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What is SEO & How Does It Work?


Written by

Danielle Strouther


13 MIN

What is SEO & How Does It Work?

An illustration of a phone with a magnifying glass "searching" for content to represent SEO

There are over 3.5 billion searches on Google everyday.

We use search engines for almost everything, from looking for recipes to buying online. In fact, 89% of customers use search engines as their starting point for buying anything online.

But in order to be seen on search engines, you need to rank and, ideally, on the first page of a search engine results page (known as a SERP). SEO (search engine optimisation) is what makes that happen.

In this article, we look at what SEO is, the various aspects that make SEO important, and SEO techniques that will increase site traffic, search visibility, and brand awareness.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for search engine optimisation and it describes a series of techniques and strategies that help websites improve their visibility for relevant search queries.

But in order to turn that visibility into clicks, you need to rank as highly as possible and there are two main categories that can help:

  • On-page SEO – optimising pages to rank higher on the SERPs and earn more organic traffic. This covers content and internal code (meta titles, meta descriptions, HTML, PHP, and CSS)
  • Off-page SEO – using external factors like outreaching and link building to gain relevant backlinks from high-authority sites. The aim is the same as on-page—to rank higher in the SERPs.

For more on how you can improve these techniques, read our free ebook on how to grow your search traffic in 2021 .

But what is organic search, and why is it important for your business?

When we talk about organic search traffic, it means search results you don’t pay for. You get paid ads at the top and everything else underneath is organic.

What SEO does is help your business rank higher on search engines for relevant queries and generate more organic traffic. The fact you don’t have to pay for your listing makes it a crucial part of your marketing strategy.

How Google’s search algorithms works

Links are ordered based on their relevance to the user’s search query, the perceived user intent (“does the user want a how-to guide or a product page?”) and hundreds of other ranking factors determined by the search engine and its algorithms. You do a search and you get the list.

But search algorithms are a closely guarded secret, especially Google’s. It’s always adapting, with around 500-600 changes being made to it every single year. On top of that, Google’s search algorithms use hundreds of different factors to determine its rankings.

However, it’s not all algorithmic. Google also employs people to test the quality and relevance of its search algorithms:

To help ensure that Search algorithms meet high standards of relevance and quality, we have a rigorous process that involves both live tests and thousands of trained external Search Quality Raters from around the world. These Quality Raters follow strict guidelines that define our goals for Search algorithms and are publicly available for anyone to see.

Google has a page dedicated to explaining how its search algorithms works.


E-A-T stands for Expert, Authoritative, and Trustworthy and it refers to criteria that Google’s Quality Raters follow in their guidelines. But before E-A-T can be determined, Quality Raters need to figure out what the page is about and they use a Page Quality spectrum to do this (below).

According to the guidelines, pages or sites “without any beneficial purpose, including pages that are created with no attempt to help users, or pages that potentially spread hate, cause harm, or misinform or deceive users, should receive the Lowest rating.”

For all other pages, E-A-T looks at:

  • The expertise of the writer
  • The authoritativeness of the writer, the content, and the website
  • The trustworthiness of the writer, the content, and the website

Another important part of E-A-T is topic relevance. When judging content, the guidelines ask what kind of expertise is needed for the page to be purposeful and states that “the standard for expertise depends on the topic of the page”.

Any website that’s relevant to the keywords, that’s trusted by other users, and gives valuable information will always be ranked highly. It’s exactly what their users are searching for after all.

This is good SEO and E-A-T is what you should be taken into account with all content you produce.

UX is also important

Bad UX includes:

These are just four examples and they directly—and indirectly—affect your SEO efforts and many ranking factors. But more importantly, they can diminish your customers’ journey.

Stoney G deGeyter wrote in Search Engine Journal:

UX optimization is nothing more than focusing on the visitor. Everything we do in the sphere of web marketing has to have the visitor in mind. […] Search engines have some of the most advanced data mining operations in the world. They aren’t just helping people find what they want; they’re collecting data that helps them understand user behavior (sic). From that data, the algorithms get tweaked in order to give searchers more of what they want and less of what they don’t.

