What is SEO and How Does it Work?

What is SEO and How Does it Work?

SEO, which stands for Search Engine Optimization, is the process of tweaking/optimizing a website so that it ranks better in the search results pages (SERPs).

These optimizations include updating metadata, fixing crawl errors, rewriting content, adding alt text to images, making a website more user-friendly, etc.

SEO is all about ensuring that a website is meeting all of the search engine’s recommendations while, at the same time, ensuring that the user has a great experience on the website and is able to find what they are looking for.

Let’s take a look at some of the factors that impact a website’s SEO performance.

Factors That Impact SEO

SEO Factors

There are several different factors that impact a website’s rankings in the SERPs, but here are a few of the most important by my estimation.

Relevant Quality Content

While it’s been a hotly-debated topic within the SEO community on whether or not content truly is king, nobody argues that it’s not an extremely important factor to take into account when handling a site’s SEO.

By having quality and relevant content in place on a website, whether that be through informative blog posts or standalone pages, you have a much better chance of ranking well within the SERPs.

The keywords here (pun intended) are quality and relevant.

As I cover in my article on SEO basics, these are 2 extremely important pillars when it comes to SEO as a whole.

A website should always have well-written content that is free of spelling errors, grammatical issues, or formatting issues that make the content hard to read.

Relevancy is extremely important as well, possibly even the most important ranking factor, as Google wants to make sure they are serving up answers to people’s search queries.

If their results aren’t relevant, then the user won’t be served an answer.

Plain and simple.

So, if you’re targeting a specific keyword or topic, ensure the content is both well-written and relevant to what the person is searching for.

For example, my article on getting into web design without experience ranks highly for the term “how to get into web design with no experience” because it’s well-written and, you guessed it, extremely relevant to that search query.

User-Friendly Website Design

As I mentioned, Google cares tremendously what its users think of websites.

So, if a website is poorly designed or not formatted correctly for whatever device they’re using, Google ain’t havin’ it.

Having a website that loads quickly, is well-designed, and mobile-friendly will cover all these bases.

Natural Quality Backlinks

I don’t care what anyone says, backlinks aren’t dead and are an incredibly important ranking factor.

This is evidenced by the fact that PBN links are being cracked down by Google because they work so well.

So, if you want to play by the rules and actually make an impact SEO-wise, you need to build natural, quality links to your site.

Brian Dean has a fantastic guide on how to build backlinks to your site that won’t put you at risk from Google’s ban hammer.

Of course, you can try using PBN links, but if the network is discovered by Google your site’s at risk of being penalized and your rankings might go bye-bye.

A few things I do to build backlinks naturally include using HARO, commenting on other people’s blogs, and writing articles on other websites (like this one).

On-Page SEO

On-Page SEO is what happens on your actual website.

These are the things that you have complete control over, giving you the freedom to make any and all optimizations yourself.

Here are a few important factors pertaining to On-Page SEO that you should pay attention to:

Metadata

Your metadata consists of title tags, meta descriptions, and meta keywords.

The reason why I crossed out meta keywords is because it’s not a thing anymore.

So, if you are in the middle of a conversation with someone and they mention meta keywords as somehow being a thing, they are stuck in the year 2005 and need help getting back to the future.

Anyway, the two most important items within your website’s metadata are the title tag and the meta description.

The title tag, which is what Google displays as the link text for the page when it’s shown in the SERPs, should be relevant to the page it’s on and, assuming it’s below the threshold of 600 pixels in width, it should contain your brand name within it after a hyphen or pipe. (e.g. the title tag for my above article example is “How to Quickly Get Into Web Design With No Experience – Thomas F. Adams”)

Many people have different ways of going about writing title tags, but I’ve found the best way of writing them is to have the title of the article/page match the title tag and have my brand name featured toward the end if it’s not too long.


Otherwise, if your title is too long, you can remove the brand name from it.

Google will sometimes ignore your title tags if they find something else would be more relevant, however, so just keep that in mind.

9 times out 10, though, they’ll use your title tag in my experience.

The meta description is the little blurb that shows up underneath the title tag in the search results page.

Again, similar to your title tags, Google will sometimes take liberties with your meta description and show something else entirely – especially if you don’t have one set for your page.

Either way, I always recommend having a strong call-to-action within your meta description so that it will help increase your click-thru rate and, ultimately, help your rankings.

Subheadings

^ this is a subheading (an H3 to be exact).

They are used to break up your content so that it’s easier to read.

Google pays attention to subheadings, so it’s smart to add relevant terms in your subheadings based on what you’re wanting to target with your content.

Ensure your headings are properly nested by only having one H1 on your page (the title), and H2s above H3s, H3s above H4s – and so on.

I think I’ve only used H4s once in an article, so you’ll likely only use H2s-H3s while writing.

Having a WordPress website set up makes it easy to select your H2s and H3s, but if you don’t see this option in your site builder you can always use the HTML tags “<h#>…</h#>”.

Internal & External Links

Adding links to other pages is a very important onsite ranking factor.

You should consistently add a handful of relevant external links within your articles to help build your site’s trust with Google.

The internal links also help build good site architecture and distribute your page’s authority throughout the site.

Look above at how many internal and external links I’ve already dropped in this article – I can’t help myself!

Off-Page SEO

Off-Page SEO pertains to the things that happen outside your website.

Here are a few of the most important offsite ranking factors:

Backlinks

As I covered in the above portion on natural backlinks, these are an important factor that happens offsite.

Backlinks are incoming links from one site to another and can help bring referral traffic to a site along with “link juice” to help with organic rankings.

Quality is better than quantity when it comes to backlinks, and always be cautious if you plan on buying backlinks as this is technically against Google’s guidelines.

Social Signals

Social signals are things like post likes, retweets, and article shares from sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit, etc.

Due to the rise in social media, Google takes into account a website’s social shares into its algorithm.

This is why it’s important to have quality, sharable content that people like as it’ll help your site gain exposure not only on social media but also in the SERPs!

Black Hat vs. White Hat SEO

There are 2 main approaches to SEO that a person can take: Black Hat and White Hat.

As the names suggest, black hat pertains to SEO tactics that are “bad” due to them violating Google’s guidelines while white hat pertains to “good” SEO tactics that don’t violate their guidelines.

The name likely comes from old TV shows that feature the black-clad characters with the curly-mustaches as the villains while the heroes were typically dressed in all-white and glowing.

A great example of a black hat SEO tactic is the use of PBN links, while an example of a white hat SEO tactic is sending an article to a webmaster with the hope that they feature a link to the article on their site.

There’s also Gray Hat SEO, which, as the name suggests, is someone using tactics that are right in the middle between ethical and nonethical SEO.

An example of a gray hat SEO tactic, in my opinion, is building backlinks using Web 2.0’s.

Conclusion

There’s a lot to learn when it comes to SEO, and this article hasn’t even scratched the surface.

However, if you’re willing to read a ton and implement what you learn, you should get a handle of things in a reasonable amount of time.

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An SEO expert, web designer, and writer, Thomas blogs on his website ThomasFAdams.com where he teaches people how to start successful online businesses involving topics ranging from web design to affiliate marketing and eCommerce. Since 2014, he's worked with countless business owners to help them improve their organic presence online. When he's not writing about online business or geeking out about the latest Google algorithm update, he spends his free time playing the piano and working out with his wife.

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