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What is SEO and How Does It Work?

SEO stands for search engine optimization.  It’s referring to the effort of getting a website to rank well in Google’s search results.

When people do a search in Google, there are often hundreds or thousands of results for every search.  If you have a website or online business and you want to get your own website to the top of those search results, then you would need to do SEO for your website.  Doing SEO is the process of getting your website to have visibility in Google searches.

And we’re not talking about the paid searches (where advertisers can pay to have their results listed).  We’re talking about the free results.  The portion of the results that is totally organic and relevant to the search topic.

Some website owners hire an SEO expert to do the SEO work for them.  Others prefer to do their SEO work in house.

How Does SEO Work?

Ok so we know that SEO refers to the effort of getting a website to show up at the top of Google’s search results.  But how does that work?  How does Google know which websites to put at the top?

The answer is that Google has its own algorithm for determining exactly that.  In a nutshell, for any given search that’s entered, Google wants to show results that are useful.  So the very first results are the ones that Google believes to be the most relevant to that particular search.

To determine which webpages are the most relevant, Google uses a number of factors.  Here are some examples:

Webpage Topic

Google is going to consider what the topic of the webpage is.  If the webpage is about baseball bats and the search term is about airplane stunts, it’s easy to see that Google would not consider the baseball bats webpage relevant to the search because it’s not the same topic.  So a fundamental pillar of SEO is that your webpage needs to have a clear topic.

Webpage Completeness

Google tends to favor webpages that are thorough about their topics.  If your search is for how to change the motherboard on your computer, and there is a webpage that has the right topic but it’s only two sentences long, then Google is unlikely to consider that to be the most relevant webpage to display for your search.

Another way of looking at it is that Google wants its top search results to be webpages that reflect true expertise on the topic.  And in general, thoroughness is a reflection of expertise.  That’s why being thorough is another key to SEO.

Webpage Likeability

Google wants its first results for any given search to be webpages that people are going to like.  That makes webpage likeability another key to SEO.

Google measures likeability in a number of ways.  One is that it measures how long a webpage visitors stays on the page.  If the visitor fully engages with the page and reads it from top to bottom, Google considers that a “vote” in favor of the webpage.

And these days, Google not only has the technology to determine these sorts of things, but it shares these metrics with webmasters.  Through their free Google Analytics software, Google reports to webmasters how long visitors stays on each page, for example.  This helps webmasters with their SEO efforts.

Another way Google measures webpage likeability is that if one website links to another webpage, that is also considered a type of “vote” from Google’s perspective.  Every time a link is earned from another website, it’s as if others around the internet are saying that the webpage is important and worth sharing.  That means that earning links is another core aspect of SEO.

So in this way, Google’s ranking process is quite democratic.  It’s looking for the webpages that have earned the most votes, and it wants to share those pages in its search results as long as the topic is relevant and the content is thorough.

There is something called a DA Score.  It’s a numeric representation of how important Google thinks your website is.  To be clear, that score is not provided by Google (it’s provided by a third party called MOZ), but it is a good reflection of the things that Google looks for when it tallies up votes for your site.

Does SEO only apply to Google searches?

No, SEO is the process of optimizing your website for search results in any search engine.  But Google is far and away the most dominant search engine today.  Therefore it’s the one search engine you truly need to be concerned with.

Not only that, but if you can optimize your website for Google searches, then it’s likely that you will see optimized results in the other search engines like Yahoo and Bing.  So most people who do SEO focus primarily on Google, and if their success in Google is typically accompanied by success in the other search engines.

Who can benefit from doing SEO?

Anyone who owns a website can benefit from doing SEO.

If you are interested in starting a blog, for example, you can benefit mightily from having an effective SEO strategy.  More visitors to your website means more advertising revenues.

Or if you have an ecommerce website, having your webpages show up in Google can have a large impact on sales and profits.

SEO also offers a means of employment for many people since it’s such a popular mechanism for getting online visibility.  Even teens can get jobs doing online SEO work.  There is a high demand for the SEO skill set.

Is it hard to get good at doing SEO?

By many accounts, becoming good at SEO is indeed feasible.  There’s an entire industry of online marketing dedicated just to SEO, and there are plenty of SEO experts to learn from or get help from.  We like SEO Dude.

So if your objective is to get good at SEO, there is a clear path you can take to do so.

But it’s not something that can be done overnight.  You can probably get a solid working knowledge of SEO within a matter of days or weeks, but to see results from an SEO effort can take much longer than that.  In other words, even if you get good at SEO, it might take a fair amount of time before you see any noticeable economic impact to your own website.

And this makes sense.  Getting a webpage to the top of Google’s search results for any given topic means that you need Google to see you as one of the foremost experts on that topic.  There is a roadmap for how you can do it, but it takes times and effort to pull it off.


Doing SEO means you’re trying to get your website to show up at the top of Google’s search results for terms that are relevant to your website.

It takes time and perseverance to be effective at it on your own, but it is definitely possible.  There is a high demand for people with SEO skills since it is such a foundational aspect of marketing an website.

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Brian Renfrow

Brian Renfrow has more than 20 years of small business experience. He's been involved in entrepreneurial roles for more than 10 businesses since graduating from college with a degree in Economics.

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