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What is Search Engine Optimization and how does it work?

Search Engine Optimization – Are you just beginning your journey with Search Engine Optimization (SEO)? Perhaps you’ve heard that SEO can boost your website’s traffic and improve your search engine rankings.

We’re here to make SEO clear and straightforward, including how artificial intelligence plays a role. Once you grasp the basics, you’ll be ready to use SEO effectively to attract traffic and generate high-quality leads.

What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

Let’s begin with the basic question: what is SEO?

SEO, or ‘Search Engine Optimization,’ is the practice of boosting your website’s visibility in free, organic search results on search engines. The goal is to elevate your website’s ranking on search engine results pages (SERPs) so that it appears higher in the listings. The higher your site ranks, the more likely it is to be seen by potential visitors.

Note: SEO is not limited to search engines like Google or Bing. It’s also essential for social media platforms such as YouTube and TikTok, as people increasingly use social networks to search for information.

What are the three pillars of SEO?

Knowing how to help your brand, website, or company get noticed by searchers is a crucial skill for digital marketers. Keeping up with how SEO is evolving will help you stay ahead of the competition.

While there are always subtle changes in SEO, the fundamental principles remain consistent. SEO consists of three core components or pillars that you should be familiar with and actively work on:

Technical Optimization: This involves behind-the-scenes activities aimed at improving SEO without directly relating to content. For example, submitting your sitemap to Google is a type of technical optimization.

On-Page Optimization: This focuses on making sure your website’s content is relevant and provides a positive user experience. It includes using the right keywords within your content and can be managed through platforms like WordPress, Wix, Drupal, Joomla, Magento, or Shopify.

Off-Page Optimization: This refers to actions taken outside of your site to improve its search engine rankings. It primarily involves building high-quality backlinks that enhance your site’s credibility and reputation.


Differences and similarities between paid and organic search.

It’s essential to understand the distinctions and similarities between organic search, often associated with SEO, and paid search.

What sets paid search apart from organic search?

There are five major differences between paid and organic search. Let’s explore each one:

Position: The main difference is where the results appear on search engine results pages. Paid search results, often in the form of ads, show up at the top, while organic results are listed beneath them.

For example, if you search for “best water bottle,” you’ll see that paid ads or sponsored posts are displayed first, often as images, followed by organic results.

Be mindful that Google Search Generative Experience (SGE) is changing the landscape of display advertising through AI, affecting your SEO strategies. It’s essential to stay informed about these developments.


A significant difference between paid and organic search is the time it takes to see results. Paid search offers quick outcomes, while organic search results develop over a longer period, taking weeks, months, or even years. This requires a medium to long-term approach for organic search.


Paid search, as the name suggests, involves paying for traffic on a pay-per-click (PPC) basis. This means you pay a fee each time a user clicks on your ad. Instead of relying on organic traffic, you purchase traffic by paying Google to display your ad when a user searches for your keyword.

For organic search, traffic is free, but it demands an investment of time and resources.


Paid search offers easier measurement of return on investment (ROI) because Google provides detailed keyword data through Google Analytics (GA4). However, the ROI from paid search can stagnate or decline over time. Organic search ROI, while harder to measure initially, tends to improve over time and can offer a strong return on investment in the long run.

Share of Traffic

Research from BrightEdge shows that organic search drives 53% of all site traffic, compared to 15% from paid search. Therefore, the majority of clicks come from organic results.

Both paid and organic search share some similarities:

Keyword Research: Both require keyword research, as they involve user searches on a search engine. This necessitates keyword research for both organic and paid search.

Landing Pages: Both types of search involve creating compelling landing pages. For SEO, the landing page should be part of your website, while for paid search, it can be the same landing page used for organic or a separate stand-alone page within your site.

Traffic: Generating traffic is a key goal for both paid and organic search, focusing on user intent. Users search with a purpose and are more likely to take action once they find the information they need.

How Does A Search Engine Work?

When people have questions and seek answers online, they turn to search engines.

Search engine algorithms are computer programs that identify relevant clues to provide searchers with the most accurate results. These algorithms play a key role in finding web pages and deciding which ones to rank for any given keyword. Additionally, social media algorithms also impact search results.

Search engines operate in three steps: crawling, indexing, and ranking.

Step 1: Search Engine Crawling

The initial step is crawling. Search engines deploy web crawlers—often referred to as ‘spiders,’ ‘robots,’ or Googlebots—to locate new pages and gather information about them. These crawlers aim to discover new web pages and periodically revisit existing pages to check for updates.

Web crawlers navigate web pages by following links they’ve already discovered. For instance, if you have a blog linked from your homepage, when a search engine crawls your homepage, it will follow the link to your blog post.

Step 2: Search Engine Indexing

The next step is indexing, where a search engine determines whether to use the content it has crawled. If a web page is deemed valuable, it is added to the search engine’s index.

This index serves as the basis for the final ranking stage. When content is indexed, it is stored in a database and can be retrieved later. Most web pages offering unique and valuable content are indexed. However, a web page may not be indexed if:

  • The content is considered duplicate.
  • The content is low value or spammy.
  • The page couldn’t be crawled.
  • The page or domain lacks inbound links.

