This search engine optimization (SEO) guide explains how SEO works for websites.
If you’re trying to develop a digital marketing strategy to improve the rankings and traffic for a website, then understanding how search engine optimization works is important for your success.
To make things easy to understand, we’ll first start with a general overview of the way SEO works on Google, Yahoo, and Bing. Then, we’ll move on to a step-by-step process you can follow to make your website more SEO-friendly.
Table of Contents
How SEO Works for Websites
SEO works for websites by optimizing a piece of content so search engines like Google will rank it higher in the search results pages for relevant keywords. Search engines scan and crawl sites to better understand what the content is about which is why SEO for websites is important to work on.
Quick Example of SEO Working for a Website
Consider a website that sells Internet marketing services that has not focused on any SEO work. The organic traffic to this site from Google, Yahoo, and Bing for each of the web pages is not very high because the search engine web crawlers are not being given the correct signals for the relevant keywords each page should be ranked for in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
Now, imagine the company hires an SEO expert to work on the website to improve the relevancy of each web page for their target search queries. This search engine optimization project consists of updating elements like page titles, meta descriptions, URLs, heading tags, internal links, and site navigation structure.
This type of on-site SEO work would increase the number of organic keywords the website ranks for in Google, Yahoo, and Bing as well as the average ranking positions in the SERPs, which leads to an increase in the total amount of traffic.
As you can see, SEO works to improve the search engine visibility and traffic for a website so the business can get more quality leads, customers, and sales.
Search Engine Optimization Process Explained
Search engine optimization works to improve your website’s position in the search results pages. The process of search engine optimization consists of improving on-page and off-page factors to increase keyword rankings and organic visibility in the SERPs.
Today, search engines like Google use more than 200 different ranking factors to assess a piece of content in order to rank it in the best position in the index. This means there are a lot of different elements that the Google algorithm systems take into consideration to determine the placement of your site’s URLs in search results pages.
The two primary categories for search engine optimization include on-page SEO and off-page SEO, which are important factors that are relevant to a website such as page titles, meta descriptions, heading tags, URL structure, image optimization, page speed, backlinks, brand mentions, etc; all of which is done to improve the crawlability, indexing, and ranking of content in Google’s search engine.
On-Page SEO strategies are techniques that work on your website to improve search engine rankings and visibility.
The top on-page SEO factors include:
- Meta Title Tag
- Meta Description
- Page Content (e.g., minimum word count for SEO)
- Image Optimization
- Internal Linking
- Structured Data
- Page Speed
- Core Web Vitals
- Mobile Optimization
Off-Page SEO strategies are methods that work off your website to boost trust and authority for your content.
Common off-page SEO techniques include:
- Brand Mentions
- Guest Posting
- Link Insertions
- Local Listings
- Influencer Outreach
- Broken Link Building
- Content Marketing
- Blog Commenting
- Forum Posting
- Question & Answer Sites
- Interviews with Backlinks
- Social Posting
- Social Bookmarking
Now that you know about on-page and off-page SEO, keep in mind that search engine optimization works only for organic search results and not pay-per-click ads (or PPC).
For every search query, Google, Yahoo, and Bing will deliver a mixture of organic results and PPC ads to the user. Therefore, it’s important that you do all of the SEO work you can to increase your ranking positions in the SERPs for organic keywords that matter most to your business so you don’t have to pay for the traffic.
How SEO Works Step-By-Step
Step 1: Technical SEO Audit
The first step for doing search engine optimization work is performing a technical SEO audit. This process is done to check over the website and server optimizations to ensure that search engine web crawlers can scan and index your site effectively.
The core factors of technical SEO include:
- Page speed
- Optimized robots.txt file
- Crawlable XML sitemap
- Site structure
- URL structure
- SEO-friendly web design
- Schema Markup
- Proper redirects
See this related guide with a list of the most common technical SEO issues and how to fix them.
Step 2: On-Page SEO Work
The next step is to work on the on-page SEO factors in the HTML code and content for each web page. This search engine optimization strategy helps the content rank higher on the search engine results page for specific keywords and their relevant search queries.
