What Is SEO and How It Works?

It should be unheard of to ignore SEO if you own a website, especially in IT or tech.

Organic traffic will be responsible for almost 60 percent of website traffic come 2023. Strangely, nearly sixty percent of small businesses have no SEO strategy – 

It’s like throwing money out the window. 

Indirectly or deliberately 

You’re losing out on making more money or getting your webshop in front of relevant customers every time you delay search engine optimization.

Enough rambling about why you should practice SEO. I assume you already plan to if you’re here. Find out what SEO means by yourself and how it works.

Definition of SEO

SEO is short for Search Engine Optimization. It means improving your website’s visibility on search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo, and DuckDuckGo. Interestingly, it transcends these mainstream search engines and includes industry-specific types like Linkedin and, Facebook, even Amazon. 

A successful SEO campaign aims to get your pages front and center of your target audience. 

It’s not enough to just appear on a search engine’s result page (SERP). If it was that simple, ranking on page 2 or 5 would be acceptable since you’re outranking, give or take, about ten pages.

In reality, though, websites on the first page convert over 90 percent of new and existing searchers. 

Importance of SEO for Small Businesses

Are you trying to grow your small business or startup?

And if you offer Software as a Service (SaaS), your livelihood may depend on getting SEO right. 

Fortunately, with lean startup capital and time investment, you can afford DIY SEO. 

Here are five ways search engine optimization can help you grow sales and publicity. 

Gather Relevant Customer Analytics

If you’re running a first-time online business owner, get ready to be bombarded with valuable user data. When you start SEO, you welcome hundreds to thousands of user data based on the scale of your campaign. 

With SEO, you’ll gather simple data like page ranking, impressions, traffic, and keywords. Delving deeper with SEO tools, you can also analyze visitor interaction with your pages through click-through rates, bounce rates, and conversions. 

As a small business, you may have yet to have had access to this information. Search engine optimization will tell you how, when, and the type of customers that look for your products and services. 

Smart businesses work on these data for future targeted marketing efforts.   

Improved Organic Traffic

This is one of the most obvious benefits of SEO to businesses. 

Organic traffic soars when you identify relevant keywords and produce rockstar content with decent authority links. 

To put it into perspective, the average SEO campaign generates a thousand more traffic than a social media campaign.


Always aim for the first page and the top of your niche’s SERP. The first two results share over fifty percent of organic traffic, and the seventh bottom fight over a measly four percent. 

It builds brand loyalty, trust, and engagement with your content in front of more eyes. More interesting, persuasive content on your pages may help you convert a fraction of the traffic into paying customers without lifting a muscle.

It’s Cheap 

The most shocking benefit of SEO is that it’s free. Once your site’s set up, you can use free tools like Google Analytics and Google Trends to identify vital audience keywords and start optimizing. 

Some of the best tools (with extensive features and versatility) have free paid versions with limited trials. Although they’re short trials, about 7 days, it’s enough time to build confidence, research, strategize, and trust the tool. 

Alternatively, if you can hire a professional SEO marketer for as little as $500 monthly, there’s a 1:1 chance you’ll be delighted with the results. 

That’s only a fraction of the cost of PPC or even Facebook ads, and the results continue working long after payment. 

Improve User Engagement

Like it or not, in SEO, the searchers (your target audience) come first, search engines next, and then your business. 

What does this mean? 

It’s a necessity to keep users engaged with valuable, relatable, and interactive content to rank high on Google. You’ll be rewarded with a growing legion of visitors, brand advocates, and unprecedented ROI. 

Some of the most effective SEO user engagement tools are video content, augmented reality, interactive site tools like chatbots, and the classic lead magnet. 

How Does SEO Work? 

Search engines keep their algorithms secret. And for a good reason – to avoid exploitation by shady companies and competitors. 

Nonetheless, they leave a trail to improve your rankings in their policy updates, like Google’s Updates. Google makes thousands of updates to its algorithm yearly but releases about two to four core updates to the public. 

