What Is SEO and How Does SEO Work?

Michael Costin

SEO, or search engine optimisation, is an essential digital marketing strategy that's focused on your website's presence in search results on search engines like Google.

When you understand how SEO works, you can use different tactics to increase your visibility (or how high you rank) in search results.

You can think of SEO as a framework with multiple components.

It involves keyword research to understand the type of content your audience is seeking, on-page optimisation to ensure your site is understandable by search engines, and off-page optimisation to build the reputation and authority of your site through links from other sites.

A key element is ensuring that your website provides a good user experience and loads quickly, which search engines consider when ranking sites.

Search engines use complex algorithms to determine which pages to include in their index and the order these pages should be ranked in the search results.

By optimising your site, you're making sure that your content can be discovered by users who are searching for terms relevant to your site.

Effective SEO can lead to increased organic traffic, which refers to visitors coming to your site without paid advertising, resulting in better brand awareness and higher sales and leads.

Understanding SEO Fundamentals

Before diving into the intricacies of SEO, it's critical to grasp its core components and how they can significantly affect your website's visibility online.

What Is SEO?

SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation, is the methodology you apply to increase the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results. The goal is to improve your site’s rankings on search engine results pages (SERPs), making your website more noticeable to individuals who are looking for your services or products online.

How Search Engines Work

Search engines utilise complex algorithms to crawl the web, index content, and provide the most relevant results to users' queries. Essentially, they scan your website to understand its content, which then informs how your site will rank when users search for relevant topics. The aspects search engines evaluate include site structure, keyword usage, site speed, and a multitude of other on-page and off-page factors.

Importance of SEO for Websites

The implementation of SEO is an essential component of your digital marketing strategy. It's capable of bringing more organic traffic to your site without paying for ads. Moreover, better SEO practices improve user experience and usability of your website. Prioritising SEO offers your site visibility, which is paramount, given that the higher your website ranks in search results, the more likely potential customers will visit and engage with your content.

Keyword Research Strategies

In developing your SEO strategy, it's crucial to conduct thorough keyword research to understand what terms your audience is searching for and how to tailor your content to meet those searches effectively.

Identifying Core Keywords

Your first step is to pinpoint the core keywords that are most relevant to your business or content. These are terms that summarise your products, services, or topics. For instance, if you’re selling fitness equipment, your core keywords might include "treadmills", "exercise bikes", and "gym weights". Using tools like Google's Keyword Planner can be a starting point.

Steps to identify core keywords:

  1. List out the terms that best reflect your offerings.
  2. Analyse competitors to see which keywords are driving traffic to similar services.
  3. Consider variations of these terms, including common misspellings or localised terms that may be used by your Australian audience.

Understanding User Intent

Recognising user intent is about comprehending the 'why' behind the keywords. Is the searcher looking to buy ("purchase gym equipment"), to learn ("how to use a rowing machine"), or to navigate to a specific site ("brand name official store")? The user intent shapes the content you create, ensuring it satisfies what searchers are looking for.

User intent types:

  • Informational: Looking for information (e.g., "what is HIIT").
  • Navigational: Searching for a particular website (e.g., "HIIT workout blog").
  • Transactional: Ready to purchase or perform an action (e.g., "buy protein powder online").
  • Commercial Investigation: Considering a purchase soon and comparing options (e.g., "best protein powder brands 2024").

Tools for Keyword Research

There are various SEO tools available to assist with keyword research, many of which offer insights on keyword difficulty, search volume, related questions, and more.

Popular SEO tools include:

  • Google Keyword Planner: A tool for keyword data and ideas, although primarily designed for ads.
  • SEMrush: Offers detailed keyword analytics and a comprehensive dashboard.
  • Ahrefs: Known for its robust backlink checker and keyword explorer.
  • Moz Keyword Explorer: Provides keyword suggestions and SERP analysis.

These tools help you discover terms that might not have been obvious, understand the competition, and refine your keyword targeting based on reliable data.

On-Page SEO Techniques

On-page SEO is crucial for search engines to comprehend your content and rank it appropriately. Achieving this requires attention to various elements such as titles, meta descriptions, the quality of the content itself, and the site's internal structure.

