How exactly does SEO work?

How does it work for your website or business?

Top voted answer
Paul Easton

Paul Easton at

Sorry, but the comments above make good blog posts but are not from people in the trenches. 15 years in the business, and while it's a lot of work, many focus on the wrong elements and get little results, especially content. Content on its own won't cut it.
The 4 Types of SEO: What You May Not Have Been Told
A large part of our time is spent speaking to clients about SEO - as you would expect from an SEO agency. While you may think that clients naturally understand SEO because of this, there's often a misunderstanding around what the actual term means, and what the client expects.

Let's break it down and look at it from your point of a client, taking the jargon away. Whether you're a local plumber or an international conglomerate, you should see some value in this approach.

With the explosion of web design companies and free templates in recent years, creating a website today is much easier than it would have been five years ago. Many web design companies include SEO in their service. These could be defined as SEO-friendly websites able to be found by Google.

Let's say that a local plumber enlists the services of a web design company like this. When they hear the term SEO, they expect to be able to find themselves on the first page when they search "plumber + city name". Unfortunately, there are likely many other plumbers in the area with the same expectation.
And also if they use Gmail or any other Google account and are logged in, the results change

The client then claims that the company has not "done SEO" because of this. Can you see how the industry gets a bad name?

An SEO-friendly website is a term to explain that Google finds your site easy to read, and user friendly. It is not a guarantee that you will rank - it just indicates that you could. Without the right additional actions, you probably won't.

In some cases, you might get found on maybe the bottom of page 1, but because no keyword research has been done, possibly just a guess what you want to come up for in Google - nothing happens, no extra visitors, no leads. This is because the Volume of search has not been taken into account and the clicks, go to the top of the page
Now, let's turn this around to where it could work.

A retail store has an existing physical store. They are not selling online, but have had the main content site up for a long time. They then decide to build out an SEO-friendly eCommerce store, by adding 5000 products. Presuming there has been some thought put into site structures, categories, and product descriptions, the site will have ranking power that the local plumber will never have.

They will likely make sales from organic search traffic. While the plumber is still thinking that SEO is something he purchased, the two have undergone the same process with different outcomes. Granted, a 5000-page site is very different from the five pages of the local plumber. Essentially they are the same service, one with more research, but the same.

End Result: A Google SEO friendly site

2. Next on the SEO ladder? Technical SEO.

This is where a technical audit of a site is done, and recommendations are made around what needs to be adjusted to align with 'best practice'.

Software technical types love this method of SEO because it's all about pointing out the things wrong with the site and essentially saying (in so many words), "see, that's why your site isn't ranking. You haven't done these things right."

When you have large technical problems or have done a rebuild without considering SEO, this might be of value.

In saying that, working from best practice is guessing at best. Generally, it's a lot of opinions since Google never tells you exactly what to do. At the same time, it's being made from a point of stating a fact which is really an opinion about the how-to. As an SEO professional, I have been asked about (and tested) many software options. Developers love to say that these work, but they are missing the point. Nobody knows exactly how to rank in Google, but many make the claims that sound like Facts - Like 1+1 = 2 - there is best practice.

A lot of SEO blog posts are written in this style - opinion stated as fact. Nobody can tell you step by step, or tell you exactly what it takes to rank on Google. Although, many state that they can. I call it slightly misleading, but it makes good content….

3. Next is the content model.

A lot of marketing companies pitch the use of content to rank. This comes from the concept of blogging, and its benefits for SEO. In the past, publishing a new blog post would immediately be rewarded with a jump in rankings. Google saw it as something new and (hopefully) original. On previous blog platforms, users would comment on the post, updating the blog and boosting rankings further.

You can see the appeal here. Lots of comments equal lots of updates to the content, resulting in more traffic.

In recent years this has brought major problems... spammers. Spammers post random links, and this was followed by automated software to do the same thing.

I once worked with a client who was happy to moderate the comments. He gave up after three days; as fast as he could moderate the comments, more appeared. And he had to delete most of them.

