If you found this page via Google search, you likely searched Google for [what is seo] or [seo].
This guide is published on Search Engine Land, an authoritative website with great expertise on and experience in the topic of SEO (we’ve been covering all SEO changes, big and small since 2006).
Originally published in 2010, our “what is SEO” page has earned a whopping 324,203 links. press services agency
Put simply, these factors (and others) have helped this guide earn a good reputation with search engines, which has helped it rank in Position 1 for years. It has accumulated signals that demonstrate it is authoritative and trustworthy – and therefore deserves to rank when someone searches for SEO.
But let’s look at SEO more broadly. As a whole, SEO really works through a combination of:
- People: The person or team responsible for doing or ensuring that the strategic, tactical and operational SEO work is completed.
- Processes: The actions taken to make the work more efficient.
- Technology: The platforms and tools used.
- Activities: The end product, or output.
Many other things factor into how SEO works. What follows is a high-level look at the most important knowledge and process elements.
Six critical areas, in combination, make SEO work:
1. Understanding how search engines work
Simply, if you want people to find your business via search – on any platform – you need to understand the technical processes behind how the engine works – and then make sure you are providing all the right “signals” to influence that visibility.
When talking about traditional web search engines like Google, there are four separate stages of search:
- Crawling: Search engines use crawlers to discover pages on the web by following links and using sitemaps.
- Indexing: Search engines analyze the content and metadata of the pages it has discovered and add them to a database (though there’s no guarantee every page on your website will be indexed).
- Ranking: Complex algorithms look at a variety of signals to determine whether a page is relevant and of high-enough quality to show when searchers enter a query.
But optimizing for Google search is different from optimizing for search other platforms like YouTube or Amazon.
Let’s take Facebook, for example, where factors such as engagement (Likes, comments, shares, etc.) and who people are connected to matter. Then, on Twitter, signals like recency, interactions, or the author’s credibility are important.
And further complicating things: search engines have added machine learning elements in order to surface content – making it even harder to say “this” or “that” resulted in better or worse performance.
Research is a key part of SEO. Some forms of research that will improve SEO performance include:
- Audience research: It’s important to understand your target audience or market. Who are they (i.e., their demographics and psychographics)? What are their pain points? What questions do they have that you can answer?
- Keyword research: This process helps you identify and incorporate relevant and valuable search terms people use into your pages – and understand how much demand and competition there is to rank for these keywords.
- Competitor research: What are your competitors doing? What are their strengths and weaknesses? What types of content are they publishing?
- Brand/business/client research: What are their goals – and how can SEO help them achieve those goals?
- Website research: A variety of SEO audits can uncover opportunities and issues on a website that are preventing success in organic search. Some audits to consider: technical SEO, content, link profile and E-E-A-T.
- SERP analysis: This will help you understand the search intent for a given query (e.g., is it commercial, transactional, informational or navigational) and create content that is more likely to earn rankings or visibility.
An SEO strategy is your long-term action plan. You need to set goals – and a plan for how you will reach them.
Think of it your SEO strategy as a roadmap. The path you take likely will change and evolve over time – but the destination should remain clear and unchanged.
Your SEO plan may include things such as:
- Setting goals (e.g., OKRs, SMART) and expectations (i.e., timelines/milestones).
- Defining and aligning meaningful KPIs and metrics.
- Deciding how projects will be created and implemented (internal, external or a mix).
- Coordinating and communicating with internal and external stakeholders.
- Choosing and implementing tools/technology.
- Hiring, training and structuring a team.
- Setting a budget.
- Measuring and reporting on results.
- Documenting the strategy and process.
4. Creating and implementing
Once all the research is done, it’s time to turn ideas into action. That means:
- Creating new content: Advising your content team on what content needs to be created.
- Recommending or implementing changes or enhancements to existing pages: This could include updating and improving the content, adding internal links, incorporating keywords/topics/entities, or identifying other ways to optimize it further.
- Removing old, outdated or low-quality content: The types of content that aren’t ranking well, driving converting traffic or helping you achieve your SEO goals.
5. Monitoring and maintaining
You need to know when something goes wrong or breaks on your website. Monitoring is critical.
You need to know if traffic drops to a critical page, pages become slow, unresponsive or fall out of the index, your entire website goes offline, links break, or any other number of potential catastrophic issues.
6. Analyzing, assessing and reporting on performance
If you don’t measure SEO, you can’t improve it. To make data-driven decisions about SEO, you’ll need to use:
- Website analytics: Set up and use tools (at minimum, free tools such as Google Analytics, Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools) to collect performance data.
- Tools and platforms: There are many “all-in-one” platforms (or suites) that offer multiple tools, but you can also choose to use only select SEO tools to track performance on specific tasks. Or, if you have the resources and none of the tools on the market do exactly what you want, you can make your own tools.
After you’ve collected the data, you’ll need to report on progress. You can create reports using software or manually.
Performance reporting should tell a story and be done at meaningful time intervals, typically comparing to previous report periods (e.g., year over year). This will depend on the type of website brand awareness agency (typically, this will be monthly, quarterly, or some other interval),
SEO is ongoing
SEO never ends. Search engines, user behavior and your competitors are always changing. Websites change and move (and break) over time. Content gets stale. Your processes should improve and become more efficient.