Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the art of getting organic traffic by ranking for relevant keywords, essentially by predicting what search engines and customers are searching for. 

Put simply, SEO is about getting more organic traffic. We do this by ranking for keywords that the customers/readers will be searching for. To improve rankings, we optimize our website, content, and brand identity. 

Common SEO activities include keyword research, building links, promoting content, improving site architecture – all of which have gazillions of tasks in themselves.

In layman terms: 

When we publish a page (in the form of blogs, homepage, or the inner pages of your site), they are then basically submitted on the Internet. These pages have an address. These web addresses play a major role in how SEO works.

The search engines (Google, Bing, Baidu, DuckDuckGo) have crawlers (sort of spiders) that go through all these pages. 

These search engines use algorithms to rank these pages on a variety of factors. These factors are called SEO Factors. 

Whenever a user enters a query in the search engines, they are shown a list of pages that can resolve their queries. 

The working of search engines, as they got better, has gotten more advanced. But we’ll cover those aspects in the further sections.

SEO matters…

Research has shown that only 5.7% of pages end up ranking in the first page (top 10) of the search results. Cruel, right? Well, that’s how SEO works.

Another pointer – the worst place to have your page is the second page of Google search (Google, because the second search engine second to it is Bing, that accounts for a measly 9% of search queries). 

So, it is well established that this is how SEO works – making it to the first page of organic search gives you the much-needed competitive advantage in this digital world. 

With SEO, you get to be discovered by more of your customers in an organic manner. Imagine this, Adam is looking to get fit. He wants to work out at home and is looking for genuine information about it. 

He hops on to a search engine, and shoots “best upper-body exercises at home”. This is what he gets: 

Guide on How SEO Works

For the PROs reading this, I am not showing the Featured Snippets, People also Ask, and YouTube results here since we’re doing this to cover the basics on how SEO works. Will discuss those, too.

These websites are at the top because they’ve done a good job with their SEO. 

What happens to brands and websites that haven’t cracked SEO, though?

They spend their cash on Ads. 

While ads do help in growing your sales or community, the ROI is way low as compared to a thorough SEO strategy. To do this, you need to make sure you know how SEO works, exactly.

The power of SEO lies in the fact that it gets you in front of your potential customers, and you don’t have to spend money for vague metrics like “People Reached”.

Important SEO Factors for you.

Multiple SEO factors are used by Google to rank pages for different search queries. 

If you are just starting with SEO and trying to understand how SEO works, it is important to understand its complexity. Google guards the working of its search algorithm too well for anyone to make direct sense out of it. 

But you have to have clarity about these factors to create a winning strategy, right? 

Because of  the inherent complexity attached with SEO, we will have to put these SEO factors into two categories. Here goes: 

  • On-Page SEO Factors
  • Off-Page SEO Factors

Let’s discuss these categories one at a time:

On-page SEO Factors

1. Meta, Everything – When you are adding a new page, you must add keyword-optimized Meta Description and Title. It is important to do this, as Google shows this information (Title and Description) in its results page. 

Not only does it help you to get rankings, but it also has a big impact on the CTR. CTR plays a bigger role in how SEO works and the role of the search engine in it.

If you use WordPress, Yoast SEO  is the most important plugin. When you are adding a new page, it gives you a checklist of everything you need from the SEO point of view (especially the snippet where Meta Title/Description feature). 

Guide on How SEO Works

Apart from writing a legible and concise copy, you also need to use keyword phrases for meta tags to work in your favor.

Importance: 8/10

2. Headings – Headings is yet another important on-page SEO factor that is important for your rankings. 

The key here is to use LSI keywords under heading tags. It is important to note here that not all of these tags have to be H1. Overusing heading tags can get your site penalized, so be sure not to use it unnecessarily. 

Importance: 7/10

3. ALT Tags – To improve your rankings and increase organic traffic, it is important to add images and infographics on your site. 

When you are adding these images, it is important to add ALT tags along with naming the images in a sensible manner. 

The alt text is basically the anchor text for images. Just like anchor text tells Google the relevance of a link, alt text explains the relevance of images to search engines. 

