of a Domain and How to Find One

The right domain name is an important factor when it comes to SEO. While you want people to recognize your brand when they see your domain, having an SEO-optimized domain name will also let them know what your site is about, what you offer, and more.

Spam websites with domain names such as “” include keywords but aren’t going to get much love from search engines. Creating an SEO-friendly domain is about much more than just the keywords.

Two domain elements may impact your search rankings and SEO:

  • Keywords
  • Branding

Make sure your domain name is based on your brand. After all, this is how people will find you.

It’s best to select a domain name when you choose a business name. These could (and often should) be the same. If you want to have an SEO-friendly domain name, you don’t have to stuff it with unneeded keywords.

Having a strong online brand that is easy to recognize is appealing to users and search engines. There are a few situations when using your brand name as your domain name makes sense. These situations include:

  • You have a recognized and established brand
  • You want your website to rank well in SERPs for the brand name
  • You have started a promotion to build brand awareness
  • Your brand is different
  • Your brand is your name

You also have the option of choosing a domain that uses keywords. The keywords should be based on your business, service, or product.

While keyword domains are an option, Google (and other search engines) don’t give as much value to keyword domains as they do brand domains.


The SEO keywords you should use are words and phrases placed in your web content to ensure people find your site when using a search engine.

If your website is properly optimized for search engines, it will “speak the same language” as your audience, with keywords that connect searchers to the site.

Keywords are considered the main element of SEO. When you use the right keywords, it will help your website rank higher than the competition.

Building a list of keywords to use is one of the first steps you should take when you start optimizing your site. That’s because keywords are the foundation of any other SEO effort you make. Finding the right keywords to use requires time and research. You can use online sites to help you find the most relevant keywords for what you offer.


Creating optimized content is another important part of SEO. The content you post on your website should be useful information that can convey a story. It should be presented in a relevant manner, and the goal should be to solicit engagement or an emotion. Content includes text, audio, images, presentations, and video.

Unfortunately, not all content is considered quality content. There is quite a bit of bad content online that doesn’t offer any relevancy or usefulness to readers.

When creating your content, you have to think about the end-user who is reading it and Google (and other search engines). Google wants to deliver the best results to searchers. This means your content must be optimized to catch Google’s attention for a specific query.

To help ensure your content is appealing to people and Google, there are a few tips you can use:

  • Make it informative and useful
  • Offer more value than other sites
  • Show your credibility
  • Create high-quality content
  • Create something engaging

Now that you know the importance of content, it is time to start creating it. The process varies from one person to another, but some guidelines you can use to ensure you create optimized content include:

  • Conduct keyword research and figure out your topic
  • Create an outline with readability top of mind
  • Stick to your selected keyword and topic
  • Add backlinks to your content

If you want to ensure people and Google like your content and answer questions that are being asked, keep these tips in mind.

Onsite Optimization

Onsite optimization is the process of ensuring your website is search engine friendly. When you use this strategy, you will focus on optimizing different elements on your site that will increase your rank in search results and increase the traffic going to your site.

Advanced Onsite Optimization

Onsite optimization ensures search engines know what your page is about. With search engines becoming more sophisticated, the focus on relevance is growing. Because of this, you can’t ignore the importance of onsite optimization.

There are several elements of advanced onsite optimization to focus on, including:

Title Tag

The title tag is an HTML tag that appears at the top of every webpage and offers context to what’s on the page. This is also what is seen on search engine results pages. If you don’t create quality title tags, this may impact your SEO results.

Meta Description

The meta description provides an overview of what the page is about and is seen in SERPs beneath the title tag.


Compelling headlines are a must to perform well in search engines. A quality headline can make a huge difference between getting a click and an impression. It would help if you used headlines to spark interest in your webpage.

Header Tags

These are HTML elements used for identifying headings and subheadings in your content from other types of text. While these are not essential for site rankings, they do make content easier to read for people who land on your page.

Image Optimization

Adding images is a smart way to make pages more appealing. However, some will slow down your website if they are too large or too high quality. If you optimize your images, you can use this SEO asset to its full potential.

Backlinks: What Are They and How to Build Them

A backlink is a link from a page on one webpage to another one. If someone creates a link to your website, it means you have gotten a backlink from that person or site. If you link to another website, it means you have given someone else a backlink.

Backlinks are beneficial in three ways:

  • Increase the rank in search engines
  • Make your site easier to find
  • Receive referral traffic

It’s important to note, though, that not all backlinks are the same. Some of the things to consider when building backlinks include:

  • Relevance: Is the site related to what you do or offer?
  • Authority: When a backlink is received from an authority site, it will improve your site’s authority, too.
  • Traffic: If you get backlinks from high-traffic pages, it means you will get more referral traffic than backlinks from a low-traffic page.
  • Placement: Putting the backlink in the right place on your page matters.
  • Follow vs. Nofollow: A nofollow backlink will not usually impact your page rankings.
  • Anchor text: The words used for the backlink need to be related to the page you land on when clicked.

There are three main ways to get backlinks. You can create them, build them, or earn them.

Earning a backlink means that someone has found your content through a search and decided to link to it. These are considered organic backlinks.

You can also create backlinks. To do this, you add a link to your site from another website. This includes leaving blog comments, replying to comments in forums, and submitting them to business directories.

Building backlinks occurs when you reach out to webmasters, editors, or site owners and request a link to your page. A few tactics to use when doing this include writing a guest blog, finding broken links and asking to replace them, finding unlinked mentions of your brand online, and requesting to make it clickable.

Misdirection in the Industry

Unfortunately, not all companies offering SEO services are willing, to be honest. In fact, they may claim to use white hat (i.e., ethical techniques) for optimizing your site but may engage in gray or black hat techniques. It is important to note that if an SEO service uses gray or black hat techniques to optimize your website, it could result in a penalty from search engines or even having your site blacklisted.

Some of the black hat tactics to avoid include keyword stuffing, reporting competitors, cloaking, content automation, doorway pages, link schemes, sneaky redirects, and hidden links or text.

Red Flags When Hiring an SEO Company

If you are ready to hire an SEO company to help improve your site’s rank in search engines, there are a few red flags to be aware of when hiring an SEO company.

For example, any SEO company that guarantees results within a certain amount of time should be avoided. Guarantees are hard to quantify in the SEO realm. What you should look for is a company that provides proof that its tactics work. This would be rank increases for other sites they have worked on.

You should also avoid companies that promise virtually instant results. Usually, the only way this happens is if black hat SEO techniques are being used.

Reporting and Analytics

Anytime you hire a company for SEO services, they should provide reports and analyses of their work. Essentially, this is proof that their efforts and tactics are providing the desired effect for your webpage.

Today, it is easy to measure and quantify the efforts that are being made. If you are going to invest in SEO services, you must see proof that the efforts are working.

If a company does not offer reports or analyses of its efforts, it is best to look elsewhere for this service.

Are You Ready to Get Started with Your SEO?

Believe it or not, optimizing your site for search engines and people is not as hard as it may seem. While it does take some knowledge of what to do and what to avoid, once you understand, you can begin creating a website that gets the views and attention you want and need.

In most cases, working with a seasoned SEO company will pay off and help ensure you get the desired results for your marketing dollars. The company should prove that what they are doing works and ensure that you know what steps are being taken to improve search visibility and increase clicks. Understanding what SEO is and why it matters will help ensure your site is seen and that it ranks well in search engines.