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What is SEO and How It Works

Feb 06, 2023

SEO is one of the most effective digital marketing strategies to boost your site’s presence. In this article, we will try to define what is SEO and how it works. 

Every day, WordPress users publish more than 2 million posts. This means that every second, around 24 blog posts are posted. And this number only accounts for the posts made by WordPress users. If you were to count all the blog posts from different platforms, one thing is certain — the number will be way higher.

With all these posts coming out every second, standing out can be tough. But despite the challenges, if you want your blog or your business website to succeed, you need to tackle the competition and you need to do it well.

While the writing part may take around two to three hours for every 1,000-word blog post, the minutes you spend optimizing the post after writing it is the most important. This explains why the term SEO is one of the most searched terms on Google every month.

In a study conducted in 2019, Google revealed that it receives 63,000 searches per second or a whopping 5.6 billion searches per day! Landing on the first few pages of Google, therefore, is one of the determinants as to whether or not a business will thrive. That is why more and more people have become interested to know what is SEO and how it works.


What is SEO: What does it actually mean?


Knowing what is SEO and how it works may seem easy to comprehend but not everyone understands what should be optimized. Should you optimize the design? Or should it be the links or writings? All of these should be optimized apart from everything else involved in the web design and web search process.

Also known as organic listings, SEO refers to the process of ranking high on search engines, specifically in the unpaid section. More thoroughly, this refers to the process of fully optimizing online content to make it show on the search engine’s top results when users search for a certain keyword.

In SEO, there are three parties involved — website owner, searcher, and the search engine. If you write an article about a sustainable logistics company, your intention is for your article to show up on the first page of any search engine results when a certain user searches for the keyword “sustainable logistics”.

To further explain, SEO is the strategy that you need to practice to make Google and other search engines include your blog post in the top results.


Black hat versus white hat SEO


A huge majority of online experiences start with the search engine. Approximately 75% of these searches are done on Google and the top five Google results get more than 67% of the user clicks. Having stated these facts, you can see how important it is to know what is SEO and how it works.

Some would even joke that if there’s a need for you to hide a dead body, the best place to conceal it is on the second page of Google’s search results.

This goes to say that if your product, article, or blog post lands on the second page of Google search results, it means it’s not ranking at all. However, to be able to understand how to appear on the first pages of any search engine, you need to understand what is SEO and how it works.

Google’s algorithm is very well guarded and not all of the 200 determining factors to rank are made public. When it comes to the SEO force, there are two sides — white hat and black hat.

For people who are only trying to get a quick buck from their SEO efforts, going the black hat route is easy. However, if you’re in it for the long entrepreneurial haul, white hat SEO is the right path to take.

Black hat SEO allows you to focus on optimizing content only for the search engine, disregarding the human element of the equation. There are numerous ways to twist the rules for a website or article to rank higher and these are black hat SEOs’ prime way to make fast moolah.

Then again, the result of this approach often leads to crappy, spammy pages leaving the website, write-up, or blog post banned and the marketer severely punished. These also ruin the possibility of creating a sustainable future for the brand.

There are always two possibilities when you choose black hat SEO 1. You can make money fast or 2. You may lose money fast. Not to mention that you will need to be constantly on the lookout for updates on search engines and find novel ways to dodge the new rules.


What is white hat SEO?


In understanding what is SEO and how it works, you must choose to dig deeper in the principle of white hat SEO. As opposed to black hat SEO, white hat SEO aims to build a more sustainable online business. 

If black hat SEO neglects the human audience, white hat SEO banks on them. By giving your audience content that can add value to them and if you make such content easily accessible without circumventing the rules of the search engines, you can adhere to the principles of white hat SEO.


Common white hat SEO practices


You see, black hat SEO turns relevant content into duplicate content, well-placed keywords into stuffed ones, and relevant links to irrelevant content. Ironically, these point to something important — a productive SEO strategy is one that’s similar to a black hat strategy. The only difference is you have to do it moderately. 

