How Exactly Does SEO Work?

Last updated:
March 23, 2022

Search Engine Optimization. Those three words that, for anyone who's been swiping through social media, surfing the Internet, or taking an IT/marketing related class has heard uttered one way or another. As overused as these three words are in the digital world, they still hold some merit to their worldwide popularity. In fact, search engine optimization deserves its place in the infographically calculated, strategically positioned business world of today for its sheer ability to reach audiences.

While many may have heard the words search engine optimization from far and wide, behind those three words holds the actual process of SEO; searching on an engine to optimize X. This process is both simple and complex, considering how many different forms of SEO techniques there are today. As the online business world continues to grow more inclined to SEO as a tool for reaching potential customers, there may be numerous questions along the way about the ins and outs of SEO’s process. Here are some of the most common SEO questions:

What Does SEO Actually Mean?

SEO means search engine optimization, which means having a digital marketing strategy that focuses on a website's presence on search engines, which means trying to gain reach from a target audience through content + search engine optimization techniques. Got it? Well, behind all of those big words contains the basis of what search engine optimization really is about; being seen, heard, and listened to online with the help of some SEO tools.

What is SEO and Analytics

How does SEO work?  

Search engine friendly sites contain a mix of keywords, meta tags, and URLs that work as a simple and effective solution to a question/search result a user may have. Once a user enters a search query (once they type up a search and click enter) they are then brought to a search engine results page (SERP) which gives them relevant content to their search query. Within the SERP a user will see a variety of pay-per-click ads (advertised) and organic traffic search results (free content that has the right keywords). Typically, the organic search ranking factors sites more powerfully incorporate SEO techniques as they are not paying to show up, but rather, have a colourful array of keywords, meta tags, and links that make it “high-quality" (one of the many authoritative websites) 

So, as people search the engine, SEO tools like keywords are used to optimize a website so that it's placed on the first page, AKA:

Being on the SERP = WINNING! You are an authority website!

Being on the second page result = Irrelevant content, you may be a bad website  (less than 6% chance of being clicked )

Google Image Search SEO

Meaning, the high-quality sites that end up on the SERP, is often due to a mix of strong long tail keywords, links, and a variety in word count that fits your content’s competitors usual count.

How Much Does SEO Cost? 

The cost for SEO widely depends on how much reach you are looking to gain and the quality of the SEO specialist. Thousands of people? Millions? How much capital do you have to sacrifice so that you can pay for SEO? In Canada, the typical SEO monthly retainers cost $700 to $2000. The most common hourly rate for SEO agencies is $100-150/hour, for SEO consultants it’s $75-100/hour and for freelancers it’s $41-50/hour. Though SEO is not the cheapest, it will help you gain audiences who may be interested in your services. 

Now, you may be asking another question; why the heck does SEO cost so much? This may be due to the fact that SEO results take awhile to show up, that it requires a lot of resources for online construction, and the simple fact that many people need an SEO team to guide them through the process. If you wish to lower costs, you can choose to work on SEO on your own. Sites like Frase cost $44.99-$114.99/monthly and will help you find the keywords for content pieces you're creating. 

What Are SEO Keywords?

Between the words and online noise, SEO keywords bring users to where they need to be and where websites need to reach their users. SEO keywords and phrases are used in content so that users can find your website/content through search engines. This helps a user find exactly what information they are looking for, which is tailored through search engine algorithms that showcases relevant websites on the SERP. Algorithms help with complications and problem solving. In this case, the problem is delivering a suitable website solution to something a user is searching for. Using keywords is one of the ways to get to that solution.

Laptop Keyboard

Where Do I Put My SEO Keywords? 

Keywords are most often placed in content articles or on the website specifically. Many, such as this blog, use keywords throughout to reach audiences who may be interested in this particular subject. But where are the best places to put keywords? Here are a few good spots:

  • Page Title: Perhaps the most important spot is the page title. The page title is the first thing a user sees when they click on your page and when they notice your site on the search ranking. 
  • Headers: Headers and Tags are the secondary most important aspect. These break the content into different shelves that users can then differentiate to what they are searching for. For example, if someone was looking up “where do I put my SEO keywords?” onto Google, a website like ours may show up with this specific header.
  • Meta tags and descriptions: Though meta tags and meta descriptions can’t be seen on the website itself, they are just as if not more important than everything on the actual site. Meta tags and descriptions are small little blurbs with a 200-300 character range that explain the purpose of this specific content piece/website.
  • Website URL: Including SEO keywords in your website URL is another unnoticed yet strong way of enhancing your SEO keywording; make sure to use short URLs and to cut out unnecessary words for the sake of simplicity.