Top Tip: You can check which of your pages have been indexed by entering ‘siteyourdomain.com’ in the search bar. For a more detailed report, consult the ‘Index Coverage’ report in Google Search Console.

Step 3: Search Engine Ranking

The final and most crucial step is ranking. This process follows the completion of crawling and indexing. Once a search engine has crawled and indexed your site, it can then proceed to rank your site.

Search engines use over 200 ranking signals to sort and rank content, all falling under the three pillars of SEO: technical optimization, on-page optimization, and off-page optimization.

Here are some examples of signals that search engines use to rank web pages:

  • Keyword in Title Tag: Whether the keyword or its synonym is present on the page and in the title tag.
  • Loading Speed: Whether the web page loads quickly and is optimized for mobile devices.
  • Website Reputation: Whether the web page and website have a good reputation in relation to the topic being searched.
  • Backlinks: The quality and quantity of backlinks pointing to a web page.
  • Content Quality and Relevance: Whether the content is valuable and relevant to the website’s target audience.
  • Mobile Friendliness: Whether pages, content, and images are optimized for mobile viewing.

If you need agency support with SEO, content marketing, and paid media, reach out to our team.

How does Google rank search results?

Google uses several algorithms like Hummingbird, Panda, and RankBrain to determine the order and ranking of search engine results.

The machine-learning-based algorithm RankBrain builds on Hummingbird and operates by:

  • If RankBrain encounters an unfamiliar word or phrase, it uses AI to better understand it by connecting it to similar search queries through word vectors, essentially grasping ‘search intent.’
  • This helps Google comprehend queries by translating keywords into known topics and concepts, enabling it to deliver better search results, even for unique or unusual queries.
  • Instead of focusing solely on the best keyword-optimized results, RankBrain prioritizes websites that provide user satisfaction by measuring and returning results that match user expectations.

In addition to ranking, it’s important to keep Google’s EEAT (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) framework in mind. Although not an official ranking factor, it plays a key role in Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines.

Top Tip: You should also explore Google’s Multitask Unified Model (MUM) and the AI chatbot Google Bard (now called Gemini) for additional insights and technologies to consider.

Examples of SEO objectives

When setting objectives and KPIs for your SEO strategy, it’s essential to be realistic. If you’re new to using SEO, set modest goals but maintain ambition.

For those already seeing results from SEO, aim for more aggressive targets based on existing data. Avoid setting unrealistic percentages to prevent disappointment.

Here are three examples of SEO objectives to guide your business or website:

  • Move 50% of our top 20 keywords onto the first page of Google within nine months: This goal emphasizes improving keyword rankings.
  • Increase year-on-year organic traffic by 20% in quarter three and 25% in quarter four: This goal focuses on boosting organic website traffic.
  • Expand our SEO market share from 3% to 5% in the next financial year: This goal targets growth in market share.

Setting objectives for different types of businesses

Your objectives will vary depending on whether your business is transactional or informational.

For a transactional business with an e-commerce component, you should set objectives related to tracking sales and lead conversions. For non-e-commerce commercial sites, your focus should be on lead generation.

If your business is informational, your goals are more likely to center on increasing brand awareness or driving website traffic.

Keep in mind that even after fully implementing your SEO strategy, SEO is an ongoing process. You may need to adjust tactics along the way, take a long-term approach, and wait for the final results. However, with a strong SEO foundation and patience, the benefits of your strategy should become clear, leading to an enhanced user experience and more conversions for your business.

How to Become an Good SEO Specialist

If you’re intrigued by SEO and interested in pursuing a career in the field, you’re in a great position. SEO is a skill that is highly sought after by companies across various industries, offering a wealth of job opportunities. As businesses compete for online visibility, SEO specialists play a crucial role in helping them rank higher in search engines and reach their target audience.

A career in SEO can be both rewarding and lucrative. As an SEO professional, you will work on optimizing websites, analyzing data, and developing strategies to improve a company’s online presence. Your work can have a significant impact on a business’s success, helping them attract more visitors and generate more leads or sales.

SEO roles can range from entry-level positions, such as SEO analysts or coordinators, to more advanced roles, like SEO managers or directors. As you gain experience, you can specialize in areas such as technical SEO, content marketing, or off-page optimization.

Moreover, SEO skills are often transferable, allowing you to work across industries or even as a freelancer. If you enjoy problem-solving, data analysis, and keeping up with industry trends, a career in SEO could be an exciting and fulfilling choice.

What Do I Need To Become An SEO Expert?

Companies depend on organic traffic to boost their online presence, and when SEO is successful, they reap the benefits of a cost-effective strategy.

To thrive in the field of SEO, you’ll need a variety of skills:

  • Keyword Research: Identifying and targeting the right keywords for your content.
  • Link Building Strategy: Developing approaches to obtain high-quality backlinks.
  • Content Optimization: Enhancing web pages to improve search engine rankings.
  • Data Analysis: Interpreting data to measure performance and inform strategies.
  • Content Marketing or Copywriting: Crafting compelling content to engage audiences.
  • Technical SEO: Managing technical aspects of websites, such as site speed and mobile optimization.

In addition to these hard, or technical, skills, soft skills like critical thinking, communication, and teamwork are crucial. They help you effectively analyze problems, collaborate with others, and convey ideas clearly.


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