What is SEO and How Does it Work?

What does SEO stand for and what does it mean?

what is seo

SEO is an acronym for search engine optimisation. It’s the optimisation of a website, so it can appear higher in the search engines. Everyone mainly focuses on Google, as it has the biggest market share and is most commonly used by the general public. SEO in its basic form is completed in two stages: on-page SEO and off-page SEO.

SEO Process
While there are a few strategies within the realms of SEO, there is an accepted way of optimising a website, as follows:

1. Keyword Research and Competitor Analysis
2. On-Page Optimisation
3. Resolve any SEO issues (Coming in the next article – too much to write in one post!)
4. Off-Page Optimisation



On-Page SEO

On-page search engine optimisation, as the name suggests occurs within the website. As far as SEO basics go there are a few tags within the source code of each page that need optimisation, these are as follows:

Title tag

The headline of your Google result as the screenshot below demonstrates. Ideally, you want to mention your targeted keyword within this tag, but try to keep it within 70 characters. Google will read a longer title tag, but over the years they prefer a title tag that’s informative while being concise.

Meta Description

Lower down in the weighing scale but still important is getting customers to click onto your website. The ideal meta description is one that mentions your targeted phrase, call to actions or incentives to choose your site over the competition. So you can benefit from a well-written meta description that promotes your latest offers, even if you’re ranking lower than your competition.
The meta description should be kept between 150 – 160 characters, which is optimal for the search engines. Within this tag, you want to write full sentences with no grammatical errors.

Meta Keywords

Just kidding 🙂 this tag hasn’t been used in years. A lot of spammers used this back in the day, and thus Google stopped using it as a ranking signal. Some people believe Bing and Yahoo still look at this tag, but I feel you should be focusing on more important elements. I do not use this tag. Feel free to test, but it will be a waste of time. Just let the tag die peacefully!

H1, h2, h3 heading tags

The h1 heading tag should provide a quirky title as well as optimise for your targeted phrase. Google gives a little more weight to this tag over standard tags. Don’t just optimise this heading to rank higher, think of your readers as well. You have to entice your readers to read your content/website, otherwise, they will just bounce off the website. You want to keep your h1 concise, engaging and optimised for the search engines and yes you can accomplish all three, you just need to play around testing for the optimal h1 heading.
The h2 / h3 headings are given less weight than the h1 and are to be used for the purpose of sub-headings. I only really use these tags if I want to introduce a secondary phrase that I couldn’t fit within the h1 heading. So for example sake: I might want an h1 heading of “what is SEO”, then specify sub-headings under the h2 and h3 of “on-page SEO”.

Keyword Density

Before I dive into this particular aspect of SEO. I want to debunk a Myth. No, I firmly believe keyword density is not dead. It’s just changed from how it was carried out years ago, much like many other elements of the Google algorithm. You need to be able to adapt and not get stuck in time, or you will get left behind. Now I have that off my chest onto explaining what keyword density is: Keyword density as the name suggests is the percentage of targeted keywords mentioned x number of times within x amount of content. There is no magic number but do not over-optimise a website’s content, or Google Panda will make you pay. Google is constantly refining the algorithm to catch spammers, so don’t do it, you have been warned!
I usually find that 2 – 3 mentions of the main phrase every 300 words usually sits right with Google. You will also want to optimise the text for different variants and synonyms of your targeted phrase. That way the text isn’t over-optimised and you get the bonus of being optimised for multiple phrases. More phrases = more traffic.

How has keyword density changed over the years?

Google use to be quite slack when it came to website copy. Going back a few years I have witnessed some terrible content ranking quite highly on Google. One example (without mentioning names) had about 300 words of text and over 12 mentions of the person’s main targeted keyword. The copy, as you can imagine, didn’t read very well at all but it ranked!

Thank goodness for Google re-defining how SEO spammers optimise content. If you stick to the above guidance, you shouldn’t be too far off clean content. You will need to split-test different levels of text to get the mixture just right. Like I said there is no magic number, some sites rank highly with less content, and some require more.
While keeping in mind keyword density, it’s also important to note that Google, these days wants topical content not just a page for every keyword under the sun. So while keyword density lives you need to read between the lines and ensure you create content that is not only engaging for users (yes that’s right a human user, not search-engine) but will be noteworthy for months/years to come, also known as evergreen content. Always look to keep content current and revive any content that gets stale. You might also want to split test content to optimise for conversions.

Images and Alt tags

With all that text you want to make sure you have some images for your users, nobody wants to read a wall of text! In fact, studies show people tend to convert better with a mixture of graphics and text. There is chatter on SEO blogs and forums that you get extra brownie points for adding images to your web page. Think about it, better for engagement, your website looks more professional and less cluttered with walls of text and better yet you can optimise each images alt tag. Your images can also feature on Google images, another way for you to gain traffic to your website.

Alt tags

The main purpose originally was for accessibility reasons. A textual representation should the image fail to show. More on website accessibility here.

Website Structure

website structureHaving a website structure that visitors can navigate easily will get rewarded. Google can also recognise the words you name a page. Ideally, you want to optimise your page names with your target phrase. Example if you was writing a page about selling red apples you want something like /red-apples. If you find your website navigation is not search-engine friendly or memorable for users i.e. a long string of numbers then now is the time to change.

Poor URL Structure


Good URL Structure


Off Page Optimisation

Off-page search engine optimisation is the most time-consuming aspect of SEO. This could include link building, PR, content creation and everything in between. Whenever you mention “off page optimisation” people immediately think link building. Let’s cover link building first then move onto other elements. Link building is a strong signal but doesn’t over-obsess over the numbers, think quality over quantity. There are too many other elements to focus on as well. The key to SEO as a whole whether on-page or off-page is not to over-do any particular element.

Link Building

link building
The idea of link building is to help a website gain more authority over time by acquiring high-quality one-way back links. The higher the authority of a website, the better chance it has of achieving a higher position in the SERP’s.
Link building has changed quite a lot over the years. Google launched Google Penguin back in 2013. This is to stop back-hat SEO’s adding spammy links to a website in an attempt to manipulate its ranking.

Google’s stance on link building is building artificial links that manipulate page rank violates their terms of use. And while that’s from the horse’s mouth, most companies cannot afford to wait for those page 1 rankings to come. Some SEO’s play it safe with a white hat, grey hat or straight up black hat link building strategy. Grey hat, in my opinion, is medium risk, blackhat is high risk. Whitehat is the most time consuming but you will be pretty much safe from future Google Penguin updates unless someone does a negative SEO campaign on your domain, but that doesn’t happen does it Google!

I am not going to cover a complete guide of how to acquire such links here because other people in the industry have already covered the topic at length.

More on Link Building

The second resource I swear by is backlinko.com. Brian Dean, I consider a leader in link building. He has also been featured on Entrepreneur, Forbes, Inc and the likes of The Huffington Post.

SEO Blogs I Follow

Search Engine Land – Search Engine Land is the leading industry source for daily, must-read news and in-depth analysis about search engine technology.

Moz – The industry’s top SEO experts offer their best advice, research, how-tos, and insights—all in the name of helping you level-up your SEO and online marketing skills.

Image Credit

All images downloaded from Freepik.com