Can I Use SEO On Social Media Platforms? 

You can’t directly use social media platforms for a search engine ranking, as social media is separate from services like Google. You can however, use links on content creation sections of social media to gain traction on websites outside of SM platforms (a good form of content syndication). For example, let’s say you place in the link of your home website into your Instagram account bio. Whenever someone clicks on your profile, they have the options of viewing your website (which means more clicks, which means a higher possible ranking as users are visiting your site). 

More than anything, Social Media is a great place to tell a story about your company/service. If this story is inspiring, fascinating, or intriguing, a user may wish to check out your homesite to see what you/your company is actually about. So tell a good story. 

Can I Use SEO Keywords in Blogs?

Yes, you most certainly can use keywords in your blog's content strategy. Within this blog we are putting in SEO keywords to show up on the search engine results. Even by placing in these following keywords from the blog title, we are gaining a higher key score ranking: “broader audience”, “core update”, and “keyword difficulty” are all keywords that are affiliated with this blog title. Keywords can be especially useful for up and coming bloggers who want to find a way to gain reach on the search engines through content creation. Remember, the actual context of your blog is more important stuffing your blog with keywords. 

Notebook and Keyboard Image

A tip to those creating a blog post is to use long-tail blog titles that can then be digested with keywords. Let’s say your blog title is “5 Writing Tips for Novice Writers”, you can then expand on the keywords suggested for that title. SEO keyword finding systems like Frase will help you gather the right keywords related to your blog titles through organic search methods.


How Is SEO Changing?

From the rise of voice search,  newfound ways of building backlinks, to smarter search engines, the optimization of search engines is improving every year. Reaching higher quality standards for SEOs, Prism Global notes that Google has begun shifting their search engine optimization towards websites that give the best user experience; offering high-quality content that have a focus on long-tail keywords that serve a user’s intent better than singular keywords. In other words, high quality sites that are secure, visually appealing, and stricken with long-tail keywords throughout. 

There has as well been a new focus on local SEO. Local search engine optimization options allow for businesses to be more visible in local search results on Google. For example, if a bakery in Vancouver, BC. wants to be more immersed in the online Vancity community, they can now use local SEO functions like Google My Business which allows local companies to create a profile with the goal of ranking in local searches.

Where Can I Study SEO?

With the advent of SEO technologies becoming popularized, it is no wonder that educational institutions like the University of California San Diego have begun teaching the process to students. Outside of these institutions, teachings of SEO are most popular online; with hundreds of online platforms giving people certifications once they have completed each course. These platforms include Hootsuite and the many websites that allow for you to watch tutorials on the subject

Lecture Content About SEO

There is of course, the option of teaching yourself SEO. Considering how many free tutorials are out there, if you don’t want to spend the money on a course, you can just as easily navigate yourself through the SEO process. This would involve:

  • Building your own website on free sites like Wix
  • Learning about Google Analytics & Google Search Console
  • Learning about WordPress
  • Researching on how the basics of SEO and search engines work 
  • Implementing keywords onto that free site you created

Here is a video that showcases the process of ranking on Google:

What Is Keyword Research?

Keyword research is a practice search engine optimization professionals use to find popular search terms people type into search engines like Google, and include them in your content for the sake of appearing higher on search engine results. If you are a food blogger, find target keywords topics related to the food industry for customer service or blog post related aspects of your website. If you are a financial blogger, check out the latest potential keywords buzzing on stock/crypto and build a long-tail title around it like 7 Reasons Why You Should Switch From Stocks to Cryptocurrency or 5 Devastating Facts About Cryptocurrency.

Remember, there are 2 important keyword types; High Volume Keywords for quantity content or Long Tail Keywords for more specific content. As noted earlier, the Long Tail keywords are typically considered of higher value. Importantly, keyword research will inform you on the competitive keywords surrounding a title. 

What Is the Best SEO Strategy? 

There are hundreds of intricate ways you can choose to run your SEO strategy. Each may involve different keyword, linking, or content management strategies, but all should point to one main idea; being well rounded in your SEO campaign. While there are many SEO strategies you can follow, it truly depends on what your company/self are looking to get out using SEO. Universally, there are some good practices you can be doing to ensure your on the right track to having a good SEO strategy:

  • Using internal and incoming links (that are quality links)
  • Ensuring your page loading time is speedy and efficient
  • Including a keyword phrase in your URL
  • Researching competitive keywords that have a high search volume
  • Using long-tail keywords over high volume keywords if your search engine is Google
  • Utilizing on-page SEO, technical SEO, and off-page SEO to create a well-rounded SEO process through keyword research tools
  • Acknowledging the current search engine marketing updates made by Google or other softwares
  • If possible, having marketing teams that create social media marketing efforts to boost reach of your site

You’ll know if your SEO strategy is working if:

  • Users stay on your website
  • You have an increased amount of traffic 
  • Your content shows up high on a search ranking 
  • Search algorithms favour your content over others in the search engine

How Long Does It Take to See Increased Traffic from SEO Tactics?

