What Is SEO & How Does It Work?

what is seo

What is SEO or Search Engine Optimisation?

Before you start to think about which SEO agency or consultant you should hire, understanding exactly what the product is could help you to make the right decision. Searches for the meaning of SEO, or SEO meaning are on the rise as businesses look for consultants and agencies that can help return ROI, as well as a more comprehensive understanding of organic search.

What is SEO, how does SEO work and how can one improve their SEO efforts quickly are all popular questions with pretty comprehensive answers required. This guide should provide you with some insight into what the term SEO means these days in the post RankBrain and Mobile-First era and ultimately, if it is a channel that is going to work for your brand or organisation.

What Does SEO Stand For?


Search Engine Optimisation

This isn’t really an effective description of everything your average SEO practitioner will do, as there is far more to consider than just optimisation. But the mantra is going nowhere and no, SEO definitely isn’t dead and never will be.

What Is the Definition of SEO?

What is the actual definition according to everyone’s favourite source of information, Wikipedia? Although this won’t tell you all you need to know, it may be helpful to know what the definition of SEO is currently thought to be.

“Search engine optimization is the process of increasing the quality and quantity of website traffic by increasing the visibility of a website or a web page to users of a web search engine. SEO refers to the improvement of unpaid results and excludes direct traffic/visitors and the purchase of paid placement.”

A fairly decent description, there’s nothing we would disagree with here, the key being the “unpaid” or organic listings that SEO is all about the promotion of.

It is important to note that the term SEO was devised a long time ago, before many of the advanced techniques or disciplines that are now essential existed. Back in the 1990’s, meta keywords, basic content and a few backlinks was usually sufficient to rank your site; meaning that simply optimising a site for search engines was enough. Now, organic success is about much, much more.

More on that later.


So What Is Technical SEO?

As you can find out here, I believe a hybrid approach to be key to SEO success. At the core of this, is usually technical SEO which forms one of the three essential pillars of the ideal SEO campaign.

The vast range of website platforms, frameworks, coding languages and content management systems is such that good technical SEO is required in order for your domain to rank effectively. From crawlability issues to poorly formatted URLs, there are all manner of potential issues that will lead to poor performance and limited organic traffic if you do not invest time and money into your SEO efforts. Quite simply, you need to optimise your website intelligently if you require your website to appear competitively in Google or Bing’s organic listings for high volume queries.

Advanced technical SEO entails a great deal of testing of a range of disciplines from site architecture and structured data to JavaScript auditing and ensuring that all of your content is crawlable and parsable on all devices. Rarely will the approach the same however and the prudent strategy can only really be established after a deep crawl and audit of your website and thorough inspection of your analytics platforms and server log files. Gone are the days the content and links alone will drive organic success.

Every SEO will have a slightly different opinion on what is truly classed as advanced, but this is really the differentiation between content related SEO and technical aspects that impact the rendered HTML of a page, its markup, scripts and what information is ultimately being parsed by search engines for ranking consideration.

When Should One Consider SEO?

If you do not have sufficient budget for Paid Media activity, but believe you have a product or proposition that is beneficial for a user and some level of brand equity, then organic (sometimes referred to as natural) listings may well be your most worthwhile focus. But it is not just a case of build it and they will come, SEO is now a technical and intricate process but one that can be incredibly rewarding and lucrative if approached pragmatically.

SEO Is Everchanging

The meaning of SEO has changed a lot over the years, and particularly in the decade that I have worked in the sector. Go back to 2012 and you could easily rank a small WordPress site for highly competitive terms with 200 words of keyword-stuffed content and some backlink packages.

Today, there are a plethora of considerations such as JavaScript rendering, site speed optimisation and site structure; all of which take a great deal of SEO auditing and implementation to get right if you’re working on a site with a lot of legacy. If your brand is new, then being able to bake great technical SEO into your website build will be a significant win but you will need to think about how you’re going to build your link profile and compete with the established names in your space. Brand authority is still a huge part of how Google and other search engines decide how to return their SERPs, particularly for competitive, eCommmerce queries so this should form part of how one decides to optimse their site for search engines.

Go forward another five years and who knows where we will be, but one thing will never change. The search engines will still be looking to favour sites that provide users with the very best information and user experience. At the core of this will still be SEO, which now has user engagement at its heart. SO whilst classic SEO disciplines will remain extremely important, having one eye on conversion rate optimisation and UX will only become a more and more significant part of Google’s ranking algorithms.

How Does SEO Work?

As you may have picked up by now, SEO is the process of making your website more appealing to search engines. It’s far more complicated than that of course and it will require a whole new article to explain Google’s crawler (GoogleBot), Indexer (Caffeine) and Query Engine. But at the heart of all this is Google (and other search engines) quest to ascertain which sites on the web are authoritative, expert and trustworthy. By ensuring that a website is not just sound from an SEO perspective but an extremely hospitable environment for bots and crawlers, you make the process easier for these search engines and almost always reap the rewards in terms of organic non-branded traffic and conversions.

Hybrid SEO is all about fusing best practice technical SEO with content marketing (sometimes referred to as content SEO) and Digital PR (natural link acquisition and boosting online brand awareness). Get these things right and you will inevitably start to see your SEO visibility and rankings increase and with it, clicks and impressions and ultimately, ROI.

SEO’s Role In Digital Marketing

Just as technical SEO, content marketing and Digital PR are disciplines of Hybrid SEO or an Organic Search Campaign, SEO itself is a discipline of Digital Marketing. Whilst it is a crucial aspect of any digital marketing strategy, it isn’t always the most important or indeed, the one that commands the biggest budgets or investment.

Many brands will pump far larger sums of cash into Paid Media, which is more tangible and can offer short term success. However, get your SEO efforts right and you can guarantee high volumes of organic traffic which will effectively come for free provided you have the required brand equity.

That said, best practice SEO isn’t always digital marketing best practice. Whilst SEO practitioners should always advocate best practice, it is key to understand your customer, their KPI’s and which digital marketing activity is going to drive the best ROI.

What could affect your SEO without you knowing:

  • Server migration
  • Platform migration
  • Website redesign or restructure

If you want to learn more, contact me.