Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of getting targeted traffic to a website from a search engine’s organic rankings. Common tasks associated with SEO include creating high-quality content, optimizing content around specific keywords, and building backlinks.

In other words:

SEO is all about improving a site’s rankings in the organic (non-paid) section of the search results.

The main benefit of ranking for a specific keyword is that you can get “free” traffic to your site, month after month.

How Search Engines Work

Now that we’ve answered the question “what is SEO?”, it’s time to learn how search engines like Google actually work.

When you search for something in Google (or any other search engine), an algorithm works in real-time to bring you what that search engine considers the “best” result.

Specifically, Google scans its index of “hundreds of billions” of pages in order to find a set of results that will best answer your search.

How does Google determine the “best” result?

Even though Google doesn’t make the inner workings of its algorithm public, based on filed patents and statements from Google, we know that websites and web pages are ranked based on:

Relevancy

If you search for “chocolate chip cookie recipes”, you don’t want to see web pages about truck tires.

That’s why Google looks first-and-foremost for pages that are closely-related to your keyword.

However, Google doesn’t simply rank “the most relevant pages at the top”. That’s because there are thousands (or even millions) of relevant pages for every search term.

For example, the keyword “cookie recipes” brings up 349 million results in Google:

So to put the results in an order that bubbles the best to the top, they rely on three other elements of their algorithm:

Authority

Authority is just like it sounds: it’s Google’s way of determining if the content is accurate and trustworthy.

The question is: how does Google know if a page is authoritative?

They look at the number of other pages that link to that page:

(Links from other pages are known as “backlinks”)

In general, the more links a page has, the higher it will rank:

(In fact, Google’s ability to measure authority via links is what separates it from search engines, like Yahoo, that came before it).

Usefulness

Content can be relevant and authoritative. But if it’s not useful, Google won’t want to position that content at the top of the search results.

In fact, Google has publicly said that there’s a distinction between “higher quality content” and “useful” content.

For example, let’s say that you search for “Paleo Diet”.

The first result you click on (“Result A”) is written by the world’s foremost expert on Paleo. And because the page has so much quality content on it, lots of people have linked to it.

 SEO Tip for Higher Rankings

Create a website that people love! Search engines are designed to measure different signals across the Web so they can find websites that people like most. Play right into their hands by making those signals real and not artificial.

And now it’s time to put this stuff into practice with a step-by-step SEO tutorial.

How SEO Works

SEO works by optimizing your site for the search engine that you want to rank for, whether it’s Google, Bing, Amazon or YouTube.

Specifically, your job is to make sure that a search engine sees your site as the overall best result for a person’s search.

How they determine the “best” result is based on an algorithm that takes into account authority, relevancy to that query, loading speed, and more.

(For example, Google has over 200 ranking factors in their algorithm).

In most cases, when people think “search engine optimization”, they think “Google SEO”. Which is why we’re going to focus on optimizing your site for Google in this guide.

Why Is SEO Important?

In short: search is a BIG source of traffic.

In fact, here’s a breakdown of where most website traffic originates:

As you can see, nearly 60% of all traffic on the web starts with a Google search. And if you add together traffic from other popular search engines (like Bing, Yahoo, and YouTube), 70.6% of all traffic originates from a search engine.

Let’s illustrate the importance of SEO with an example…

Let’s say that you run a party supply company. According to the Google Keyword Planner, 110,000 people search for “party supplies” every single month.

Considering that first result in Google gets around 20% of all clicks, that’s 22,000 visitors to your website each month if you show up at the top.

But let’s quantify that – how much are those visitors worth?

The average advertiser for that search phrase spends about 1 dollar per click. Which means that the web traffic of 22,000 visitors is worth roughly $22,000 a month.

And that’s just for that search phrase. If your site is SEO-friendly, then you can rank for hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of different keywords.

In other industries, like real estate or insurance, the value of search engine traffic is significantly higher.

For example, advertisers are paying over $45 per click on the search phrase “auto insurance price quotes.”

Customers and Keywords

Before you start to dive into the nitty gritty of title tags and HTML, it’s important not to skip an important step:

Customer and keyword research.

Here’s where you figure out what your customers search for… and the exact words and phrases they use to search. That way, you can rank your site for things that your customers search for every day.

Also Read: How Does Yoast SEO Do

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