As mentioned earlier in this guide on how does SEO work, the top on-page SEO factors include things like meta tags, headings, URLs, images, internal links, etc. You want to make sure you optimize those areas correctly for your target keywords to send Google the right signals to help your web pages rank higher in the SERPs.
Step 3: Content SEO Updates
After you fix the on-page SEO elements, the next step is to work on the individual content to improve its SEO value. Content SEO is a subset of on-page SEO that refers to the quality of the information and how well it meets the needs of the searcher.
The most important aspect of improving content for SEO purposes is to match the search intent of the user. For example, this web page is an educational guide that has been written to answer queries like “how SEO works for websites”. Therefore, you’re going to learn all about how search engine optimization works for Google, Yahoo, and Bing as opposed to getting a list of SEO books or SEO tools to buy.
When you’re working on your SEO content, make sure to focus on areas such as:
- Publishing well-researched content.
- Answering common questions people have about the topic.
- Including tables and charts to support data.
- Having all of the right sections (i.e., header tags in SEO) to improve topical relevance.
- Cross linking between relevant pages on the website.
Step 4: Off-Page SEO Analysis
The next step is to work on off-site SEO factors that increase the exposure, trust, and authority of your website. When a website has a large number of quality off-site signals that point back to individual web pages on the site, this sends a signal to Google that other Internet resources find your content valuable enough to link to it within their own content.
As a website earns more of these types of backlinks, search engines infer that the site possesses valuable content worth ranking higher on the SERPs.
As mentioned previously, you can improve off-page SEO for better search engine optimization by working on getting links back to your content through guest posting, business profiles, review sites, social media shares, etc.
Here are some related guides to help you build backlinks for off-page SEO:
Step 5: Optimizing for Mobile
Today, Google predominantly uses the mobile version of the content for indexing and ranking. This process is called mobile-first indexing. Therefore, you need to work on this step of search engine optimization to ensure your website is optimized for mobile devices to get maximum SEO search visibility.
When working on mobile SEO, you need to focus on:
- Having a mobile-friendly website (i.e., responsive design).
- A site that loads fast on mobile devices (good page speed scores).
- Using the same meta robots tags on the mobile and desktop site.
- Not lazy-loading primary content upon user interaction.
- Making sure your mobile and desktop sites have the same structured data.
Step 6: Local and International SEO
The last step for SEO is to optimize for local search results or international search engines if this applies to your website. If you have a business that relies on local customers to generate sales, then local SEO marketing will be important for you to work on.
If you rely on ranking your content in multiple countries or for specific languages, then international SEO strategies will be a key area to add to your optimization workflow.
Here are some related guides on how to improve your local SEO efforts which stem from creating an optimized Google Business Profile (formerly called Google My Business):
- 15 Benefits of Google My Business Profile
- How to Create Google My Business Account
- How to Add Keywords to Google My Business
- Google My Business Optimization Checklist
Step 7: Keeping Things Fresh
According to HubSpot, “Blogging is important for SEO if you want to increase visits to your website. But, if you are already posting valuable content, it might benefit you to go back and update that content, especially if after a little while, you want to give certain posts a boost. Blog post traffic is compounding, which means it gains organic results over time. This is why updating posts are important.”
Also, Google’s algorithm is built to give you fresher and more recent search results. In 2010, Google released a new web indexing system called Caffeine which provided 50 percent fresher results for web searches.
Then in 2011, the ranking algorithm was updated again to better determine when to give searchers more up-to-date relevant results for varying degrees of freshness.
Therefore, the way search engine optimization works best today is go through and update your content on a routine schedule for accuracy, refreshing old data with new statistics, fixing any broken links, and adding more relevant information to show Google your content still deserves to be ranked high in its index.
You also want to organize your website content in a way that makes it easier for search engines to crawl and users to find the web pages they’re looking for. Check out this related guide with strategies for how to organize website content for better SEO and usability.
The Way SEO Works Summary
I hope you enjoyed this guide on how SEO works for websites.
As you discovered, there are two primary areas for how search engine optimization works to improve a website’s rankings and traffic: on-page SEO and off-page SEO. However, there are additional factors you can optimize to further improve your website’s search visibility such as technical SEO, content SEO, mobile SEO, local SEO, and international SEO methods.