What Is SEO: The What, Why and How’s of It

Table of Contents

There are multiple references that you read online that talk about Search Engine Optimisation or SEO. And how it is a sought-after strategy in the digital marketing field. Each of these points out the importance of learning and applying this process to ensure that Google will not miss out on your website or your content.  

Certainly, you know what SEO is, but is your knowledge of it enough for you to run and practice what it demands?

Here is a refresher of what search engine optimisation is, why it matters in the online business world, and how to optimise your website using its strategies. 

Introduction to Search Engine Optimisation

A brief history of SEO

The year was 1991 when we witnessed the launch of the world’s first website by Tim Berners – Lee. From then on, many more websites like Yahoo (1994) and Google (1997) follow suit with the promise of a user-friendly experience, straightforward data indexing, crawling,  and optimisation. 

This milestone gave birth to the infancy stage of Search Engine Optimisation. Website users and managers tend to take advantage of this by using the black-hat SEO tactic – keyword stuffing, excessive tagging, spammy backlinks to earn favourable search engine ranking. 

Performing black-hat SEO tactics didn’t last long, as you already know. Google, for instance, had set strict guidelines and implemented hefty fines for violators or specialists that continue to engage in this type of technique. 

What is SEO?

SEO is the acronym for Search Engine Optimisation. It is a process to optimise a website so its content or pages can be easily found by search engines to rank them better. 

Search Engine Optimisation is a broad word for people who encountered it for the first time. It includes three distinct keywords – search, engine, and optimisation. 

Search; people hit Google for things they want to know, products they want to purchase, and services they want to avail themselves of. This drive traffics. Online users consumed the content that you produced thus, it matters that your website contains valuable, relevant, and engaging content. 

Engine, in laymen’s terms, is a tool with moving parts that converts power into motion. In this context, we refer to engines such as Google, Yahoo, Bing, and AOL, to name a few, that works to connect your website to your prospective audience, with the possibility of converting them into paying consumers of your products and loyal patrons of your services. 

We define optimisation as an act of making the most out of the resources or the situation that you are in. 

Businesses who resort to partnering with SEO agencies to manage, curate, and promote their websites, understand the weight of the task at hand, thus giving the heavy lifting of SEO tasks to these experts in the field – an investment that gives a benefit in the long run. 

Now that we have dissected what each term means, SEO is simply about helping you, your audience and search engines with the use of straightforward strategies to:

  • find your website, 
  • read your content, and 
  • convert visitors into potential buyers of your product or patrons of the services you offer. 

What it takes to rank

And we arrived at this question. What does it take to rank? Or if you have a client, the most common question thrown to you is, “How long until my website or page ranks on top of Google?

It’s tricky, but it’s not that difficult.

After having the basic knowledge of SEO, you might still wonder why many people would still resort to illegal means to secure their position in search engines. 

The simple explanation is, ranking means authority. When online users hit Google and see your website on the first page of it, people will assume that you got the best content than the rest of the thousands of search results there are. 

What Are the Most Important SEO Ranking Factors?

Ranking factors are the criteria applied by search engines when evaluating web pages to compile the rankings of their search results.

Understanding these ranking factors is crucial for an effective search engine optimisation implementation. 

As of 2022, Google has more than 200 identified ranking factors. Being the most popular search engine on the planet, it is no surprise that you want to secure your place in Google more than anything else. 

With how SEO changes every day, it is challenging to implement and keep up with these new strategies. 

Here are 10 factors that you may want to consider to rank your website higher this year. 

  1. User experience
  2. High-quality content
  3. Strong backlinks
  4. Domain Authority
  5. Keyword Optimisation
  6. Search intent
  7. Website’s speed
  8. Website structure
  9. Website security
  10. Mobile-friendliness

Having these factors as your guide on what to look at when structuring your content and improving your strategies are beneficial only if you:

  • Understand your website
  • know the type of services you offer or products you want people to know you for online. 

