With search engine ranking factors evolving and spiders crawling your website, SEO sounds more like a next-gen science fiction movie than a legit marketing channel.
For real, how does SEO work?
SEO is no fairy godmother or unicorn; it’s real, tried-and-true, and not that hard to wrap your mind around.
But, if you don’t have the time to figure it out, outsourcing SEO services is always an option!
Table of Contents
Defining Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
SEO, at its core, entails giving your site a much-needed push so it shows up higher in the search results.
In layman’s terms, it’s how your website and brand become known — although you’re competing with 1,139,467,659 (as of writing) other websites.
There are many different ways to do SEO, but it all comes down to ensuring your site is easy for search engines to find and read.
SEO beginners believe keywords are enough to rank a website...
Sure, if you want your site to show up when people search for "SEM vs. SEO," you need to include the phrase somewhere on your site—ideally in the title, the headers, and the body text.
But then again, you don't want to go overboard with this, or else you'll end up getting penalized by the search engines for keyword stuffing.
Sometimes, less is indeed more.
Despite this, there’s so much more to SEO than simply sprinkling keywords.
Making your site visible is a little more complicated.
Your code has to be clean and well-organized and you have to use proper tag hierarchy.
The content relevancy is also non-negotiable—if it doesn’t address the topic it should touch upon, people will click away from your site pretty quickly, directly hinting to the search engines that your site isn't up to par.
Note that there are over 200 ranking factors, and they are always changing. We’re yet to witness the day when Google, Bing, or any other search engine reveals its secrets and offers a complete guide on how to get to the top of the results.
In the meantime, we did our research and witnessed the power of a well-executed SEO strategy, first-hand.
Stick with us as we share our findings on how SEO works—but not before we get the theory out of the way.
The 3 Pillars of SEO
Broadly speaking, we can talk about technical SEO, on-page SEO, and off-page SEO.
Technical optimization deals with the backend of your website. The goal is to make your website accessible to search engine crawlers.
On-page optimization is all about the content on your website, focusing on the relevancy of the content and the keywords.
Off-page optimization encompasses everything else, from link building to social media engagement.
Some argue technical SEO is what gets the traffic, while others are convinced on-page SEO boosts their visibility. And some are ready to bat your eye if you give the thumbs up to anything else but off-page SEO.
Subjectivity aside, all three pillars are important for SEO success.
While you can focus on one instead of the other, the only way to master SEO is to come to terms with the fact they all work together to get you to the top.
Which finally leads us to the main question...
How Does SEO Work?
SEO helps you get your website in front of the eyes of potential customers.
You get the gist: the goal of SEO is to make sure that people who search for what you have to offer see your website as the first result.
Let’s see how each pillar works its magic!
How Does Technical SEO Work?
Technical SEO includes optimizing your website's code, structure, and content for Google's crawlers.
This also entails improving your website's speed, mobile- friendliness, and user experience.
It is a complex and ever-changing process, but essential for any website that wants to rank high in the search results.
Many factors go into technical SEO, but some of the most important ones are the website’s:
- Code. It must be clean and well-organized. This makes it easier for Google's crawlers to understand and index your content.
- Structure. If Google’s crawlers find your website hard to navigate, chances are they won’t index it. A well-structured website will have a clear hierarchy and use logical linking.
- Content. It has to be relevant, keyword-rich, and informative. The best way to optimize your content for technical SEO is to create long-form, keyword-focused articles.
- Speed. Search engines favor websites that load quickly on all devices.
- Mobile-friendliness. More people than ever before are using their smartphones to access the Internet, so it’s only logical you make your website responsive. 87% of smartphone owners access a search engine every day and 51% found a new company worth buying from when searching on mobile.
- User experience. Search engines want users to have a positive experience when they visit a website. That means your website must be easy to use and navigate. It should also have valuable, relevant content that meets the needs of your target audience. If you can improve your website's user experience, you will likely see a boost in your technical SEO rankings.
How Does On-page SEO Work?
On-page SEO focuses on optimizing individual web pages.
It's a crucial element of any solid digital marketing strategy, and there are a number of things you can do to improve your on-page SEO.
For starters, you can:
- Choose the right keyword or phrase for your page. This keyword should be included in the title, headings, and throughout the body of the text. Once you've settled on a keyword, use it judiciously—too much repetition will result in a lower ranking. Don’t limit yourself; the average top-ranking page also ranks for around 1,000 other relevant keywords, so do your research and include them too.
- Use unique and relevant title tags and meta descriptions for each page on your site. These are the small pieces of text that appear in the search results, so make sure they're accurate and include keywords that describe your page.
- Pay attention to your page's structure. A well-organized page with clear headings and easy-to-skim text will both rank higher and earn more clicks from users. This means using standard HTML tags and creating a sitemap that includes all of your website's pages. Furthermore, add images, videos, and infographics—these types of content are not only engaging for users, but they also help improve your SEO.
- Include external and internal links. These help search engines understand what your page is about and can boost your ranking if they're from high-quality sources.
How Does Off-page SEO Work?
Off-page SEO is often considered the mysterious black sheep of the SEO family.
While everyone talks about on-page SEO tactics like keyword research and meta tags, off-page SEO is left in the dust.
In a nutshell, off-page SEO is everything you do to improve your website’s visibility and ranking that isn’t directly related to the actual content or code on your site—think link building and social media engagement.
Essentially, anything that happens on other websites that can impact your website’s ranking is considered off-page SEO.
Defined like this, it’s well on its way to becoming the most important SEO pillar, considering the popularity of social media.
Off-page aspects include:
- Link building. By creating links from high-quality websites, you can show search engines your site is credible and authoritative. It also helps increase traffic to your website by directing visitors from other sites—generally speaking, more backlinks translate to more traffic. However, not all links are created equal so be sure to focus on building links from high-quality websites.
- Social media engagement. The more people share and engage with your content on social media, the more likely it is your website will rank higher in SERPs. In case you don’t know where to begin, start by building relationships. One way to get other websites to link to your site is to create great content that people will want to share. If you can get people to share your content on social media or link to it from their own website, you’ll be on your way to boosting your off-page SEO. Reach out to other website owners and ask them to include a link to your site. If you have a strong relationship with another site, they may be willing to link to you as a valuable resource.
- Participate in forums and comment on blogs to build up your off-page SEO. By leaving insightful comments and linking back to your website, you’ll be able to show the search engines that you’re an expert in your field, and that’s what they’re interested in.
How Long Does It Take for SEO to Work?
How long will it take before you start seeing results from your SEO efforts?
It depends on a lot of factors, including the age and strength of your website, the competitiveness of your industry, the quality of your content, the strength of your backlink profile, and how well you've executed your SEO strategy.
If you're looking for immediate results, we recently compared SEO vs. PPC and the latter might be a better option for you.
But, if you’re willing to stick it out, you can generally expect to see results within 6-12 months.
Of course, that's just a broad timeline—in some cases, you may start seeing results more quickly, and in others, it may take longer.
Being patient and consistent with your efforts is key in SEO and if you hang in there, you should see a gradual improvement in your search engine visibility over time.
How Does SEO Work: Key Takeaways
SEO is one of the best ways to reach out to your target market, as long as it’s done properly.
While there are certainly some universal truths about SEO, like knowing which keywords to focus on, there's also a lot of flexibility in what you can do with your site to rank higher.
It is a big part of the modern web and a key component of the digital marketing industry as SEO focuses on making search engines happy by paying attention to the algorithm they are governed by.
And, if Google is happy, it’s a win for everyone!