Ultimately, the goal is to provide users with the best search results and a positive experience. Here are two significant factors the algorithms take into consideration: 

However, these updates generally demand relevance and expert authority for websites to rank.  

Search engines base Relevance on the content with the closest topic and keywords to a searcher’s query. In contrast, expertise is the niche popularity or authority of a website ranking for those keywords.

In simple terms, you’ll rank higher if your keywords are relevant to a query and constantly brand yourself as an SEO authority than competing websites.  

The Art and Mechanics Of SEO (How SEO Works)

Unlike most machines, the SEO engine never stops working. 

We’ll examine what it entails to keep your search engine results page (SERP) perpetually well-oiled. 

There are a ton of moving parts, but the SEO machinery falls into four categories: 

  • Technical
  • Content 
  • Tracking 

1. Technical SEO 

You can create the most engaging content on the web. You can light them up with amazing infographics. Hell, you could even infuse the most relevant keywords. 

Google won’t rank it. 

Ok, that’s mostly a joke – if you’ve done a technical SEO audit. 

The point here is: the technical setup of your website is the foundation on which you build your SEO strategy. 

Then, according to your content, authority, and optimization efforts (no one knows for sure), you can compete for the first page. 

A technical or content audit is what SEOs and marketers do to get your website up to speed – figuratively and literally. 

Figuratively in the sense that it’s how the search algorithm finds you and literally because it involves boosting page speed. Think of your website loading speed as the pillar for all your SEO efforts.  

Aside from page load speed, here are other structural factors search engines prioritize: 

I. URL Structure

The length of your domain name affects SEO. And it’s advisable to choose a meaningful keyword in the URL and separate long words with hyphens. 

Overall, the structure of your URLs has a minor impact on your SEO and ranking opportunities. 

II. Mobile Friendliness

You’re a hot mess if your website isn’t mobile-friendly in 2023. 

It’s just not because it’s a Google policy – website ranking also depends on the quality of your mobile results. For example, if you deliberately serve less content on the mobile site, you may experience a drop in traffic.

It’s the logical option for optimal results. Over half of worldwide web searches come from a mobile phone.

That’s why a mobile responsive website is a necessity for SEO success. 

III. Duplicate Content

I know what you’re thinking: “hey, I never copy and paste content on my website!” 

Duplicate content is more complicated and, most times, unintentional. Your website parameters like session IDs, print-only versions, or click tracking can cause duplicate content issues. 

The problem is that search engines can’t decide which identical content to index, so they rank all the pages. As you’d expect, they appear lower than expected.

The most popular way to combat this technical issue is with a 301 redirect. Essentially, it redirects users and search algorithms from the duplicates to the original page. 

Image from Moz

IV. Dead Links

Ever come across a “404, error not found” when surfing the web?

If yes, then you are aware of the most common form of dead links. Dead links (also known as broken links) are web pages that are inaccessible to visitors.

Broken links aren’t SEO deal breakers. But in excess, they can affect ranking through higher bounce rates and poor user experience. 

You can learn how to find and fix dead links with SEOptimer’s comprehensive guide.

V. Sitemap and Robot.txt Files

Think of the sitemap as Batman and Robin. 

One shows the search algorithms a list of pages to index (sitemap), and the other tells it what not to crawl certain pages (robot.txt). 

You can learn how to find and fix dead links with SEOptimer’s comprehensive guide.

VI. Content Audit 

This is another crucial SEO audit that analyzes all your website content, from landing pages to blog posts. Its goal is to check for weaknesses and strengths in your content marketing strategy and create opportunities. 

2. Content Is King 

You’ve probably heard this phrase a billion times. And it won’t stop anytime soon. 

When you use a search engine, the answer you find is some form of content. It could be in blogs, ebooks, videos, infographics, business directories, or even gifs. 

This is how customers can find your business through SEO. They enter a query, love your page title, find answers and direction through the content, and become fans. Then, sooner or later, they subscribe to your newsletter, download your free Ebook, or buy your product. 

Most importantly, relevant and informative content shows search engines how to rank a page.  