Importance: 8/10

4. Original and Problem-Solving Content – This is one of the most important components of SEO, and has a big impact on how SEO really works. As we know, Google’s sole purpose is to help users find the most relevant content on the web. So, the first step should be to create original and problem-solving content for your users. 

Using Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) with keywords is an important signal about the quality of the content and how SEO works. The originality of your content, too, is an instrumental factor when it comes to the success of your content strategy. Putting duplicate content on your website can lead to heavy penalties from Google and other search engines. 

Importance: 10/10

5. Indexation: Apart from making your site ready with content, images, and great design – making sure that search engines crawl your website properly is vital. 

As search engines push algorithm updates on a regular basis, you need to stay abreast with these announcements and make amends to always stay ahead of the curve. 

When it comes to issues related to your website, the go-to SEO tool for most of these issues is Google Search Console. Be sure to check your crawl status in the search console at regular intervals, although it lets you know if there’s an issue. 

Guide on How SEO Works

Common crawl errors include DNS errors, Server errors, Robots.txt errors, and 404 errors. Make sure that your web developers are responsive in case of such errors as and when needed. 

Some other tips to ensure proper indexation is to keep all your pages mobile-friendly that is designed for all screens. Also, you should implement a noindex tag on pages that are duplicated or aren’t meant for users to see at a given time. 

Importance: 8/10

6. Sitemaps – Sitemap is a file that you put out for search engines with information about all the pages, posts, images, videos, and the relationship between them. It tells Google which pages are important for you and the customers. 

With a good XML sitemap in place, you make sure that Google crawls and ranks all the important pages on your website. 

If your website is new, an XML sitemap is very important. When you are just starting out, you would want Google to crawl your new pages as soon as possible. By having a well-planned sitemap for your website, you can rest assured about getting crawled and ranked. 

The important thing to note here is that the pages of tags and categories will not have enough content, making it “thin content”. You must mark these tag pages as noindex for now. Once you have enough content for all the tags on your website, you can get them out of noindex. This OutreachMama piece has a great list of guest posting sites which you can start contacting and pitch them with your quality content.

Importance: 9/10

7. Pagespeed/Website Loading Speed – Google’s top priority is to provide users with top quality experience over the web. In fact, it leads the way in doing so. 

If you are just starting to understand the basics of SEO, it is important to know the importance of site performance.

The website loading speed is one of the most important SEO factors around. The way SEO works is centered around site performance and loading speed. This is another science in itself, but a component of overall SEO strategy. 

Site speed in a way tells Google about its ability to handle requests made in a given time frame. Unlike most other factors, Google has been fairly vocal about how they consider pagespeed as an important SEO factor in their algorithm. They have officially recognised Site Speed as an important metric to device rankings. 

It is important to note that there are a number of factors that determine how fast your site can load. And quite honestly, it is virtually impossible to get it right all at once. You will always have to make a compromise. 

While doing so, it is important to focus on it in an incremental way. You can use various SEO tools such as Google PageSpeed, WebPage Test, and even the WebMaster tools to check your pagespeed. 

These tools also provide a comprehensive to-do list that you can follow to enhance your site loading performance. 

In the early parts of this post, we discussed Neilpatel’s site and how he uses evergreen content to crush rankings. 

Let’s look at his page-speed analysis now: 

Guide on How SEO Works

Great score. Another reason why this site dominates a majority of keywords in the SEO and Online Marketing niche. 

As you can see, Google PageSpeed offers deep insights about your site’s performance in mobile as well as the desktop version. 

I checked for another site (don’t want to name it) and here’s some suggestions by Google on how this site can improve their performance:

Guide on How SEO Works

It also shows you things that you are doing right. Check this list of “Passed Audits” and you’ll know what all you don’t need to change: 

Guide on How SEO Works

You can also use other webmaster tools to assess and track your site performance, but Google PageSpeed is one of the best ones out there. 

Importance: 10/10

8. Use of AMP – Using AMP is not a direct ranking factor for Google. However, it has been an important factor in growing your website. Anyone who is trying to grasp the basics of SEO should know the importance of AMP.

Come to think of it, AMP is very helpful in improving a site’s performance. And since we just assigned a 10/10 importance score to site loading speed, AMP should also be an important component in your SEO strategy. 