We recommend that out of these ten factors, you pick the ones that work best for your SEO campaign.

We will have an in-depth discussion of each of these factors in the next article. 

How does SEO Work?

Search engines use algorithms or a set of policies to determine what pages to show results for people’s queries.

These rules have evolved with complexity and opens more different ranking factors present. 

However, these are the three main metrics that search engines evaluate to determine the quality of a site and how it should rank: 

Links

A vote of quality.

Links are deemed as one of the most essential factors for ranking a website. Why? Website owners understand that producing high-quality content is effective if you want to engage with more sites to link to you.

Do you know someone who would rather link their sites to poor-quality ones online? If so, you might want to share this article with them.

Websites that acquire strong links from many other sites gain authority or in Google it’s PageRank. We have mentioned authority previously and its effects of it on your SEO campaign.

So, if you are producing your content now ensure to link on websites that are authoritative in the eyes of search engines.  

Content 

Content is King. 

We are sure you have heard, seen, and written something about that before; yes it still holds true up to this day. 

A big chunk of page optimisation falls on your content management or content creation. Search engines check your content’s relevance and ensure that you answer the people’s based on the targeted keywords that search engines’ users are searching for.

Page structure 

How you design your page structure impacts your SEO campaign. 

You may think that your URLs don’t matter, but if done correctly can open opportunities for web traffic and higher audience share.

You know that webpages are in HTML forms, poorly structured HTML code can lead to poor site evaluation of search engines. Why? Through codes, search engines have a glimpse of an idea of if your site is crawlable or not. 

The Three stages of SEO

Getting Google and other search engines to rank your website requires improving the content you are offering your audiences and the quality of backlinks to your site. 

The success of every SEO implementation lies in these three stages: Discovery, Relevance, and Authority. These stages are identical to the action that search engines takes: Crawling, Indexing, and Ranking. 

Here’s how. 

Discovery 

Discovery is the first stage of SEO.

Search engine spiders or bots discover your web pages by crawling them. They send signals about your content and check all of the components present on that content. 

These bots take note of the information present on your content and the changes you have implemented on it, like the modification in hyperlinks, updates in the content, or a possible redirection to new URLs. 

Relevance

The next stage is Relevance. Once crawlers discover and check your content, the indexing process comes in. 

In this phase, the indexer analyses the content and ensures the quality of the website or webpage, and assigns some kind of relevant value to the content the crawlers found depending on the different keywords present on the content. 

This stage ensures that the site was able to deliver what the user looks for in a query – accuracy to match what they are looking for. 

Authority

Another factor that affects SEO is authority. This last stage is crucial as it comprises three levels: domain authority, page authority, and links authority. 

Authority talks about the credibility of your site over other web pages present on the world wide web. 

There are metrics that search engines use or consider to grant one site an authoritative value enough to rank high in the search results. 

Therefore we can conclude that authority directly affects the ranking of one’s website. 

Difference between Organic Search and Paid Search

You would often hear organic and paid searches online when tackling subjects regarding search engines.

Do you know the difference between the two? And what are its implications for your SEO campaign?

Organic Search

Organic search or natural search pertains to unpaid search. Simply put that you base organic search on the content’s relevance to the keyword query rather than the Search Engine Marketing, meaning it doesn’t cost any amount every month. The only expense for this is time and effort to get ranked.

Paid Search 

Paid search is an advertisement. 

Search engines earn from ads. If you notice they show ads close by organic search results and these ads are normally situated on the very top, or in a left/right sidebar of search results. 

This type of search adapts the pay-per-click model and is a kind of contextual advertising where site owners pay a charge to have their site shown in top search engine results page placement.

The SEO Objectives

The main objective of SEO is site visibility to grow your business online – boost your presence in relevant online search results, so you can earn more leads, sales, and revenue. 

