SEO Basics: What Is SEO and How Does It Work?

Everything you need to know about SEO (search engine optimization), including how it works and how it can help grow your business.

By DMJ Team

The Internet has become one of the most useful tools that business owners can take advantage of. In fact, if you’re an entrepreneur without an Internet presence, chances are that you’re falling behind your competition

While having a company website and corresponding business profiles on social media is crucial, it won’t mean anything if you can’t get anyone to see them.

That’s where SEO comes into play.

But, not everyone fully understands SEO (and may even find themselves asking ‘what does SEO stand for’).

There’s no shame in this, however. We’re here to learn.

Let’s take a look at everything you need to know about SEO, including how it works and how it can help grow your business.

Let’s Kick Things Off: What Does SEO Stand For?

The term SEO is an abbreviation in the digital marketing industry that stands for search engine optimization.

Its definition is fairly straightforward. SEO simply refers to various tactics that can be used to give a web page the highest possible chance of showing up toward the top of search results.

For example, let’s say you own a law firm in Utah and want more people in your area to find you on Google. You would employ SEO strategies to help you get higher and higher on search results when people in your region search for legal services.

It should be noted that the purpose of SEO is to get organic traffic to your website. This means that people are finding your site on their own and not through ads.

Sound simple enough? It’s not too difficult to understand. How it works, however, is a different story…

SEO graphic

So… How Does SEO Work?

On the surface, this is like asking how a car engine works. The answer isn’t that simple, as there is a large handful of factors at play that determines how effective (or ineffective) SEO will be.

But, before we dive into those, let’s quickly brush up on how SEO works as a whole.

Ranking Is Algorithm-Based

Search engines want to provide users with relevant, high-quality results for their query. So, there are numerous systems in place that automatically determine what a quality site is, whether or not it’s relevant, and where it should be placed on the search results.

Attributes of a high-quality website that search engines scan for include:

  • Useability and navigability
  • Quality backlinks
  • Optimization for mobile platforms
  • Original, comprehensive content

When we say “search engines” here, it’s safe to say that we mean the most prolific search engine in use today: Google.

Since Google’s ranking system could be manipulated and abused if the algorithm were fully understood, the search engine giant never makes all of the info about its algorithm public. And, like other digital marketing trends, it’s always changing.

But, researchers have been able to reverse engineer a significant amount of data that influence how Google ranks sites on its search results page. This is great news, as it allows you to forego any experimentation yourself.

As previously mentioned, there are numerous key factors that you need to focus on if you want to make sure your content has the potential to be seen by your audience.

Read on to learn more about the major attributes to keep an eye on.

Content Is King

The statement Bill Gates made in 1996 still holds true today. Content is indeed king when it comes to digital marketing.

And, Google feels the same way.

By now, we’ve established that search engines are looking to deliver users a quality experience.

But, Google is also looking for quality content and not just quality websites with high useability.

So, you’ll need to offer your audience something of value (literally, in the eyes of Google) in order to achieve the ranking that you desire. This means things like:

  • Original, relevant posts on your company site’s blog
  • E-books, case studies, and how-to guides
  • Engaging content on social media

In short, if your content is accessible to your audience (how-to’s are great for this) and if it’s original and well-written, Google will give your content a green light and push you further up the rankings.

But, in order for people to find your content, you’ll need to focus on your…


Google doesn’t just choose great websites and send them to users. Everything Google displays is in response to a search query.

So, you’ll need to figure out what your audience is searching for in order to help them find you. By using a tool such as Google’s own Keyword Planner, you’ll be able to have a solid foundation for your research.

One of the most important analytics to watch for is the keyword ranking.

In general, higher ranked keywords will be out of reach for most small businesses. For example, let’s look at the keyword “Drake“.

Given that Drake’s music is on every music streaming platform, YouTube, and dozens of other official sites, it’s very unlikely that a company blog post in the music industry will succeed in ranking for this keyword.

This is where you can get creative, however.

If you instead focus on “make music like Drake” instead and write a blog post that details the elements that are consistently present in his songs, you’ll be far more likely to find yourself high up on the search results.

Mobile Optimization

According to this study, the year 2025 will see approximately 72% of Internet users browsing on smartphones as opposed to desktop or laptop computers.

Google is aware of this, too. Of course, this means that optimising your site for mobile is more crucial than ever.

