February 8, 2022

What is SEO and How Does it Work?

By: Shelby Dias

“SEO” might be one of those buzzwords you keep hearing from sales calls, industry newsletters, or your niece who’s majoring in marketing. But, what does search engine optimization look like for your business? How does it work?

A website alone is not enough to make your business visible online. Just like your customers need roads to get to your brick-and-mortar business, they need SEO to find your website. Following SEO best practices helps search engines direct more potential customers to your site.

What is SEO?

To put it simply, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) refers to optimizing your website’s visibility online. Increasing visibility can lead to more website traffic and ultimately more customers. To better understand SEO, you should first understand how a search engine works.

Google continually crawls and indexes web pages. This just means Google reads all the pages it can find and files them away for future use. When you search for something, Google considers the intent of your search and pulls from its entire index to serve up what it thinks are the most relevant results.

The search engine results pages (SERPs) can look different depending on what you search for, but generally includes three sections: paid results, Local Pack results, and organic search results.

  • Search Engine Marketing (SEM) influences paid search results.
  • Local SEO influences Local Pack results. The Local Pack refers to the Google Map listings close to the top of the page.
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO) influences organic search results.

How SEO Works

Google doesn’t reveal its exact formula for how your site is ranked. However, between Google’s tips and input from SEO experts, we know there are several ranking factors that matter. These factors can be categorized into two groups: on-page SEO or off-page SEO.

On-Page SEO

On-page SEO refers to internal factors that affect your website’s search results. These are the factors of your SEO strategy that are directly within your control like content, keyword research, site architecture, and HTML.

  • Content: Search engines read your website pages just like a human. They recognize poor grammar and reward content that gives clear and in-depth answers. Writing great SEO content requires keyword research (understanding the search terms your audience is using). You should use these keywords naturally in your content, page titles, etc.
  • HTML: Headings, title tags, meta tags, and meta descriptions all provide clues to search engines and your audience about how relevant your content is to their search terms.
  • Architecture: This refers to your site structure and organization. When you make it easy for search engines to crawl your site, it’s easier for them to relay your content to users. For example, we recommend all our clients submit their site map to Google Search Console. This helps Google find your pages and index them. Your website speed, accessibility, and security can also impact your on-page SEO.

Off-Page SEO

Off-page SEO refers to all the external factors that affect your website’s search results. This includes things like links to your website from other sources, the location of the searcher, and your website’s reputation.

  • Backlinks: Links to your website from other websites are called backlinks. Since the early days of search engines, a website linking to your website played an important role in how sites rank in search results. The more links you have from trusted websites, the more authority search engines give your content. Links from trusted sites help your site rank higher, but links from sites with malware or other bugs can hurt your rankings. 
  • Location: Search results change based on the searcher’s location. This part of search engine optimization is called Local SEO. Including your address on your website and completing your Google Business Profile can improve your visibility to searchers who are geographically close to your business.
  • Reputation: Search engines give older websites more value than brand new sites. The age of your domain name shows your business has been around a long time. What your customers are saying on Google Reviews, Yelp, and Facebook also affects your reputation with search engines.

How Can SEO Help Your Business?

Having a website with poor SEO and poor user experience is the same as setting up shop in an alley with no foot traffic. If Google can’t find your website, your customers will never find it. With that in mind, SEO is not just helpful to your business, it’s essential if you want to reach your target audience.

Search engine optimization helps your business become visible online, build trust with customers, and create a positive user experience that results in more sales.

  • More Visibility: Better visibility online positively impacts your bottom line. This is because the majority of website traffic comes from organic search. People use search engines every day, often to find information about products or services. If your website is optimized to match their search query and is visible in results, you’re more likely to get their click and ultimately their business.
  • Customer Trust: As a consumer, you may find that you prefer to click organic results instead of ads. Your customers likely feel the same way. Just like trust, great SEO isn’t built overnight. If you continue to deliver content that meets the needs of your audience, you’ll become an authoritative and trusted source and improve your ranking.
  • Positive User Experience (UX): UX refers to how intuitively everything on your site works. Search engines reward positive UX, like clear navigation, page titles, etc. Your website functions should be natural and helpful to your audience instead of distracting and disruptive.

Avoid SEO Shortcuts

Once you understand the importance of SEO to your business, you may be tempted to find the path of least resistance to setting it up. Unfortunately, most of the SEO shortcuts out there are short-term solutions, and the worst of them could penalize your site.


Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is a component of most digital marketing strategies, but it’s not a substitute for traditional SEO. Well-structured, paid search ads can positively impact your business objectives, but they are not a long-term strategy.

Strong SEO is a cost-effective, long-term strategy to reach your target audience. It starts with a website rich with in-depth content and keywords optimized to reach your audience. A solid SEO foundation positively impacts your business long term, and it can be built on as time goes on.

We always recommend our clients start with SEO before venturing into SEM.

Black Hat SEO

“Black Hat” SEO refers to techniques that violate a search engine’s terms of service. This includes practices like:

  • Keyword stuffing. Purposely overusing a keyword stands out to your audience and feels unnatural. This effort to spam or over-communicate with search engines will be penalized.
  • Bulk buying backlinks. Don’t fall for schemes promising thousands of links to your website in a short time window. These are often from sites with poor reputations, which hurts your site reputation. And search engines will ultimately discover these links don’t pass scrutiny. As a result, your rankings will suffer.
  • Cloaking. This is when you show crawlers something different than you show your website visitors. It’s an intentional attempt to manipulate results, so it’s heavily penalized.

Stick to SEO Best Practices

Putting in the work for quality SEO pays off. Your target audience wants to see relevant content that answers their questions — and search engines like Google are constantly learning how to find that content for them. If you build your site with your customer in mind, you’re already on the right track for SEO.

Some of the best practices from Google’s SEO Starter Guide include:

  • Make sure your site is being indexed by Google.
  • Submit a sitemap to help Google find your content.
  • Create content that can be understood by Google and your audience.
  • Use accurate, clear, and descriptive headlines, title links, meta descriptions, etc.
  • Organize your site hierarchy.
  • Create interesting and useful content that you’re readers want.
  • Write links with descriptive text and formate them so they are easy to spot.
  • Use standard image formats and alt tags to help Google understand your images.
  • Make your website mobile-friendly.
  • Link to your website on your social media accounts, Google Business Profile, etc.

Save Time With an SEO-Enriched Website

Too many websites waste away on page two of local search because they don’t provide everything their customers are searching for. Your website can rank higher in search results and reach more customers.

We’ve researched SEO content based on your ideal customer, and we’ve used that data to write every single word on your website. If you want to work with us instead of going it alone, chat with one of our team members.


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