Each web owners have their own specific goals of why they want to adopt SEO implementations. Your aim for optimising your website may differ depending on the size of your website, the products and services you offer, or even the industry you belong to. 

These are some common SEO objectives clients want to achieve:

  1. Optimize Internal Linking Structure
  2. Increase Organic Traffic
  3. Improve Your Backlink Strategy
  4. Strengthen Domain Authority
  5. Grow Conversions and Drive sales
  6. Increase E-Commerce Sales
  7. Intensify Visitor Time on Pages
  8. Decrease Bounce Rate
  9. Maximize Page Speed
  10. Target Informational Keywords
  11. Add value to searchers through content produced

Getting Started with SEO – the process

Search Engine Optimisation is a process. Not a one-time thing. 

  1. Research

Research under SEO involves keyword research, competitor analysis, and business research. 

This part of the SEO process is gruelling as it requires a considerate amount of time, effort, and patience. 

For instance, keyword phrase research demands you to identify a set of words for optimisation that are high usage by searchers and relatively low competition within the search engines.

The thought of it seemed quite easy because of the SEO tools present online to help you, but the challenges come in when you have to trim down your options and ensure it passes the two factors we mentioned above. 

  1. Reporting & Goal Setting

Where do you wish to see yourself on search engines? 

You need to have a clear mind as to where you want to take your business, this is how crucial goal setting is in every campaign you take on. Having a clear set of goals can help you focus on things that need your attention and more improvements. 

Search Engine Optimisation is a process and not a project that you can just let and have its entire course do its magic. 

You must have the right tools to check statistics and analytics on how well you perform on search engines, before SEO and while implementing SEO now. 

Data generated from these SEO tools can be an advantage if you know how to interpret it. You may encounter data that shows:

  • Popular buzzwords in your industry 
  • A most popular type of content
  • Bounce rates
  • The site’s traffic level and audience demographics. 
  1. Content Building

Search engines love text. High volume, high quality of content is something that Google is looking for, so why not produce it?

If you create well-thought-out, engaging content people will gravitate more towards your website. This scenario will give Google an idea that you are a haven of reliable, valuable, and essential content compared to the millions of websites their crawlers come across with. 

The more time you invest in ensuring your content is top of the line, the more search engines get to know you and share more of your details with the online community. 

  1. Social & Link Building

Social media are currently one of the biggest and fastest platforms of shared content. Fish where the fishes are. This phrase means that you must be visible to more audiences if you want them to engage with you more. 

Check your site’s statistics and see the demographics of your visitors. Craft content for them and share it on other media platforms. 

With every new content produced, more chances of link building happen. As a precautionary measure, since Google views links as votes for your site’s popularity, you may think of associating too many links on every content you create. 

Let us remind you that Google has a set of standards when evaluating the links you have on your website, low-quality, no use, and spammy type of links can only affect your progress and worst, lead you to penalties. 

You will not only widen your reach but learn more as you explore other mediums for your content building and link building campaign. 

  1. Follow Up Reporting & Analysis

Monitor your progress. Make it a habit to consciously rack your performance online to see which areas you need to put much effort on. 

Initial reporting and goal setting alone are not enough, you need to follow through and ensure that all of you cover all of your SEO campaign’s bases. 

The metric that you will use to gauge your site’s performance depends on the goals you have identified and established. 

Compare your rankings or traffic levels pre-optimisation vs. post optimisation phase, and from here you will have a clear indicator of your SEO implementations are effective. 

The SEO Strategies 

You have set your goals and wanted to take on the SEO process, we know you are excited but before you take the plunge, know these strategies first. 

An effective SEO strategy is split into two: On-Page and Off-Page.

On-Page Strategy 

On-page SEO strategy focuses on the area of your website that you can control. 

Search engines look at what your site is all about and how you position the content on every page of your website is on-page SEO. 