Most note that the average time takes 4-6 months or a 6-12 month period to see an increased amount of traffic. Though this is a long time, it’s only natural in the Internet era that things don’t squiggle right to the top of a search ranking overnight against a sea of authority websites. This is because the site/platform/content piece needs to gain momentum, build trust, and steadily form its way to the top. Since Google is much more inclined to long-tail keywords, the quality of a site matters more than the quantity of keywords. If your site isn’t gaining traffic, ask yourself:

  • Am I keyword stuffing instead of focusing on the quality of my work? 
  • Does my content’s design seem high-quality? 
  • Do users click away from my site or content quickly? If so, why?
  • Is the load time on my website long? (a long loading time is obviously not favourable) 
  • What is my search engine ranking score compared to my primary competitors? 
  • Is my keyword density too long or too little for what they should be compared to my competitors? 
  • Do I have any bad links on my page? are both internal and external links of good quality?

What Is PPC? 

Pay-per-click, not paperclip, works as an online advertising model in which advertisers pay a fee each time one of their advertisements is clicked on through a specific website. This can work in many ways; websites paying Google Ads to show up on their site, or by an advertiser reaching out to a popular website to place an advertising bubble on their site. Typically, the average cost per click (CPC) is around $1.03. Though SEO and PPC are different, since SEO tries to find organic traffic that is free, while PPC is not free, both are strong steps for reaching a target audience (and it will be more guaranteed with PPC as you show up higher on the search results through each PPC advertisements campaign). 

Search Engine Land notes that SEO and PPC work best when integrated and strategically aligned. This statement is true as you want to have a balance between users coming to your site and you reaching out to them. Too much of one another for a beginner site may not be efficient as you aren’t seeing whether the SEO or PPC model works best for you. 

Which Search Engine Has the Most Searches?  

Google Search On A Phone

You guessed it, Google is the most popular search engine. Capturing almost 85% of mobile traffic and over 70% of the search market share, this search giant is the best search engine to use when it comes to reaching a target audience. Additionally, Google’s preference for long-tail keywords over high volume keywords makes it more suitable for those who want to create quality content around their SEOs. Other search engines like Bing or Yahoo can be used; though Google shines the brightest in the search engine galaxy for its use of keyword competitive analysis, strong click-through rate, and superb search engine spider abilities.

Why Are Links Used in SEO?

Links from both your homesite and other sites are used to show a connection between the quality of your site and how much search traffic your site receives. Links are also used to show that the writer of the content is noting sources when they are drawing from another piece of content for information. Generally, it shows that the content creator is being fair and trustworthy by incorporating the sources of pieces of information when needed, and makes for a more well-rounded content piece with opinions that stretch past the creator. 

There can be in-bound (internal links) and out-bound links (external links) in the link building process. In-bound links can come from the home site, while out-bound links come from other websites; this is an inbound link, while this is an outbound link; each working together to bring credibility, diversify your content, and increase the ranking factors of your site. Links can as well be used for optimizing referral traffic, which is the process of a user clicking on another website through a website they already are on (could be used to initiate quality links or for building backlinks to similar sites). 

Why Is SEO Important?

On the consumer side, SEO is important because it gives users exceptionally tailored content that works for that user’s specific needs (including the most complex questions they ask on the search query). In an age when information is literally everywhere, almost to a scattering degree, a user needs a beacon of light amidst all the noise to guide its way through to the proper destination. That beacon is SEO; it leads people through algorithms to find the right match for that user. Not to mention the fact that, on the business side, SEO does the exact same thing; allowing for the website to reach their destination of the consumer so that the user clicks on the site. 

Office Workers By The Window

When all is said and done, SEO may be considered one of the most important tools created for human interactions with the Internet. One that, if a website is smart enough, can join in on the tool for the sake of reaching a target audience.

Should I Use SEO?

If you are looking to find an audience anywhere online, SEO is a great tool to use. Whether you are a musician, banker, blogger, influencer, chef or even a dog walker, SEO is your friend. SEO will get you, if not past the noise, close enough to a user with the possibility of being noticed. The great thing about the Internet is that even though there is so much competition, there is also so many people online. 4.66 billion active Internet users right now to be exact. And though almost all of them are not looking for your website, SEO will help you reach them with relevant keywords and a strong strategy. So, why not try out SEO?

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