Now, most blogs are hosted by services that use a small piece of javascript. The blog post doesn't update, but the hosted service does. No change to the page content that Google can read.

Others have used the article model: a variation of blogging where you just produce articles in bulk, similar to print magazines. The downside of this is the lack of thought that is sometimes put into the content. With no search volume behind these articles, producing them is a waste of time.

Many agencies take the path of content; it has a tangible final product, which is easier to digest for the client. This method crosses over the next method.

4. Link-based SEO

With this model, the focus is not 100% on the site. Many companies don't want to get involved with creating incoming links, because it requires blogger outreach to create incoming links. It is labor and time-intensive, and relatively difficult to control compared to previous methods.

The content method is actually an internal linking method, while this is focused more on external incoming links.

External links haven't always worked in the site owner's favor. In the past, external linking methods have been so aggressive, they've overridden the content on the page itself. For example, a few years ago the use of external links, linking to a specific president's page, made the page rank #1 for "miserable failure".

If you have a large old site with lots of pages, technical SEO with an understanding of keywords may help. However, focusing on just one method on a basic site (like our local plumber) isn't likely to generate results at all, no matter how "SEO-friendly" the site is made to be.

You have to have at least two types of SEO in place, in order to gain traction and understand the game. It is a game of patience, and nobody will be able to tell you an exact black and white answer.

Paul Easton
Senior Account Manager

Hatty Bell

Hatty Bell, Community Manager at

Thanks for your insight @Paul Easton ! Does this help @John Edwards ?

Jef Lippiatt

Jef Lippiatt, Owner at Startup Chucktown

Top 10% Business Ideas

I think an easy way to explain SEO is

  • SEO - is what you can do to make your website more attractive to search engines without paying them money for higher ranking.

SEO is all about

  • creating great content (articles, lists, videos, podcasts, pictures, etc.) that is focused on your customer and their needs.
  • it is making the content easily shareable for your customers to pass on to friends and/or colleagues (this will create content that links back to you - a good thing)
  • keep repeating first two bullets. Post consistently and frequently
  • if your website isn't responsive or adaptive to mobile devices, do that now! (search engines especially Google give better rankings for sites that are optimized for all devices)


  • keyword stuffing (don't over use terms for the sake of trying to increase SEO ranking - it can get you black-listed or demoted in rank)
  • don't bait and switch (don't use a title / link that is unrelated to the content of the post - search engines don't like it and customers like it even less)
  • asking anyone and everyone to post links on their websites for your website (you want quality over quantity - again search engines are looking for "relevant" links so only focus on people or businesses that are related to your offerings)

Frequent articles or blogs that keep you up to date on the latest search engine ranking changes so you can always keep your strategy up to date.

Melanie Gray

Melanie Gray, Managing Owner at

I assume you are talking about Google SEO.Google SEO is very complicated and constantly changing.It’s constantly changing because Google is constantly improving the Google search to find better ways to match people with what they are looking for.So rather than understand exactly how it works, put your efforts in providing useful content that matches what people are looking for. Lots of market research will help work this out.Some other tips to help increase your Google ranking includeMake sure all links on your website work Includewords that people would use to search you (you’ll need to do some market research) but don't over do it.Make it read well.Include links to websites that are relevant to your business Have websites that link to yours that are relevant to your business

Luat Duong

Luat Duong, SEO Lead at

Okay, so you might have seen the other super long answers.

Here's a short one:

Search Engine Optimization or SEO for short is a marketing practice that helps your business appear organically on Google result page.

The ultimate goal of SEO is to get relevant keywords about your business to rank No.1 on Google.

How can it help an SME?

You get more traffic if you are ranked no.1 on a keyword, a lot of searchers will click on the first result they see. Once you have them on your website, it's the offers and the copywriting that will make them buy.

49% of marketers say that organic SEO has the best ROI (Search Engine Journal)

SEO best practices?

Focus on your content.

Network with industry influencers.

Optimize your page for your audience.

Fix your page problems (using Site Audit).

Link building (this is arguably the hardest thing to do in SEO, but it's how you grow).