Factors affecting your on-page SEO strategy:

  • Content
  • Title Tag
  • Meta Description
  • Alt Text
  • Keywords
  • URL Structure
  • Internal Linking
  • Breadcrumb Navigation
  • Page Performance
  • Mobile Friendliness
  • Schema Markup
  • SSL/HTTPS
  • Core Web Vitals

Off-Page Strategy

Off-page SEO strategy focuses on strengthening the authority of your domain through the process of link building from other websites.

Factors affecting your on-page SEO strategy:

  • Backlinks – you can earn them through the following:
  • Guest blogging
  • Press Releases
  • Help A Reporter Out [HARO]
  • Industry trade publications features
  • Reaching out to influencers to share your content
  • Guesting on a podcast
  • Participating forum
  • Hosting events (in person or virtual).
  • Domain Authority
  • Social Promotion
  • Local SEO
  • PPC (Google, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) 

Optimise both on-page and off-page SEO. You don’t have to choose one over the other because those factors that we have mentioned are all crucial and benefits your overall website performance. 

So stop thinking about what is more important between the two, because you need to have both components and strategies to keep a sense of balance to your website. 

Work first on what you can control (on-page) on your website – producing quality content – and you’ll see how smooth earning backlinks and improving your domain authority (off-page) will be in the long run. 

Black Hat SEO versus White Hat SEO

What is Black Hat SEO?

Black Hat SEO is a practice that goes against the standard search engine guidelines and policies. 

Some digital marketers use unethical tactics to gain the results that they want and to satisfy their clients. Some of these recognised SEO dark tactics are:

  • Keyword stuffing 
  • Integrating private link or blog networks
  • Cloaking
  • Content Automation
  • Sneaky redirects
  • Reporting a Competitor
  • Intentional content duplication
  • Spamming rich snippet markup

Black Hat SEO is SEO done in a dark, wrong way. Your website will get penalised and may get banned from search engines rather than make friends with it.

In 2006, Google confirmed the ejection of the SEO firm Traffic Power and the sites it represents from its indexes due to violations performed by the said firm. 

“I can confirm that Google has removed traffic-power.com and domains promoted by Traffic Power from our index because of search engine optimization techniques that violated our webmaster guidelines,” Matt Cutts, Google’s former Head of the WebSpam Group official statement. 

Keep in mind that search engines’ algorithms change from time to time to detect websites that continue to avail unethical SEO implementations like this. It recognises and penalises those businesses that engage in this method of engagement. 

What is White Hat SEO?

White Hat SEO means ranking by the rules of Google. This method is far different and much sought-after than the ones we mentioned above. 

This tactic of increasing your website’s position on a search engine results page (SERP) is a search-engine approved way to improve your business’s online presence and preserve its integrity. 

SEO professionals practising white hat SEO ensures that you are in line with the terms and conditions set by search engines to avoid unnecessary complications or face penalties. 

Some of these examples can be:

  • Ensuring your website is navigable
  • A mobile-friendly and faster loading times website
  • Providing quality, rich content and services
  • Following best practices for tags and meta descriptions
  • Satisfying user intent

We understand that getting Google to notice your content is challenging. This is one of the reasons why some would rather take the easy road of dark schemes to outrank their competitor and list higher in SERPs. 

Qualities of an SEO Friendly Website

Is your website an SEO friendly one?

Building a website for your business is one win already, but sustaining it to survive the ever-changing requirements of search engines and the competition out there is an enormous challenge. 

These are some of the elements that make your site an SEO friendly one. 

  1. Clean URL structure

In our previous blog post, we have discussed how your URL structure affects SEO site performance and crawling activities. 

Remember to have your permanent links structured in this way: lower case, descriptive, separated by dashes, and contain organic keywords for search engine visibility. 

  1. Unique description for titles and pages 

Seo friendly sites contain unique titles and descriptions for all of their pages. 

Page titles direct search engines what the page is all about, so you must think of a simple, descriptive type of page title for each page you have on your site. 

  1. Solid content

For sure you know the advantage of crafting solid and unique content on your website. 

