SEO stands for search engine optimization: the practice of increasing your website traffic by getting your web pages to rank higher in search engine results.

SEO can also stand for search engine optimizer, a person who practices search engine optimization.

Visitors who arrive to your site via search engines are called “organic traffic.” This is opposed to “paid traffic,” which results from people clicking on ads to visit your site.

Though there are many search engines including Google, Yahoo, Bing, Baidu, and others, typically SEO is focused on optimizing content for Google, since it’s the most popular search engine with over 85% market share.

How SEO Works

Many people take for granted that when they use Google, most of the time they immediately see relevant and helpful results. But there’s a lot of details that go into creating that list of results. How exactly does Google decide what results to give you?

While SEO can get technical and complicated, the basics are simple for anyone to learn.

First, let’s take a look at how search engines work.

How Search Engines Discover and Rank Content

It all starts with Google discovering content to include in its search results. As you might’ve guessed, this is a completely automated process: Google’s search engine uses automated software called a “bot” or “spider.” These bots explore (or “crawl”) the web by following links and fetching web pages.

Once your site is discovered, it’s then evaluated. Search bots try to determine what each about, how comprehensive it is, and what the quality of the content is like.

Whenever someone searches for a term on Google, Google uses complicated mathematical formulas called “ranking algorithms” to match that searcher with the content that best answers their query.

How does Google decide how to rank content?

There are a lot of factors that go into Google’s decision on how to rank web pages. These ranking factors include things like:

  • use of the search term (“keyword”) and related terms in the content
  • the trustworthiness of the domain
  • the number and quality of other sites that link to that page
  • the quality of the content (including length, formatting, and more)
  • the speed of the website

…and much more.

So that’s the definition of SEO – but how is the optimization actually accomplished?

SEO 101: How Is Content Optimized for Search Engines?

There are several important aspects of search engine optimization:

Creating an SEO-Friendly Website
If you want your content to rank high in search results, it’s important to make sure that Google’s bots can easily find your website, crawl through it, and understand what it’s about.

An SEO-friendly website will have a good domain name, a good internal link structure, and will be built using good code.

These aspects of SEO can also be called “technical SEO.”

Keyword Research
Optimization is not just about getting more traffic, but about getting the RIGHT traffic to your site. Keyword research can help with both of those goals.

Keyword research is about identifying the terms that your target audience is searching for. When you identify and use the right keywords in your content, you’ll rank higher for the exact terms people are using to find you.

Content Creation
In order to attain and hold on to high rankings, you need to make sure your content is exactly what searchers need. That means creating in-depth, well-written content in an easy-to-digest format.

Content Promotion
One big factor that Google looks at when ranking your content is whether other people find it useful. Google looks at how many websites link to your pages, and considers each of those links a vote for your content.

Keep in mind, though, Google also considers WHO is voting for you. For example, if a trusted news site links to your article, chances are you have high-quality content. On the other hand, if you’re only attracting links from low-quality sites, Google may assume that your site is low-quality as well.

Ready to learn more about SEO? Get started with the related tutorials and terms below…