Optimising Titles and Meta Descriptions

Your title tag and meta description are the first encounter potential visitors have with your content on search engine results pages. Make sure your title is compelling and includes your primary keyword. It should be under 60 characters to ensure full visibility in search results.

For meta descriptions, aim for about 150-160 characters and provide a clear summary of the page content. Embed your focus keywords naturally, as this can influence click-through rates.

Creating High-Quality Content

High-quality content is the cornerstone of effective on-page SEO. It should be original, valuable to the reader, and thoroughly cover the topics at hand. Use headings (H1, H2, H3) to structure your article, and incorporate relevant keywords without overstuffing.

Ensure your content answers the questions your audience is looking for and provides a comprehensive insight into the topic.

Make sure your site doesn't have any duplicate content issues.

Internal Linking and URL Structure

Strategically planned internal links are vital to guide users through your website and spread the 'link juice' for better page authority. Use descriptive anchor texts that give an indication of the linked content.

Craft URLs to be concise and readable, using hyphens to separate words. A good URL structure improves user experience and helps search engines understand the relevance of your pages.

By carefully refining these on-page elements, you can effectively signal the value and relevance of your content to search engines, supporting your overall SEO strategy.

Technical SEO Considerations

In this section, you'll gain insight into the crucial aspects of Technical SEO that are essential for enhancing your website's interaction with search engines and users. Major focuses include mobile responsiveness, page loading times, and the mechanisms of indexing and crawling that search engines use to process your site.

Importance of Mobile-Friendly Design

Your website must be optimised for mobile devices. This is non-negotiable as search engines, like Google, use mobile-first indexing, meaning that the mobile version of your site is considered the primary version. Ensuring a mobile-friendly design will not only improve your site's availability to users on mobile but can also significantly affect your search engine rankings.

  • Checklist for Mobile-Friendly Design:
  • Responsive layout: Scales smoothly across different devices
  • Touchscreen readiness: All menu items and buttons are easily navigable
  • Readable text: No need to zoom in to read the content on mobile devices

Page Speed Optimisation

Page speed is a direct ranking factor, as faster loading pages provide a better user experience. You should regularly audit your website's performance to identify areas for speed improvements. Use tools like Google PageSpeed Insights for specific recommendations to enhance page speed.

  • Strategies for Increasing Page Speed:
  • Optimise images: Compress them without losing quality
  • Minify CSS, JavaScript, and HTML: Remove unnecessary code
  • Leverage browser caching: Store resources locally on user devices

Understanding Indexing and Crawling

Search engines index your site by sending out crawlers or spiders to collect information about your pages. To ensure your site is properly indexed, utilise a sitemap which outlines the structure of your site content.

  • Tips for Better Indexing and Crawling:
  • Check your robots.txt: Make sure it allows search engines to access your pages
  • Register with Google Search Console: Use it to monitor your website's indexing status
  • Use structured data: It helps search engines understand the content of your pages
  • Use canonical tags to help minimise duplicate content issues
  • Set-up an XML sitemap and submit it to Search Console
  • Ensuring you are using an SSL certificate

By paying attention to these technical SEO elements, you'll improve your website's search engine friendliness, potentially raising your rankings and enhancing user satisfaction.

Off-Page SEO and Link Building

Off-page SEO is crucial for enhancing your site's perception of popularity, relevance, authority, and trustworthiness. Below, you'll find specific strategies about link building and the best practices to follow.

The Role of Backlinks

Backlinks, also known as inbound links, are links from other websites that direct traffic to your site. These are critical in off-page SEO as they signal search engines that others vouch for your content. High-quality backlinks can significantly improve your site's domain authority and subsequently affect its search engine rankings.

  • Quality over Quantity: Aim for links from reputable sites with high domain authority.
  • Relevance Matters: Links from sites related to your niche are more beneficial than random links.

Effective Link Building Tactics

To build a robust backlink profile, you should focus on ethical and effective link building tactics.

  1. Guest Blogging: Contribute quality content to reputable sites in your industry with a link back to your site.
  2. Broken Link Building: Identify and offer to replace broken links on other sites with similar content from your site.
  3. Influencer Outreach: Engage with influencers and encourage them to share your content, including links to your site.

Remember, never engage in link schemes or buy links, as these practices can lead to penalties from search engines.