When we speak of unique content we want something that is organically structured and free from plagiarism. 

Google and other search engines will flag your website if they detected you have stolen other people’s content and claimed it as your own without proper credits or permission. 

Dont tarnish your reputation with this act of plagiarism. 

  1.  Fast loading pages

An SEO friendly website offers a better user experience. We all have our fair share of visiting websites online that takes forever to load and we know how irritating it can be. 

Dont lose a prospective customer just because you host your website on poor ones. As much as possible invest in quality hosting platforms. 

  1. Internal linking 

Internal linking serves as a compass of your website to search engine crawlers.

It helps spiders or bots in associating relevant web pages to your site, which creates a strong internal architecture to boost your website’s SEO friendliness.

What does SEO Friendly Content look like?

Creating SEO friendly content can be an arduous task if you think of it because of the requirements that come along with it – unique keywords, strong links, and high-quality content.

Here are five must-have elements that make content an SEO friendly one:  

  1. Use headings and subheadings

When we speak of user-friendly we mean accessible, navigable type of content. 

Using headings and subheadings to structure your content can aid your visitors to run through your content seamlessly and hassle-free. 

Remember that SEO wants a better user experience as well. 

When you provide your audience content that is easy to digest, they are more likely to share and bookmark your site for future references.  

The same goes for search engines crawlers. It will be easier for these bots to crawl into your content as they can recognise your headlines and use them to understand your content clearly as to which parts are important. 

The study by Semrush reveals that 36% of articles with header tags have higher chances in terms of performing in search engines – traffic, backlinks, and even shares.

Keep in mind to:

  • Create catchy H1
  • Have your meta descriptions well-optimised; preferably about 1-2 sentences (140-160 characters) long
  • Include target keywords in titles
  • Use words like ‘how’, ‘why’, ‘what’, and ‘where’
  • Use numbers for the list type of articles.
  1. Backlinks – external and internal links

One way to have search engines rank your site is the number of quality backlinks you have in your content. 

Good content tends to have a lot of external and internal links in it. If you want to establish authority, ensure that you link your content to reputable sites. 

External links are links that point from one website to another. Contrary to internal links, that connects one page to another under the same domain. 

Links are the currency of the internet; search engines know that. Links direct search engines what content is good, bad, and never mind. They help search engines validate your reputation and if you deserve to be on their top page. 

This will not only add more value to your page but will help you gain traffic, earn the trust of your readers as they will see you as a credible source, ultimately making you one of the respected industry leaders. 

  1. High – quality Content: length, relevant, and shareable

Length

Start creating long-form content. You will often hear this if you are a content creator or a digital content writer. 

Before, website owners tend to publish pieces of content that are shorter as they see that the more content you release, the higher the ranking potential. 

They are sceptical in producing long-form content as they deemed it not readable or not appealing to their audiences. 

Now, it doesn’t work that way. Even this Roots Digital blog you are reading today can attest to that. 

You’ll stumble upon blog posts or articles written around 1,000  to 5, 000 plus words and websites tend to publish them less frequent. 

If you check your analytics, which content you have published tend to garner more traffic or visitors? Your answers may differ but we can all agree that people stick to content that discusses the in-depth scenario of a specific subject than that seemed to skip important parts of the topic. 

With everything being present online, level up your content creation by ensuring that when people land on your page searching for what SEO means, they will never look elsewhere but you alone. 

Relevant

Relevancy is authenticity and usefulness rolled into one. 

You are reading this content because you want to know useful information that you can apply to your SEO campaigns or if you are starting you want some guides to help you get started. 

Why authenticity? People look for answers online. Some believe anything and everything they get from the web. 

As content creators or website owners, you must put authenticity and value to what you share online. You must speak the truth and release articles based on factual evidence for you to connect effectively to your audience. 

If you continuously make an effort to update and ensure your content survive the changing landscape of things online, people will see you as an expert in your field – making them want to do business with you. 

