How Does SEO Work? An Intro Guide

Matt Cayless
Matt Cayless  |  August 31, 2018

SEO, three little letters – one galactic topic. In this article we start you on the road to understanding search engine optimization by explaining what it is in a nutshell.

SEO 101

Search engine optimization is the process that’s used to make websites more visible in the search engine results.

If you’re completely new to the topic, an analogy might help. Imagine you’re setting up a shop in the middle of a dark and unmapped forest. You want to let people know about your shop. More importantly, you want people to visit once they’ve found out about you.

So, you do a bit of work to make these things happen. You stick up signposts on the outskirts on the forest, letting people know you’re there and giving them an idea of how a visit to your shop will meet their exact needs. Plus, you make your shop look really appealing – maybe you put up fairy lights – so people don’t change their mind about visiting you half way into their journey.

Search engine optimization specialists do a similar job online. They improve the keyword relevancy and navigability of websites, and do a few technical jobs behind the scenes, to create virtual road signs and paths that lead more visitors to the website through search engines like Google.

A brief history of SEO

When the internet first launched in 1991, SEO wasn’t really necessary. First of all, there weren’t really enough websites for any of them to be hidden amongst the others. By 1993 there were still only 130 websites in existence.

By 1994, though, the number had increased by 2,006 percent. By the time Google launched in 1998, there were more than 2.4 million websites around.

When Google was in its infancy and its ranking algorithms weren’t as fully formed as they are today, the first SEOs were able to manipulate search engines to rank websites very easily.

Their tricks were known as “black hat” tactics and techniques and included stuffing website pages with the same keywords over and over so Google would believe that website was the best as far as that keyword was concerned.

For example, a black shoe company would write black shoe, black shoe, black shoe as many times as possible throughout their website in order to persuade Google that it was the best website for black shoes. Google wouldn’t have known if those black shoes fell apart after a day’s use.

Then Google got wise to these underhanded methods. It wanted websites that offered quality and relevant services to rank at the top of its search results. So, it made a few changes behind the scenes.

A series of "updates" were released with names like Panda and Penguin. Despite their cute titles, these updates were serious stuff. They were designed to stop people cheating the system.

So, what does the SEO world look like today?

SEO today is less about tricks and more about curating websites that are full of quality content, offer customers what they claim to, and are easy to use.

Larger companies employ entire teams to work on their SEO and trying to understand Google's algorithm. However, Google will start to reward your website with higher rankings if you follow a few bits of best practice.

Keywords

Although Google cracked down on keyword stuffing tactics years ago, keywords still play a role in SEO. If your website is naturally dotted with keywords that reflect the precise nature of your business, then Google will take notice.

Not sure which keywords are relevant to your business? You can use a few free tools to help you out here.

Take Keywords Everywhere. This tool lets you type a word that you think is relevant to your business into Google, and it will show you what other words and topics people interested in that keyword have also searched for. Insight like this can then help you come up with ideas for blogs or help you re-write webpages to be more relevant to your customers.

There are hundreds of different SEO software available, be sure to find the right one for your content and marketing team.

Related: Don't spoil your chance of ranking before you even hit publish. Learn what keyword cannibalization is and why it's important.

Add quality content to your site

There’s a saying in today’s SEO industry that “content is king.” This means that it helps to have a well-written, helpful website.

Google will approve if you provide your readers with well thought out blog pieces that answer their questions in detail or entertain them, for example.

Including good quality images and videos on your site will help keep your audience more engaged and stay longer on page, a positive signal to Google. Making sure all your content is optimized with the best on-page SEO practices is an even better signal.

TIP: Learn how to leverage Google Optimize for A/B testing your website.

Make sure your website is mobile friendly

Google had been boosting the ranking of mobile-friendly web pages in the mobile search results since 2015.

It’s not just Google that disapproves of websites that don’t work on mobile phones or tablets, though. Up to 61 percent of mobile users will leave a site immediately if they can’t work their way around it easily.

Tip: Interested in learning more? Learn how mobile first indexing can impact your SEO

In summary

As promised, the above information presents the concept of SEO in a nutshell. There are many more ways you can use SEO techniques to improve the visibility and position of your website in the search engine results pages.

To implement some techniques like quality link building, you might need to employ a professional SEO agency. However, taking small steps and making steady progress is something that everyone can do if they have a little bit of time to do it.

Learn more about the history of SEO in this infographic by Bubblegum Search: 

infographic bubblegum
 
Matt Cayless
Author

Matt Cayless

Matt Cayless is the Director of SEO at Bubblegum Search. He is an expert in Search Engine Optimization having worked on campaigns for some of the world’s biggest brands and has a passion for helping businesses grow online. When he’s not chasing the Google algorithm he can be found training for his next marathon.