It starts with…

Identifying Target Keywords

If technical SEO is the parts and electricals of a machine, keyword research is the ignition.

It starts the SEO campaign by identifying suitable and competitive keywords your target audience enters (query) on the search engine. Unless you’re an authority in your niche, you’ll need to find low-competition keywords that cater to your specific audience. 

Many SEO tools, like Ahref and SEMrush, would help you set up tons of meaningful keywords for months-long content plans.  

Successful keyword research drives your SEO content strategy to meet targets. It’s a force of attraction for high-quality visitors who value your content, share and engages with it, and convert down the line. 

On-Page SEO

On-page SEO refers to the visible efforts you take on your website to improve organic traffic. 

I will only get into details of some of the elements of on-page SEO since there are over a dozen. 

Basically, though, they show Google what you want to rank for – and capture visitors’ attention. And display the quality of youR

Popular on-page SEO factors include optimizing keywords in the meta tags (page title and description), image alt tags, URL, headers

Off-page SEO

Off-page SEO and on-page SEO are different but equally important. 

Think of them as two sides of a coin. 

Off-page optimization is a strategy implemented outside your website to improve its relevance, trustworthiness, and authority. And on-page takes place within your website. 

Learn about the different types of Off Page SEO practices to rank on the SERPs. These few are at the top of our list. 

I. Socials 

Build a strong social media presence to cultivate a loyal audience that visits your website and advocates for you. 

More than half of the world’s population uses social media. Don’t get left even if you don’t fancy it. Find out where your target audience hangs out and serve them with exciting content. 

Tailor the content to the specific platform and watch your audience steadily grow. Search engines recognize this as an authoritative presence and will boost your rankings in SERPs. 

II. Link Building Like A Pro

You can buy a few hundred backlinks for a few hundred dollars. No one is stopping you.

But it is a short-term gain, long-term loss, SEO strategy. 

You may see significant rank improvements, but Google will penalize you soon enough when they find out. Plus, you’ll attract unwanted visitors or chase off some with your low-quality backlinks. 

Rather than hurt your reputation by buying links, learn how to or hire a link-building pro. It takes time, but it builds a stronger brand reputation, relevance, and trust.

Besides, buying quality backlinks costs thousands of dollars, so they’re not an option for small businesses.

III. Trust is Key

Although you have a great on-page user interface, like fast web loading and clutter-free webpage, Google (and users) have to trust it. 

How can you measure trust? 

It’s intangible (sure) but easy to notice and build. Google simply wants to know that visitors can trust you. 

And the easiest way to achieve online trust is by building quality backlinks to your site and a legitimate social media presence. For example, you can’t buy backlinks and expect them to rank in a competitive space or attract quality leads. Another example of trust is how big brands like Mcdonald’s openly converse with customers on their social media handles to settle disputes.

3. Tracking and Measuring Results

The SEO machinery is incomplete without results and analysis. For one, it’s the only way to measure success. 

SEO monitoring shows what works and is not working in your campaign. It even suggests insights for improvements.

Most tools I recommended in the keyword research section offer tracking capabilities. But you can also use powerful free tools like Google Analytics and, preferably, Google Search Console. It’s excellent at monitoring engagement metrics such as organic traffic and click-through rate.

Regularly check analytics tools and reports to identify patterns and exploit any opportunities. For instance, if you see a steady leap in traffic but declining or stagnant conversion. Then, you can adjust your call-to-actions or improve content quality. 

You’ll need to set clear goals to track SEO metrics, though effectively. And for your sanity, measure the results of your strategies over the long term, not month over month.

Here are some important SEO metrics for every startup or small business. 

Page Ranking

The most obvious metric website owners track is the visibility they get from a campaign. 

Like a stop-loss in trading forex, you can set a custom alert with Google Analytics to notify you of a specific percentage loss in traffic. That way, you can make strategic changes before the situation worsens.  

Click Through Rate

This is the number of people who click on your website from the search engine results pages. It has a direct correlation with your page title and meta description. 