At the end of the day black and white SEO strategists want the same thing and that is to get their own share of search engine traffic that makes up for more than 90% of the users’ online experiences.

Here are some white SEO practices that truly work.


Backlinks and PBNs


Backlinks have long been helping Google to determine which websites should rank higher and those that should be on the last page. This is, in fact, the highest factor Google considers when making a decision. Some studies suggest that if your page has more backlinks, it will rank better on Google. White hat SEO relies on mutual partnerships, guest blogging, and honest testimonials to gain backlinks.

Black hat SEO, on the other hand, generates backlinks through PBNs or Private Blog Networks. This is a network of domains that have pre-built SEO juice and are mostly inactive. Black hat SEO strategists use PBN by linking them to a certain website. While this strategy works, its sustainability largely depends on whether or not Google catches them. If they’re caught. The website immediately gets demoted in terms of ranking.

Fortunately, you can achieve what PBNs have achieved through white hat strategies. Write honest testimonials, pitch other blog posts, make share-worthy or viral content, and add your name on third-party article directories. Compared to PBNs, these strategies are more honest.


Keyword research and stuffing


It’s an understatement to say that keyword research is crucial in SEO. Basically, if you know what words people are using when they search into Google and by targeting those words, you can improve your rank in Google. Knowing this fact, black hat SEO strategists find means to exploit the rule and stuff articles with keywords. Keyword stuffing is not only annoying, but it’s also ineffective.

Say for example you’re writing an article about the best gaming PCs. Normally, you don’t want to repeat the phrase best gaming PCs or gaming PCs on every line because that will render the article quite hard to read. Then again, black hat strategists employ this strategy to allow Google to pick up on their site and help it rank better. Over time, Google will eventually catch up with them and demote the website as punishment.

Keyword stuffing was countered by semantic search. This refers to the effort of Google and other search engines to yield more accurate results for every user search. It is by understanding the intent of the searcher, the context of the query, and the relationship between words. If you want to rank better while keeping a sustainable SEO strategy, include the right keywords and avoid black hat strategies.

There are many white hat strategies that are equally commendable. Such as internal linking and tiered link building. But let’s reserve a more in-depth discussion of these next time. For now, let’s move on to how SEO actually works.


How does SEO work?

what is seo and how it works


The main goal of Google is to organize every available information and make the same universally useful and accessible. Delivering relevant and productive search results is a primordial part of this goal. This is how they usually work.

First and foremost, Google’s spiders or automated search bots crawl the web. This means that they visit as many web pages as they can. Secondly, these search bots add crawlable and correctly optimized pages to Google’s index before they are being cataloged. After that, every time a user searches on Google, the search engine presents the most appropriate search result according to the search terms entered.

To be able to get to that point, you need your page title and meta descriptions to be persuasive enough for the users to click on them and visit your site.


Google ranking: How do they work?


By now you already understand what is SEO and how it works. But you also need to know that the ranking on search engines is not only about keywords. The quality of the information also matters. According to Google, when they index each page’s main content, they check the following:


  • Purpose of each page 
  • Trustworthiness, authority, and expertise of the content and content creator 
  • Amount and quality of content 
  • Information about the website and content creator 
  • The reputation of the website and content creator 


All these are taken into consideration by the search engine’s ranking algorithm and subsequently determine the website’s SEO ranking. The most relevant websites are shown first while the least relevant are shown last.

Given these criteria, your SEO goal now is to let Google see that your website or article is relevant in answering search queries. You have to understand that there’s no guarantee that your page or article will land the #1 rank. Since SEO guidelines change almost all the time, these rankings also change along with them.


Off-page and On-page SEO


If you happened to eavesdrop on conversations about SEO ranking, you’ve probably heard about off-page and on-page SEO. In fact, you can’t fully understand what is SEO and how it works if you don’t know the difference between these two terms.