AMP, also termed as Accelerated Mobile Pages, is a framework that optimizes web pages and ensures quicker loading in mobile screens. In today’s mobile-first culture, it is important for websites to perform exceptionally well on mobile screens. 

What AMP does is puts forward a bare metal version of your page and keeps the browser from spending excessive processing power and time for features that aren’t detrimental to the user’s experience. 

It is important to note that AMP is not necessary for all sites in general. It is only when the importance of site performance outweighs that of user experience. Anyone who knows how SEO works in real-world would be able to make the distinction.

Just find the right balance and you’ll be fine. 

Importance: 7/10

9. HTTPS is necessary – Just like content quality, Google can never budge on issues like security and privacy.

Using HTTPs is in fact a ranking signal that is used admittedly by Google.

Importance: 10/10

10. Image Optimization – When you are trying to understand the working of SEO and how you can formulate the perfect SEO strategy for your website, you need to be careful about rich content elements. This includes the images, infographics, and pop-ups on your website. 

These elements need to be highly optimized if you wish to make sure they don’t end up being an anchor to your website’s growth. 

The first step is to keep these images in the right format. 

Tip: NEVER use an image in the PNG format. Always go for WebP. 

Also, it is important to follow the necessary steps when you are uploading images on the site. Make sure you use the right keywords in the ALT tags and use a relevant title instead of the unsettling untitled images. 

Importance: 8/10

11. UX Signals

UX Signals (the way users interact or engage with your site) is an important factor used by Google to rank your pages for their respective keywords. 

These UX include bounce rate, dwell time, organic CTR, and search intent. 

Apart from this, there are various other factors such page speed and mobile-friendliness. These factors have already been covered in the earlier parts of this post.

Bland pages and web-only design is a thing in the books now. No user wants to come across those pages anymore. 

So, it is important for you to make sure that you offer a best-in-class experience to all your visitors. 

Importance: 9/10

Now, these were the on-page SEO factors that you should focus on. There are many others, yes.

But focus on these when you are beginning. The rest will follow. 

Let’s discuss another set of factors now. 

Off-Page SEO Factors

Non-Backlink Related SEO Factors

1. NAP Citations and Directories

Remember yellow pages with information on different businesses from across the world, citations and directories are the same for the web.

It helps you to get noticed and verified by the search engines as a business. Not only this, it also serves as a brand mention for your business.

While there are countless citations and directories out there, you need to focus on the NAP citations – the ones Name, Phone, Address information of businesses. 

Guide on How SEO Works

It is one of the main components for a successful local SEO strategy. 

Tip: It is important to have consistent information about your business on all these citations. So, be sure to provide the same and genuine information in all of these NAP citations. 

2. Google My Business – Also known as GMB, it is essentially a free business profile from Google that it uses for various purposes. 

If you have ever worked with a Marketing Agency, you probably know the importance of local SEO and having an optimized Google My Business profile.

The reason why we are explaining this separately, is because of the impact it has on your local SEO and hence sales. 

Consider this, I need to find a plumber urgently. I am new in town, or don’t like the plumber I know. I go to google and look for “Plumbers in Palo Alto”. Here’s what it will fetch: 

Guide on How SEO Works

The three profiles you show here are GMB profiles of three plumbers that make the cut for keywords “plumbers in Palo Alto”. No landing pages, No blogs, and yes – No Ads!

That’s Local SEO for you. 

So, to make sure you don’t miss the bus on this one – create a highly optimized GoogleMyBusiness profile and be sure to:

  • Get Reviews from your customers 
  • Put offers and posts regularly
  • Update contact details and be responsive
  • Upload images on a regular basis
  • Add virtual tour of your business (if applicable)

Importance: 10/10

3. Guest Posts: Although it comes under the link-building category in most of the discussions, guest posting is more than just the links. Apart from the link-juice, you get valuable brand mentions and an additional channel of traffic. 

If done right, guest posts can deliver a lot of referral traffic (a great signal for Google) and hence, customers. 

As you start, you need to offer a lot of value for bigger publications to consider you. But as you grow and build a certain level of authority in the business, it comes easy. 

The first step is to find the low-hanging fruits, sites that are accepting guest posts and contributions. 

