What is Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)?

Search Engine Optimization is the process of improving the visibility of a website on organic (“natural” or un-paid) search engine result pages (SERPs), by incorporating search engine friendly elements into a website. A successful search engine optimization campaign will have, as part of the improvements, carefully select, relevant, keywords which the on-page optimization will be designed to make prominent for search engine algorithms. Search engine optimization is broken down into two basic areas: on-page, and off-page optimization. On-page optimization refers to website elements which comprise a web page, such as HTML code, textual content, and images. Off-page optimization refers, predominantly, to backlinks (links pointing to the site which is being optimized, from other relevant websites).

How SEO / Search Engine Optimisation works

You might think of a search engine as a website you visit to type (or speak) a question into a box and Google, Yahoo!, Bing, or whatever search engine you’re using magically replies with a long list of links to webpages that could potentially answer your question.

That’s true. But have you ever stopped to consider what’s behind those magical lists of links?

Here’s how it works: Google (or any search engine you’re using) has a crawler that goes out and gathers information about all the content they can find on the Internet. The crawlers bring all those 1s and 0s back to the search engine to build an index. That index is then fed through an algorithm that tries to match all that data with your query.

There are a lot of factors that go into a search engine’s algorithm, and here’s how a group of experts ranked their importance:


That’s all the SE (search engine) of SEO.

The O part of SEO—optimization—is where the people who write all that content and put it on their sites are gussying that content and those sites up so search engines will be able to understand what they’re seeing, and the users who arrive via search will like what they see.

Optimization can take many forms. It’s everything from making sure the title tags and meta descriptions are both informative and the right length to pointing internal links at pages you’re proud of.

What Goes into SEO / Search Engine Optimisation

To understand what SEO really means, let’s break that sentence down and look at the parts:

  • Quality of traffic. You can attract all the visitors in the world, but if they’re coming to your site because Google tells them you’re a resource for Apple computers when really you’re a farmer selling apples, that is not quality traffic. Instead you want to attract visitors who are genuinely interested in products that you offer.
  • Quantity of traffic. Once you have the right people clicking through from those search engine results pages (SERPs), more traffic is better.
  • Organic results. Ads make up a significant portion of many SERPs. Organic traffic is any traffic that you don’t have to pay for.

Differences between Search Engines

Although the basic principle of operation of all search engines is the same, the minor differences between them lead to major changes in results relevancy. For different search engines different factors are important. There were times, when SEO experts joked that the algorithms of Bing are intentionally made just the opposite of those of Google. While this might have a grain of truth, it is a matter a fact that the major search engines like different stuff and if you plan to conquer more than one of them, you need to optimize carefully.

There are many examples of the differences between search engines. For instance, for Yahoo! and Bing, on-page keyword factors are of primary importance, while for Google links are very, very important. Also, for Google sites are like wine – the older, the better, while Yahoo! generally has no expressed preference towards sites and domains with tradition (i.e. older ones). Thus you might need more time till your site gets mature to be admitted to the top in Google, than in Yahoo!.

Creating for people always comes first

In light of what your customers likely look for in the content they choose to consume – not to mention Google’s ever-changing algorithms that aim to keep online content relevant and of a high quality – you can’t go wrong if you follow this golden rule: Write compelling content about the things your target audience would be most interested in.

SEO / Search Engine Optimisation is only one piece of the Puzzle

While you likely receive a substantial amount of website traffic from search, other traffic sources, such as email and social media, should feature prominently in your optimization efforts, as well.

If you are wondering how much of your traffic is coming from search (and, thus, how much of your content optimization efforts should be focused on SEO), open Google Analytics and go to Acquisition > Overview. Here you’ll see a breakdown of how much of your traffic is coming from each of the seven key sources:

  • Organic search
  • Email
  • Direct (people getting to your site via a bookmark or by typing a URL directly)
  • Referral (viewers who come from any site that links to your content)
  • Social media
  • Paid search
  • Other (i.e., traffic that can’t be attributed to any of the above)

Social impacts SEO

Ever since Google’s Hummingbird update, social signals are having a greater impact on search results than ever before. As a result, it’s important for content marketers to have a strong social strategy in place that takes SEO considerations into account.

SEO / Search Engine Optimisation is a long-tail strategy

When you are getting started with content marketing, it’s not realistic to expect traffic from search to grow quickly (which is another good reason to incorporate social into your distribution strategy). However, once you do start to see improvements in traffic due to your search efforts, the benefits can be long-lasting. I can’t tell you how many times older articles on CMI experience a resurgence in popularity due to search — in fact, many of our contributors have told me they get requests on their posts years after they’ve been published.

A search engine main duty or process is divided into 3 key elements: crawling, indexing and querying.

  • Crawling: A search engine runs a software program called a ‘spider‘ to discover or ‘crawl’ through your content on the web.
  • Indexing: The search engine analyzes the content it ‘crawls’ to determine what it’s about, it then ‘indexes this info’ or ‘organises the content’ – so that it’s quickly referenced or retrieved for the next step of the process.
  • Querying: When you type your query into the search engine of choice, it retrieves a list of results for you to consider or read through. These results appear on a Search Engine Results Page (SERP). These results are based on the index.

Keywords still matter

While obsessing over keywords is certainly not a recommended strategy for successful content marketing, you do want to make sure your efforts are ranking for the terms that are most meaningful to your brand and your customers. As such, it’s useful to do a bit of basic research and then build a list of relevant keywords you will target through your content.

Get technical

SEO / Search Engine Optimisation involves some pretty technical components, like making sure your content pages are being indexed correctly by search engines and ensuring that you have 301 redirect pages set up to make sure visitors always reach their intended destination on your content pages. To do this, you need to know what content you have, and where it’s located — which you can determine and document by conducting an audit of your content.

Here are 3 simple recommendations to keep in mind:

– Keep your title tag between 50-60 characters. This prevents a too-long title from getting cut off in search results.
– Your title must accurately describe the content on the page.
– Place your keywords at the beginning of the title tag.
Its also important to ensure you don’t use duplicate keywords or titles as Google does frown upon duplicate content – if this is the case, consider merging your 2 pages into one or altering the content slightly to deliver a different message.

More SEO Advice For Beginners

For more basic but also in-depth advice, our Periodic Table Of SEO Success Factors, shown below, introduces you to all the key concepts you need to know:

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