Improve your customer experience with great UI/UX designs via Adzooma Marketplace

Don’t duplicate!

You also need to create unique, useful content to serve the user. Anything that’s not relevant or is duplicated will get you penalised. You mustn’t confuse or delude users.

However, there may be reasons why you have duplicated content and there is a solution for that: canonical tags.

A canonical tag (written as rel="canonical") tells search engines that a URL is a duplicate of another URL. This prevents a search engine from treating them as duplicates and will only show the original in its SERPs.

SEO Performance Report

Adzooma’s SEO Performance Report analyzes your website and identifies immediate actions you can take to improve your SEO. You’ll receive a score out of 100, the closer you are to 100, the better optimised your website is.

You will then get a detailed breakdown of your performance into 4 key areas:

  • Keyword performance
  • Onsite SEO
  • Page Speed
  • Backlinks

By using the SEO report, you will have the tools to get ahead of your competitors, increase conversions and compliment your campaigns with more organic traffic. The basic SEO Performance Report is free to access for all Adzooma users.

Not an Adzooma user? Not to worry, you can create your free account here.

7 SEO techniques that boost organic traffic

Now you understand what “good SEO” looks like, it’s time to put it into practice.

But be warned: SEO is neither a quick fix not an on/off switch for your website. Strategies must be tested before they can be considered viable.

It can take months, even years to really see the impact of an SEO campaign, depending on your industry and how much competition you’re facing. Don’t expect to see instant results.

That being said, let’s get started with 7 SEO techniques to improve traffic and user experience.

1. Write for your customers, not algorithms

As deGeyter alluded to in his quote about UX, it’s UX all about focusing on the user and that means writing for them and not for an ever-changing algorithms. Producing content that “gamed” the system might have worked back in the day but times have changed and algorithms have evolved.

Instead, answer the questions that matter to your current and future customers. Make something that’s easy for them to use. And, make sure it’s relevant and what they’re actually searching for. It’ll move your Page Quality from Low to High in no time.

The better the user experience and the more relevant your content is, the more you’ll be rewarded.

2. Make your websites mobile-friendly

Google uses mobile-first indexing for their search algorithms.

This means that they’ll look at the mobile version of your site first when crawling and adding pages to its index.

Therefore it’s important that your site is mobile-friendly. Ensure it’s responsive, readable, and accessible.

This isn’t just important for SEO, but for your customers too.

We spend 59% of our time on mobile phones. So, it’s more than likely that your visitors will be finding your website on a mobile device. If it’s not mobile-friendly, they’re likely to go elsewhere.

It profits to make your website mobile-friendly.

In fact, 62% of companies that designed a mobile-specific website increased their sales. We’d say that’s worth investing in.

3. Website slow? Bad for SEO

Page speed is a ranking factor (albeit a small one).

It all plays back into offering great user experiences. People aren’t prepared to wait anymore. If a website takes more than 3 seconds to load, 40% of visitors will leave. What’s more, 80% of those will never return.

Digging deeper into that, Core Web Vitals will become ranking factors in 2021. These are a set of criteria that Google deems important in a page’s UX. The criteria are:

  • Largest contentful paint (LCP)
  • First input delay (FID)
  • Cumulative layout shift (CLS)

They join other metrics as part of its Page Experience signals. I said earlier that page speed was a small ranking factor but to a user, it’s a large staying factor. Studies by Google have shown that visitors are 24% less likely to abandon the site when pages meet Core Web Vitals thresholds.

Sound complicated? We have two resources that will help. Read our guide on site speed optimisation and browse Adzooma Marketplace for a selection of SEO agencies to do the technical work for you.

4. Create purposeful content

One of the key aspects of SEO is creating new, unique, and helpful content.

An easy way to do this is keeping your website updated with a blog.

Keep publishing new things – but don’t copy your competitors. Write original content with useful information that your customers want to read.