Just Google these keywords and you’ll have plenty:

  • Your Keyword “guest post”
  • Your Keyword “write for us”
  • Your Keyword “guest article”
  • Your Keyword “guest post opportunities”
  • Your Keyword “this is a guest post by”
  • Your Keyword “contributing writer”
  • Your Keyword “want to write for”
  • Your Keyword “submit blog post”
  • Your Keyword “contribute to our site”
  • Your Keyword “guest column”
  • Your Keyword “submit content”
  • Your Keyword “submit your content”
  • Your Keyword “submit post”
  • Your Keyword “This post was written by”
  • Your Keyword “guest post courtesy of ”
  • Your Keyword “guest posting guidelines”
  • Your Keyword “suggest a post”
  • Your Keyword “submit an article”
  • Your Keyword “contributor guidelines”
  • Your Keyword “contributing writer”
  • Your Keyword “submit news”
  • Your Keyword “become a guest blogger
  • “Your Keyword “guest blogger”
  • Your Keyword “guest posts wanted”
  • Your Keyword “looking for guest posts”
  • Your Keyword “guest posts wanted”
  • Your Keyword “guest poster wanted”
  • Your Keyword “accepting guest posts”
  • Your Keyword “writers wanted”
  • Your Keyword “articles wanted”
  • Your Keyword “become an author”
  • Your Keyword “become guest writer”
  • Your Keyword “become a contributor”
  • Your Keyword “submit guest post”
  • Your Keyword “submit an article”
  • Your Keyword “submit article”
  • Your Keyword “guest author”
  • Your Keyword “send a tip”
  • Your Keyword inurl: “guest blogger”
  • Your Keyword inurl: “guest post”
  • allintitle: Your Keyword + guest post

Once you have found the publications, you can start reaching out to the editors and site owners. This OutreachMama piece has a great list of guest posting sites which you can start contacting and pitch them with your quality content.

Another thing you can do here is to pick a well-performing competitor in your niche, and get a list of all their backlinks. SEMrush is the one I’ll use for this: 

Guide on How SEO Works

Now, if you searched for a very reputed website, a lot of these backlinks will not be guest posts. But you can definitely find a lot of good publications to target. 

Guest Posting works slowly. But pays big dividends. Be persistent. 

Importance: 9/10

Backlinks and the related SEO factors

Backlinks still continue to be one of the most important factors in SEO. 

The quality along with the number of backlinks a page is a direct indication of its authority. Hence, link-building should be an integral part of your SEO strategy. 

According to Google’s E-A-T framework, a website’s Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness is determined on a multitude of factors. Backlinks and citations from different publications indicate the quality and relevance of contents in a given page. 

Because of sheer competition among the SEO professionals around the world, the dynamics of building links is constantly evolving. 

Put simply, link-building is the process of gathering validation and citation from relevant sites by getting a hyperlink on their respective pages. By having a link to your page from another site, you show search engine crawlers that your page has useful content and users would want to see it. 

Important aspects about backlinks and link-building includes: 

1. Anchor Text: When you get a link from any website, it is important that the hyperlink is used on relevant words. For example, if we were to get backlinks from a marketing publication on this very text- we would prefer the hyperlink to be done on text that reads “basics of SEO” or “working of SEO”. 

Importance: 7/10

2. Broken link-building: Getting links by replacing a broken link on a given page helps you at multiple levels. Not only does it give you the much-needed link juice, but it also signals the crawlers that your page in fact is better than the link/site you are replacing. Hence giving you the edge over your competitors. 

This is a pretty efficient method used by webmasters and SEO experts around the world for some time now. The broken link-building can be divided into three main parts: Prospecting, Content Creation, and Outreach. 

Importance: 6/10

3. Number of Backlinks – Number of backlinks is a good number to focus on. While it’s true that quality matters more than quantity, that shouldn’t get you too picky. 

The only thing relevant should be the context and relevance aspects of the domain you are getting the backlinks from. 

The best way of finding the relevant sites to get a link from is to check the link profile of your competitors. 

Every niche has a few websites that are very authoritative and are worth getting links from. To do this, you can use the SEMrush tool and fetch the link profile of your competitors. 

