How Does SEO Work?

how does seo workWhen I tell people that I specialize in search engine optimization, I often get a lot of puzzled looks. “Okay, so I get that you rank websites on the first page of Google. But how do you do that? What do you actually do?”

So I decided to write a quick post to clear that up.

For those of you who don’t want an in-depth explanation on how SEO works, here is the short answer. Google.


How the Search Engines Work:

You see, the search engines (like Google, Yahoo, and Bing) have a big, important job. Their job is to find you the most relevant results for whatever words you type into your search bar. They do this by using complex algorithms to analyze what each and every single website on the internet is about.

Remember the yellow pages? That heavy old book with tons of business listings? If you wanted to find “denver piano lessons” you would just find yourself a Denver yellow pages book, then turn to the music section, and you would instantly see the most relevant results for what you’re looking for. Each listing in the yellow pages is manually reviewed and put in a specific category by a real, live, human being.

But the search engines don’t work like that, because they aren’t human. Instead they rely on complex algorithms to decipher the websites about “denver piano lessons” from the ones about “pictures of cats playing with mice”.

The search engines look at two main categories of factors when deciding if your website is relevant to a search term. They are On-Page factors and Off-Page factors. Here are some examples of each:

on vs off page seo









Why SEO is Essential for Businesses:

The algorithm is far from perfect, and often a website gets overlooked or excluded from ranking for a specific search term, even if the website is highly relevant to what the searcher is looking for. You can spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on the perfect website, but that doesn’t mean that it will rank high in Google. In fact, it probably won’t. This is because in most cases, a website isn’t displaying enough of the correct “signals” to rank for a specific search term or topic.

What I Do:

Now, some SEO’s use spammy ackhat” methods to “trick” the search engines into ranking their websites above the rest. This has given the entire SEO industry somewhat of a bad reputation. But these days, using spammy or blackhat methods doesn’t produce results like it used to. Even if you succeeded in ranking a site using blackhat methods, a Google update would wipe your site completely out the search engines within just a few short months, never to return anywhere near the first page of Google.

If you want to do SEO the right way, and produce high-ranking, permanent, results, you have to give Google what they are looking for, and it helps if you spoon-feed it to them. The site has to be well-structured, highly optimized (but not too optimized, or you could get an over-optimization penalty), easy to navigate for both real human users, and search engine spiders. I can guarantee that if your website is not ranking highly in Google, you are missing the mark on several on-page signals. Even if a client had an SEO firm working for them in the past, 99% of the time they have on-page flaws that are drastically holding them back from ranking higher in the search results. This reveals to me that most SEO’s are not doing their job (at least, not very well that is).

The most important (and difficult) part of my job however, is gaining a client website the authority and respect it needs through off-page signals. If you want your website to rank highest for its search term, it also needs to be seen as the most authoritative resource in its field. This takes lots of off-page signals like authority backlinks from trusted and industry related websites, social signals