Blogs are also a good way to rank for relevant keywords with content marketing and search intent (more on that later).

5. Target short and long-tail keywords

When you’re creating purposeful content for the Web, you need a keyword strategy. That means targeting short-tail and long-tail keywords.

Short-tail keywords are short phrases like “SEO tool” or “SEO agency”. They get the most searches on average but they’re highly competitive.

Long-tail keywords are longer phrases (usually 4 or more words). They get less searches on average but they’re easier to rank for as there’s less competition. But the best part? They make up 70% of all online searches.

They also convert better.

This is because your customers are usually later in their buying journey. Let’s say, for example, you have a bakery. People who are using keywords like “cake” are probably just browsing. But someone who searches for the long-tail keyword “custom chocolate cakes for parties” is ready to buy.

Whatever keywords you target—never let your content go to waste.

Share content on social media, create infographics, discuss topics on podcasts, use email marketing. Spreading relevant content on relevant distribution channels can indirectly improve SEO through visibility that can turn into backlinks, for example.

6. Search intent

It’s also important to write content with search intent in mind. Google likes to prioritise types of content for certain search terms. These are split into four categories:

  • Informational – Question-based, mostly blog posts (like “What is SEO?”)
  • Navigational – Usually branded articles (like “Adzooma blog”)
  • Commercial – Lists or reviews of the best product or comparison pages (like “The best SEO tools in 2021″)
  • Transactional – Product or service-specific with call-to-action words (like “Netflix free trial”)

Before you start writing, do a quick search for your targeted keyword and see what kinds of results you get. Then you can tailor your article and make it perfect.

7. Link building is your friend

Despite what some SEOs say, link building is great for your organic strategy.

This is where, in your content, you link to another website or page.

Don’t just link to anything though. Make sure that the links are relevant and trusted. Otherwise, your website might get associated with untrustworthy sources, which can damage your rankings.

Links work two ways. You can also get other sites to link to you.

This can get more visitors directly to your site. But more than that, it also helps your SEO, builds great relationships with others in your industry and makes your company stand out as leaders. It’s truly a win-win.

If you look back through this blog, you’ll notice us doing this exact same thing. It’s that simple.

If you’re looking for some more depth to really grow your traffic, check out our free SEO ebook which comes with a blueprint you can follow for long term SEO success.

SEO tools you can use

1. SEMrush’s Keyword Magic Tool

The tool can generate over 2 million keyword ideas for SEO and PPC campaigns and group them by topic. If you find a handful of interesting keywords, you can save them in the Keyword Analyzer and estimate the number of clicks and how likely you’ll rank for them in the top 10 of the SERPs.

2. Answer the Public

A digital PR favorite, Answer the Public finds the questions and queries that searchers are asking and gives a report based on Google SERPs. Their Pro version features include: unlimited searches, comparable data, language & location-based results and saved reports – you can access all of these fantastic for $99/month.

3. Checkbot

Checkbot is a great platform that finds critical SEO, speed and security problems before your website visitors do. They test hundreds of pages at once for broken links, duplicate titles, invalid HTML and loads of other checks – if there’s something wrong with your website, they will find it.

4. Advanced Web Ranking

Advanced Web Ranking (AWR) give you fresh daily, weekly and on demand rankings packed nicely into white label reports that are accessible from any device. They provide you with custom SEO reports which are fully customizable, straightforward and integrated with third-party reporting tools.

5. SEO PowerSuite

SEO PowerSuite holds enough tools for an SEO campaign of any caliber. It’s got everything from SEO analysis tool to keyword research tools to backlinks checkers to content editors to PPC ads optimization and much more. With its intuitive UI and a wealth of pro-level features, it’s a perfect SEO tool for newbies and experts alike.

6. Dashword

Dashword helps writers produce content that ranks with this keyword tool. The software uses self-built ML models to determine relevance based on data from the top 30 Google results of any given keyword. It then assigns a score to each topic and you can evaluate competitors’ content as well. A worthy addition to any SEO tool kit.

Further resources

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