You’ll compete with stronger and higher-ranking competitors if you structure your meta tags and content to meet the user’s search intent. 

Keyword Positions

This one’s a no-brainer. You should track individual keyword performance across your website. 

Seeing where all your keywords rank gives an insight into what type of content to write and existing content you can improve. 

Bounce Rate

Bounce rate is the number of time visitors spend on your site before they bounce off of another page. It shows how captivating your website is for visitors. 

Plummeting bounce rate isn’t purely aesthetic. Many factors affect bounce rate, like slow page speed and encouraging visitors to leave because they feel the page is unresponsive. It’s not only aesthetic. 

It shows how captivating your website is for visitors. It’s 

Organic and Sales Conversion Rate

SEO analytics tools can allow you to categorize the quality of your organic leads. I used customer leads for conversion because it’s unrealistic for users to buy from you after only 1 or 2 sessions. 

However, you can qualify them by identifying their intent on each page. For instance, a visitor who subscribed to your newsletter or submitted a form after consuming an education post may want to learn more. Not necessarily buy or hire your service. 

Index Pages

Most website owners ignore this crucial factor in SEO rankings. Use Google WebMaster to check the number of indexed pages on your site and fix them accordingly.

Tracking and monitoring metrics also demands you conduct SEO audits occasionally. If you discover a drop in bounce rate or conversion, for example, an audit can pinpoint the cause. The point is you’re never done with the SEO process. 

All SEO processes require constant checks and editing to run smoothly and produce improved results. 

White Hat SEO On, Black Hat Off

It’s simple: practice white hat SEO to build a business organization, not a pyramid or get-rich scheme. 

Black hat SEO is a strategy that aims to beat the search engines by building a website that caters to them. 

The black hat goal is to rank and make some cash quickly. So black hat guys deliberately break Google’s webmaster guidelines, publishing spammy content with minimum investment as long as it gets found in the SERP.

White hat SEO, on the other hand, feeds the search engine and site visitors with top-notch content that follows best practices. Unfortunately, as you probably can tell, it’s difficult, time-consuming, and expensive. 

But it yields sustainable organic traffic, valuable engagement, and authority building, which is essential to selling a product or service online and offline. But, more importantly, if you plan to scale your business. 

So you can imagine you mustn’t touch black hat SEO with a 10-foot pole if you’re running a legitimate, user-focused business.

Setting Clear SEO Objectives

This may sound basic because the goal of SEO is to increase website traffic. 

But what part of your organic traffic do you want to increase? And how do you intend to achieve it? When should they take off? 

Optimization has many aspects, but you must align your SEO goals with your business goals for success and accountability. 

Some SEO metrics you can set objectives for are keywords, reputation, traffic, lead generation, and even e-commerce. 

For instance, your goal can be to push 30% or 80% of your keywords/pages to the first page in 5 months (depending on how realistic it is).

An Easy Way To Decide

Your business is either transactional or informational in search engines.

For instance, an online clothing store owner is a purely transactional startup. Searchers want to browse your website to buy your product. In that case, your SEO objectives should be to convert visitors and monitor sales. 

Lead generation is the prime objective if you run a service-based business like law or plumbing services. 

However, as a SaaS brand, you should focus on informational SEO even though you sell a product. This is because most searchers need to understand a problem before they swipe their cards for your service. Your objective should be brand awareness and increase organic traffic to get more eyes on your amazing software solution. 

SEO: Marketing While You Sleep

SEO has been since the genesis of the internet and will continue to be. Admittedly, it gets more challenging by the year, but it’s a compulsory marketing strategy for businesses looking to grow in the internet age. 

AI and social media continue to prove they’re fierce competitors. Some experts even tout ChatGPT (a new AI writing bot) to take over Google and other search engines. 

But don’t let that confuse or divert your online SEO branding campaign. Even when artificial intelligence goes mainstream, SEO will evolve and still be around for a while. 

SEO puts you in the public eye (your target audience). And you give them a honeypot to business offerings for conversion.