Off-Page SEO Best Practices

Your off-page SEO efforts should align with best practices to maximise their effectiveness.

  • Consistent NAP Information: Ensure your Name, Address, and Phone number are consistent across all platforms.
  • Monitor Your Backlink Profile: Regularly check your backlinks for any that might be toxic or spammy and disavow them if necessary.
  • Social Signals: While social links may not directly influence SEO, social media presence can contribute to brand recognition and organic link building.

Following these guidelines, you can bolster your off-page SEO and contribute to your site's overall search engine optimisation strategy.

Local SEO and Its Impact

Local SEO enhances your business's visibility in geographically related searches, specifically within Google's local search results. It ensures that your business details are optimally listed and accessible to a local audience looking for your services or products.

Optimising for Local Searches

To maximise local SEO, you should tailor your website and content to include local keywords and relevant geographical terms. Utilise structured data to provide clear information about your business's location and services. For instance:

  • Keywords: Integrate location-based keywords into your website's meta tags, descriptions, and content.
  • Content: Write about local news, events, or activities that align with your business to resonate with a local audience.
  • Mobile Optimisation: Ensure your website is mobile-friendly, as a significant portion of local searches are performed on mobile devices.

Google My Business and Local Citations

Google My Business (GMB) is a critical tool for managing your online presence across Google, including Search and Maps. By verifying and optimising your GMB listing, you improve your chances of showing up in relevant local searches. Key steps to optimise your GMB profile include:

  • Accurate Information: Keep your business name, address, phone number (NAP), and operating hours up-to-date.
  • Quality Photos: Upload high-quality photos of your business to enhance engagement.
  • Customer Reviews: Encourage customers to leave reviews and respond to them promptly to build trust and demonstrate customer service.

Local Citations are mentions of your business on other web pages, such as local directories, business associations, or review sites. Consistency in your NAP information across these citations is essential to boost local SEO. Regularly monitor and update these listings to ensure accuracy.

User Experience (UX) and SEO

User Experience (UX) and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) are fundamentally linked, with each element influencing the success of your website. Good UX can bolster site engagement, while SEO targets visibility. Correctly merging both can lead to improved search rankings and a more satisfied audience.

Balancing UX with SEO

When optimising your site, balance is key. You need to ensure that your SEO efforts to improve visibility on search engines do not compromise the quality of user experience. At the same time, a focus purely on UX without considering SEO could mean that your well-designed site remains unseen. While SEO involves using relevant keywords and building backlinks, UX requires a user-centric approach focusing on the ease of navigation and the speed of your site.

  • Keep headings and titles descriptive yet SEO-friendly.
  • Use clear and intuitive navigation that includes SEO-driven keywords.
  • Design with both visual appeal and site structure in mind for search engines.

Impact of UX on Rankings

UX directly impacts key metrics that search engines, like Google, use to rank websites:

  1. Bounce Rate: A high bounce rate often indicates poor UX as it shows users are leaving quickly. Anything that frustrates or confuses visitors, from slow-loading pages to hard-to-read text, can contribute to this.
  2. Click-Through Rate (CTR): A high CTR suggests that users find your content relevant. Well-crafted meta titles and descriptions, which are part of SEO, can improve your CTR.
  • Google analyses user interaction signals as part of their ranking algorithms.
  • Page experience is a Google ranking factor, which includes loading performance, interactivity, and the stability of content as it loads (Cumulative Layout Shift or CLS).

By enhancing usability and ensuring content fulfills user search intent, you help boost these metrics, which, in turn, can positively influence your rankings on search engines.

Content Marketing and SEO

In the realm of search engine optimisation, content marketing plays a pivotal role as it revolves around the creation and distribution of valuable content. Your content's ability to rank well in search engines significantly depends on how you integrate SEO practices into your content strategy and the variety of formats you utilise.

Developing a Content Strategy

When forming your content strategy, remember the main objective is to produce high-quality content that appeals to your audience and search engines. Start by identifying key topics that resonate with your audience's interests and searching behaviour. Your blog posts and web pages should provide value and address users' questions or needs while incorporating targeted keywords that help improve search visibility.