Just go to the tool and input your domain name. And then look at the top left corner. Go to “Organic Research” and then to “Competitors”. Here’s what you will get, a list of all your competitors. 

Guide on How SEO Works

Now, you can check the link profile for each of these competitors.

Guide on How SEO Works

And start working to hijack their link-juice!

Importance: 9/10

4. Authority of linking pages and domains – Authority of pages and domains linking to your website is crucial for your overall link-profile and SEO success in general. 

A good way of checking the quality of backlinks for any website is via Moz. The “Domain Authority” and “Page Industry” are pretty reliable metrics out there in the SEO industry. 

Just go to Moz and input a domain name to see the distribution of links based on authority. 

Here’s one from a reputed website: 

Guide on How SEO Works

As you can see, there are a number of links from high-authority websites with Domain Authority in the range of 60-100. 

Now, let’s have a look at another one with not a good distribution. 

Guide on How SEO Works

The number of links in the 1-20 range of DA is way too much than those from high authority websites. 

Another way to look at this is about the scale of link building. It’s true that scoring a link from smaller websites is easier, and they’re available easily. 

So get these links, no worries. 

But when you are just starting out, focus on the high authority websites. This will give you the much-needed boost that any new website needs. 

Importance: 8/10

Now that we’ve discussed various factors of Backlinks, let’s look at the various factors involving Brand Signals that have an impact on your SEO strategy. 

5. Brand Signals – This is one of the most underrated aspects of SEO.  Probably because most websites do not have any branded traffic and hence they are just caught up with the simple SEO game. 

But brand signals matter a lot when it comes to SEO. 

Brand Search and Keywords – This is one of the most important brand signals that is considered by Google and other search engines. 

SEMrush is a good tool to check out the metrics related to brand searches and keywords (which we’ll discuss in the next pointer). Here’s what it looks like:

Guide on How SEO Works

Another great way of gauging your branded traffic is by using the “Keywords Everywhere” Chrome extension. As a matter of fact, they have also announced an extension for Firefox.

Just search your site/company’s name in Google and look at the keyword suggestions. 

I searched for TechCrunch and this is what the extension showed me: 

Guide on How SEO Works

If you get a number of suggestions like these for your site, you don’t have to worry about branded traffic just yet. 

If not, just focus on creating great content and building a community. 

Importance: 6/10

Tenets of a successful SEO strategy

Like most successful tech products and services in today’s world, search (and SEO, obviously) has seen a never-ending change and additions to the features and functionalities. 

The amount of data being gathered, processed and analysed is a big reason why this happens. 

Say all the folks interested in stock markets started searching about prices of different stocks. Google realises that soon enough, as they go through all that data – which they need to do for giving us insights in Google Trends or even the search console. 

Until they notice this, some websites will rank at the top and get all the traffic. 

Google doesn’t have a problem with it. But it realises it can help the users. And starts Stock Quotes in search. It started with just showing the real time price, and now shows a pretty detailed summary for any stock you look up. Here goes:

how SEO works. basics of SEO

And Stock Quotes is just one of the additions. Here’s a broad timeline for the additions made by  Google over time: 

how SEO works. basics of SEO


One of the most important additions to Google Search (apart from all the algorithm updates) have to be the redesign of search page. 

From adding featured snippets and rich content cards to sections like “People also ask”, it keeps the SEO professionals on their toes. Let’s discuss the featured snippets first: 

When ranking at the top isn’t enough – Modern take on how SEO works.

With featured snippets, it really isn’t!

Featured snippets are boxes of content in form of lists, images, and contextual paragraphs that Google thinks has pretty relevant information for that particular query irrespective of it’s rankings. 

Honestly, it is a great way to reward sites that invest in quality content. 

However, it’s also unfair to pages ranking at the top. Have a look: 

how SEO works. basics of SEO

Ahrefs ranks at top for the keyword “SEO tips” at the time of writing this very sentence. 

But technically, it doesn’t. NeilPatel does. 

As a matter of fact, Ahrefs won’t even get the same CTR that the second result used to get before featured snippets came around. It’s because of the design. 