The two factors to look out here for are your site’s page speed and formatting when viewing on a mobile device.

If your site is slow to load, nobody is going to wait around to see what you have t offer. Similarly, if your mobile site gives people a headache when trying to view it, they’re going to leave and most likely not come back.

This, unfortunately, tells Google that your content isn’t up to standard.

Although these users would have been browsing on mobile devices, it’s still the same Internet. So, Google will treat this activity no differently than if it had occurred on a desktop computer.

Factors You Can Control: On-Page SEO

When it comes to SEO, there is plenty that you can do on your own to give your content an extra boost. This is known as on-page SEO since it refers to elements on your site that you have control over.

Let’s take a deeper look.

Image Titles and Alt Tags

In general, you’ll want to use your chosen keyword in as many unique places as you can. The title of images is no different.

When naming and uploading your images, incorporate your keyword into the title. If you’re in doubt, you can simply name the file itself your chosen keyword and you’ll be set.

So, a picture of a boat for a guide on deep sea fishing could be named “best rods for deepsea fishing.jpeg” and you’ve got an easy way to boost your SEO.

A Relevant Title For Your Content

As with image titles, the actual title for your content is something to consider. But, it’s even more important since it can determine whether or not your audience will click on your content from Google’s search engine results page.

Keep your title short and sweet. Providing too much information in this section can be off-putting to both Google’s algorithm and your readers.

Use Headings

Google loves content that’s scannable. It shows that it provides a smooth, navigable experience for readers. And, what better way to break up walls of text than with headings?

H1, H2, and H3 headings help divide your content into consumable chunks. You can also use your keyword in these, too.

A Detailed Meta Description

Ever seen the small block of text underneath a link in the search results? That’s the meta description.

Since it’s essentially a synopsis of your content, you should tailor it for your audience so that they’ll have a general idea of what’s behind the link before they click on it. Once again, this is another location to put your keyword.

Make use of Internal Links

Linking to other pages on your site will help Google’s algorithm know that you have a quality website and not just a page or two’s worth of blog posts.

It also helps Google understand what you have to offer your customers. So, internal links to product pages and services are always a good decision.

Factors You Can’t Control: Off-Page SEO

This section is a bit more abstract than on-page SEO.

While you are in full control of everything that appears on your website, there are other factors that influence your SEO performance that lie just out of reach.

But, that doesn’t mean that you can’t work to improve them.

Read on to learn more about the elements of off-page SEO.

Social Engagement

Sometimes, you’ll post something on your company’s social media pages and it’ll just flop. There are days where even stellar content goes relatively unnoticed.

This is never a good thing since Google’s algorithm favours content that people interact with.

As a rule of thumb, content with thousands of likes and shares is going to be heavily favoured by Google over similar content that has far less engagement.

While you can’t control the number of organic likes and shares you get on your posts, you do have control over the quality and frequency of your content.

So, if you consistently post quality content, you’re bound to get engagement from your audience. In turn, this will help your SEO and make your brand more visible to consumers on Google’s search results.

SEO marketer


This is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of off-page SEO to influence, backlinks.

When a site with high domain authority (DA) links to your content, Google is more prone to seeing your content as relevant, trustworthy, and high-quality.

You can think of this concept as a sort of “celebrity endorsement” of your content. Imagine seeing a random marketing blog post link to a marketing firm’s website.

Now, imagine seeing that same link on a featured article on Forbes.

Google views this scenario in the same way that people do.

Audience Trust

This is an intangible attribute that can be difficult to manipulate. But, it’s something that is very important to Google.

If you have a website that looks suspicious, spammy, or provides misleading titles/links, people won’t stay on your pages for very long.

This will drastically increase your site’s bounce rate, which is an index of visitors who leave a site after visiting only one page.

When Google sees a site with a high bounce rate, it assumes that the content is either irrelevant or malicious. Consequently, the rankings for that site then suffer.

So, having engaging content that your audience will spend time reading or engaging with is imperative in keeping your ranking high. Higher ranking, of course, results in more sales.

Final Thoughts

SEO is a difficult beast to tame. But, it’s necessary to learn the ins and outs if you want to succeed online.

Fortunately, with the above information about ‘what does SEO stand for’ in mind, you’ll be well on your way to making the most of your online presence.

Want to learn more about digital marketing and what you can do with it? Check out the rest of our blog!

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