To ensure a coherent strategy:

  • Perform keyword research to understand what terms your audience uses
  • Analyse competitors' content to identify gaps you can fill
  • Plan a content calendar that aligns with key industry events or seasonal trends

Content Formats and SEO

The type of content you create can influence your SEO results. A variety of formats such as blog posts, videos, images, and web pages, when optimised, can boost your visibility across search engines.

Here's how different content types can impact your SEO:

  • Blog Posts: Provide regular, fresh content that includes relevant keywords, internal links, and external links to authoritative sites.
  • Videos: Engage users longer on your page, signalling to search engines that your content is useful.
  • Images: Enhance user experience and appear in image searches when tagged with descriptive, keyword-focused file names and alt attributes.

Leverage diverse content formats to cater to different preferences and optimise each type to enhance your SEO outcomes effectively.

Of course, make sure to consider E-E-A-T principles when creating your content.

Monitoring SEO Performance

Effective SEO performance monitoring hinges on examining key metrics that reflect your website's visibility in search engine results. Not only does this involve observing your rankings and search traffic, but also interpreting analytics to glean actionable SEO insights.

Tracking Rankings and Traffic

To understand your SEO efficacy, you'll track your website's ranking for specific keywords. This reflects your site's visibility on search engine results pages (SERPs). Monitoring these rankings provides direct insight into your site's organic search traffic—visitors who land on your page through a search engine query.

Key metrics to monitor include:

  • SERP rankings: Track where your pages appear in search results for targeted keywords over time.
  • Organic search traffic: Review the volume of visitors coming from search engines.

Tools like Google Search Console can help you track these metrics and recognise trends or identify areas needing improvement.

Using Analytics for SEO Insights

Analytics is your roadmap to understanding your website's search traffic and user behaviour. It informs decisions that can improve visibility, conversion rates, and ROI from your digital properties.

Important aspects include:

  • Bounce rate: The percentage of visitors who leave after viewing only one page, which can influence your site's perceived value by search engines.
  • Time on page: A higher duration can indicate engaging content and a positive user experience.
  • Conversions: Tracking whether search traffic leads to desired actions, such as sales or sign-ups, lets you measure the real business value of your SEO efforts.
  • ROI: Understanding the return on investment from SEO by comparing your organic search traffic's conversions to the costs involved in your SEO strategies.

Utilising platforms like Google Analytics can provide deep insights into these key performance indicators, enabling continuous refinement of your SEO strategies.

Advanced SEO Tactics and Considerations

To stay ahead in the competitive realm of SEO, you need to focus on advanced tactics that align with the latest search engine algorithms. Implementing these strategies will ensure your website is well-positioned to meet the evolving demands of digital consumers and search engine technology.

Structured Data and Schema Markup

Structured data is a system of pairing a name with a value that helps search engines categorise and index your content. Using schema markup, you can provide specific information to search engines in a language they understand, improving your visibility in search results. For example:

  • Events: Dates, times, and locations
  • Reviews: Ratings, reviewer, and review body

Voice Search and SEO

Voice search queries often differ from text-based searches, tending to be longer and more conversational. To optimise for voice search, include long-tail keywords and phrases that match natural speech patterns. It's important to consider the intent behind voice search queries, which are frequently in the form of questions, to align with search engine algorithms that cater to conversational language.

Mobile-First Indexing

Google's mobile-first indexing prioritises the mobile version of your site when ranking content. Ensure your website is mobile-friendly, with responsive design and quick loading times to accommodate this algorithm shift. Regularly test your site's performance on mobile devices to ensure that it meets Google's benchmarks for mobile optimisation.

Wrapping Up

Alright - that about does it.

Everything we know about SEO learned over the past decade Local Digital has been running campaigns for clients.

If you'd like to go even further down the wormhole, we publish a weekly SEO podcast called The SEO Show.

We interview experts from around the world in a mission to provide quality, entertaining SEO education 100% free of charge to anyone that wants it.

Until next time, happy SEO-ing.

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What’s a Rich Text element?

The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.

Static and dynamic content editing

Static and dynamic content editing

Static and dynamic content editing

A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!

How to customize formatting for each rich text

Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system.

Michael Costin
Michael is the co-founder at Local Digital. He has a decade of experience in the digital marketing space, and is a big enough nerd that he's well practised in all the common digital marketing channels, from SEO to copywriting, paid social to analytics and tracking.

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