In the featured snippets, as you can see, Google shows some parts of the page. Being Google, it shows the parts relevant to search query. Making it a CTR magnet for users since all they want to do is save time. 

Now that we’ve established how Featured Snippets are a total game changer for SEO professionals, the question is imminent: How do we get into the Featured Snippets?

In google’s own words: 

You can’t. Google systems determine whether a page would make a good featured snippet for a user’s search request, and if so, elevates it.

But you can sure try. 

The best way to get into featured snippets is to answer questions. Without answering questions, it’s really an uphill battle to make it into the featured snippets. 

But the most important thing to do here (as for most SEO benefits) is creation of high-quality and in-depth content.

Let’s look at another important additions to Google Search in the recent years: 

The “People also Ask” section

If there’s one thing we know Google is totally committed to, it’s “making is easier for users”. 

Recently, Google started adding a section called “People also Ask” in the first page of results. 

Basically Google wants to help people find the right answer to their questions. 

Recently, they’ve also added a QnA section for this: 

how SEO works. basics of SEO

Not only as another source of traffic, you can also use this add-on as a tool for SEO. People who understand how SEO works and are experienced in ranking for various keywords already use this quite commonly.

The questions shown in these sections are exactly what the users are looking for. 

So all those grueling hours spent in keyword research spent even after spending time on understanding how SEO works exactly, can be more productive now, if not saved entirely. 

The best way of getting traffic from these sections is to create an FAQ section in your pages. 

And you know which questions you got to ask. 

Simple as that, make a list of questions and add them to the FAQ section. 

Evergreen content to make SEO work for you.

A simple and effective content strategy is the most important factor of an SEO operation. As a matter of fact, the Optimization in Search Engine Optimization is mostly on the content that is there on your website. 

An average length of content on pages that rank on first position is more than 2400 words. That’s a lot of words. Some people would frown upon the notion that you need so many words for ranking well. But not folks who understand how SEO works. They know the importance of creating thorough and really helpful content.

Only way one can have that amount of content on a page is by being thorough and covering each and every aspect on the particular topic. 

Not only this, but websites with evergreen content are known to rank better for local search and e-commerce related keywords, too. 

Evergreen content is thorough, detailed, and full of images that explain the topic properly. This content with so much information helps you to establish authority on the given topic. People who know how SEO works will always suggest you to build authority on the topic first.

To keep such a huge amount of content relevant in the long run, it is needed to be updated regularly.

Evergreen content pieces include: 

  • How-To Tutorials
  • Encyclopedic Information
  • Reference Guides
  • Product Guides

Creating these in-depth pieces of content takes a tremendous amount of effort. But the results are massive, too. As anyone who knows how SEO works will suggest to you.

Let’s take an example now. Neilpatel.com is one of the most influential and top-rated publications (and a popular professional in the internet marketing industry) for SEO and Internet Marketing in general. 

We will look at the top pages on his site. List the top 10 of these pages and see how many of these have evergreen content. Moz is what we’ll use here, but most tools work fine for this basic search. 

how SEO works. basics of SEO

Of these 9 pages, 2 of them are landing pages for tools that the site offers. A lot of SEO professionals go there and perform quick checks about their clients. He must be running ads there, too.

The remaining 7, here, are all blog posts with the word “Guide” in their title. 

Explains a lot, now?

Evergreen content is always going to deliver. As everyone who knows how SEO works would suggest you.

Not only do these posts rank better than other types of pages, but they are also way more helpful to the users. Hence get you more customers than an article on what’s happening over the weekend. 

Now you know how SEO works!

Like most complex things, SEO to is something that more you know about, the more you get curious. 

As you start working on growing traffic to your website, make sure you work on: 

  • Improving site performance
  • Creating evergreen content
  • Optimizing content and images for SEO
  • Creating the perfect sitemap.xml file
  • Ensuring seamless indexation of your pages
  • Creating a solid brand identity
  • Building links to your site
  • Guest posting and collaborate with other publications
  • Creating an active GMB profile

Getting the perfect results from SEO is not going to be a cakewalk, but make sure you understand how SEO works, create a thorough strategy, and evolve your strategy to get better rankings. 

Want to know more about how SEO works? Feel free to get in touch with us. We’re here to help!

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