Shareable

Your content must cross boundaries. Reach as many people as you can by ensuring your content are shareable, not just on your website but even on social media platforms. 

A rich and interesting article can change your business image and can solidify your brand’s reputation. 

  1. Choice of Keywords

Are we in agreement with this point? 

Choosing your keywords wisely can impact your SEO campaigns positively. 

Some write first and leave the SEO optimisation job the last, others move into listing their target keywords and formulate their content. Whatever works for you in this phase, we respect it but we recommend you the latter. 

Identifying your keywords before drafting your content can help you better structure your inputs. You know which keywords go into the title, headlines, meta descriptions, and even on copies. 

Tricky as it may sound, but now you have tools to help you come up with your keywords. You’ll find many keyword research guides online that can help you get started if you want to optimise your website content. 

Why is SEO significant?

SEO is a multifaceted process enough to make some people get rid of it. 

The complexity of this essential digital marketing tool becomes attractive to entrepreneurs and digital marketers around the web as it has brought new opportunities, professionally. 

Whether you perform SEO yourself for your website or collaborate with digital marketing agencies to perform this task for you, you can’t erase the fact that this is your survival toolkit. 

Integrating search engine optimisation into your business’s system is crucial as it will open doors for you – makes your website more visible on search engines, guarantees more organic traffic, create opportunities to convert prospects into paying customers. 

More than the technical aspect, SEO establishes brand awareness, build relationships, and helps in positioning yourself as an authentic industry leader of your field or line of business.

Now What?

We know that with everything we have laid out here you are still wondering how search engine optimisation rules the digital marketing world right now. 

It’s okay, we understand that all of these are way too overwhelming to handle at first but, with this guide, we hope you can have the basic foundation if you want to take on SEO strategies on your website today. Hire an SEO agency with proven works can also help you to start it.

Yes, SEO is not for the faint-hearted. 

There are new updates springing up every second that may cause you to lose focus and drive, but let us tell you this, SEO is your compass to get to where you want to be. 

If you stop and are reluctant to go through the process, we cannot guarantee you a successful online presence. 

Keep this guide as your GPS in building your brand, optimising your content, and solidifying your online reputation. So hang on, and do the work. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is SEO?

SEO is the acronym for Search Engine Optimisation. It is a process to optimise a website so its content or pages can be easily found by search engines to rank them better.

How does SEO work?

Search engines use algorithms or a set of policies to determine what pages to show results for people’s queries.

There are three main metrics that search engines evaluate to determine the quality of a site and how it should rank: links, content, and page structure. 

How long does it take to rank on Google?

It depends. We know this answer may frustrate you but that is the real thing about ranking as it doesn’t depend on one factor alone.

There are thousands of factors that affect your website’s ranking position and Google recently dropped that they use around 200 plus metrics to check a website for ranking. 

Do I really need SEO?

Are you willing to spend your time on SEO? 

Solid SEO takes time. You have to know it yourself as a business owner.  Here are some points to help you decide:

– Can your business survive by word of mouth or referrals?
– Invest in the sales team or online visibility or both?
– For online visibility, how many customers do you want to reach per month, per year?

Some SEO experts will tell you that every business needs SEO. Others may advise you it is not necessary. Depending on what you decide, ensure you check your cash flow first. 

SEO is an investment. There are various factors that you need to look into before diving into it because each may cost differently.

At Roots Digital we operate with transparency and honesty. Though having clients sounds great for our agency, what matters to us more is our conscience. 

We will tell you if you need SEO now or if it is the right move for you. 

Do I need to hire an SEO?

SEO is a serious undertaking.

You earn your ranking and the growth of your business online. 

 If you have a clear answer to the points we raised at no. 4, we will be glad to help you.

Ian Ong
Ian Ong
Marketing Director @ Roots Digital. Aka the guy responsible for growing the digital agency.
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