The former refers to the actions taken outside a website with the purpose of positively affecting its authority and trustworthiness. The tools used here usually include social signals and inbound links. The latter refers to the factors found on your website that you can fully optimize. This includes content and underlying codes. Both of these SEO types are included in the factors determining SEO ranking. 

Aside from these two, here are other key factors that will determine your website’s SEO ranking.


Security and accessibility of the website


The right kind of URL will easily get Google bots to reach and crawl your website. This suggests that before Google can index your website, it must have a URL that Google can visit. And once Google is there, it must be able to understand what your website is about. These bots are looking for the following: 


  • Well-coded website 
  • A file in robots.txt format that informs Google where it should and should not look for various site information 
  • Sitemap with all the relevant pages 


If you’re using a website that’s run by WordPress, you can use Yoast SEO to build or set up your sitemap. Though HTTPS aren’t considered an indexing factor, Google’s John Mueller stated that this is one of the search engine’s lightweight ranking factors. This means that if you have an HTTPS, that will be useful and great for online users. While you’re at it, get SSL security for your website, too. It’ll be worth the time and investment.


Page speed


The loading speed of your website is also one of the main factors that affect SEO ranking. Basically, your search engines also want you to improve the quality of your users’ experiences. And the more fast-loading your web pages are, the better your ranking will be. In an algorithm update years ago, Google announced that they’ll also be focusing on the speed of loading mobile pages. This only means that if your website is not optimized for mobile devices, it can get you penalized.


Domain age, URL, and authority


An optimized content is at the core of every white hat SEO strategy. This, too, is one of the major deciding factors when it comes to Google search rankings.

As you already know, the search algorithms of every search engine, especially Google, rely heavily on keywords. These are the phrases or words that online users type in when they’re searching for information on the web. These are also the phrases and words that describe your site and business. Ideally, the two should match up.

If you’re a website owner, one thing that you should be wary of is duplicate content. In SEO, fresh, unique, and original content is always more favored. If you have different contents that look similar, you need to let Google know which is the most authoritative. This can be done with the use of canonical URLs. 

To fully maximize your content, you need to understand LSI or latent semantic indexing, too. This refers to the online word association that helps Google determine which results to show. 

Aside from the aforementioned, there are also other factors affecting Google ranking and these include the following:

  • Technical SEO: Refers to the usage of keywords in the title page, proper use of header tags, the inclusion of a meta title and description, adding of image alt tags, and use of schema markups.
  • User experience: This factor measures your website’s dwell time, bounce rate, and click-through rate.
  • Links: This includes the proper use of inbound, outbound, and internal links to help your website rank better.
  • Social signals: Social sharing of your content helps it gain authority and credibility. As a website owner, you can invest time in writing guest blogs and adding more people to your email list for marketing.

Real business information: This calls for the inclusion of your business’ name, address, and phone number on your website. Aside from that, this factor also looks for reviews about your business and its presence on Facebook and Google My Business.


SEO job description


If you decide to build a career in SEO, you’re not only expected to master the concepts and ideas shared above. There are certain SEO skills you also need to learn. In fact, you’ll also be expected to be able to deliver the following: 


  • Analyze and review website to look for areas that can be optimized and improved 
  • Draft a detailed SEO strategy report 
  • Identify productive keywords that can drive the most traffic 
  • Run pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns 
  • Write creative and powerful call-to-actions (CTAs) to improve website conversion
  • Fill content and website with effective and productive keywords 
  • Come up with more productive link-building strategies 


Your client may even add more to these tasks, but you’ll easily survive and excel if you have a solid understanding of the basics and main SEO principles.


SEO may just be a three-letter idea but it’s amazing how it can change the way a business performs in the digital world. If you want to make a career out of this, or if you want to improve your business by leaps and bounds, start learning the nitty-gritty of SEO today.


All White Hat SEO offers an SEO fundamentals course that will help you jumpstart your career. Click here to know more.