How Does Search Engine Optimization Work?
Search engines such as Google and Bing use bots to crawl pages on the web, going from site to site, collecting information about those pages, and putting them in an index. Think of the index as a giant library where a librarian can pull up a book (or a web page) to help you find exactly what you’re looking for at the time.
Next, algorithms analyze pages in the index, taking into account hundreds of ranking factors or signals, to determine the order pages should appear in the search results for a given query. In our library analogy, the librarian has read every single book in the library and can tell you exactly which one will have the answers to your questions.
Our SEO success factors can be considered proxies for aspects of the user experience. It’s how search bots estimate exactly how well a website or web page can give the searcher what they’re searching for.
Unlike paid search ads, you can’t pay search engines to get higher organic search rankings, which means SEO experts have to put in the work. That’s where we come in.
What is search engine optimization?
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the art and science of getting pages to rank higher in search engines such as Google. Because search is one of the main ways in which people discover content online, ranking higher in search engines can lead to an increase in traffic to a website.
In Google and other search engines, the results page often features paid ads at the top of the page, followed by the regular results or what search marketers call the “organic search results”. Traffic that comes via SEO is often referred to as “organic search traffic” to differentiate it from traffic that comes through paid search. Paid search is often referred to as search engine marketing (SEM) or pay-per-click (PPC).
Why is SEO important for marketing?
SEO is a fundamental part of digital marketing because people conduct trillions of searches every year, often with commercial intent to find information about products and services. Search is often the primary source of digital traffic for brands and complements other marketing channels. Greater visibility and ranking higher in search results than your competition can have a material impact on your bottom line.
However, the search results have been evolving over the past few years to give users more direct answers and information that is more likely to keep users on the results page instead of driving them to other websites.
Also note, features like rich results and Knowledge Panels in the search results can increase visibility and provide users with more information about your company directly in the results.
In sum, SEO is the foundation of a holistic marketing ecosystem. When you understand what your website users want, you can then implement that knowledge across your campaigns (paid and organic), your website, your social media properties, and more.
The Benefits of SEO
Search engine optimization is a key part of online marketing because search is one of the primary ways that users navigate the web.
Search results are presented in an ordered list, and the higher up on that list a site can get, the more traffic the site will tend to receive. For example, for a typical search query, the number one result will receive 40-60% of the total traffic for that query, with the number two and three results receiving significantly less traffic. Only 2-3% of searchers click beyond the first page of search results. Thus, even a small improvement in search engine rankings can result in a website receiving more traffic and potential business.
How to learn SEO
Now that you understand more about what SEO is and how it works – how can you learn more?
Reading (or, if you prefer, watching or listening to) the latest SEO news, research, best practices, and other developments should become one of your regular habits, whether it’s daily, weekly, or monthly. You should also invest in attending at least one or two events per year.
The expectations and behavior of searchers are constantly evolving, which means algorithms are constantly changing to keep up. That, in combination with new breakthroughs in technology (look no further than the explosive rise of ChatGPT in late 2022 and the sudden addition of generative AI to search results in 2023).
How Does Search Engine Optimizing Work?
Search engines provide results for any search query a user enters. To do so, they survey and “understand” the vast network of websites that make up the web. They run a sophisticated algorithm that determines what results to display for each search query.
Why SEO focuses on Google
To many people, the term “search engine” is synonymous with Google, which has about 92% of the global search engine market. Because Google is the dominant search engine, SEO typically revolves around what works best for Google. It’s useful to have a clear understanding of how Google works and why.
What Google wants
Google is designed to deliver the best search experience to its users, or searchers. That means providing the most relevant results, as quickly as possible.
The 2 core elements of the search experience are the search term (the user input) and the search results (the output).
Let’s say you search “Mailchimp guides and tutorials.” This is a clear, unambiguous search. Google understands what you’re asking for, and it delivers a useful page as the top organic result—Mailchimp’s own page with that title.
How Google makes money
Google profits from people trusting and valuing its search service. It achieves this by delivering useful search results.
Google also provides businesses with the opportunity to pay for an advertorial placement at the top of search result pages. The word “Ad” indicates these listings. Google makes money when searchers click on this pay-per-click (PPC) advertisements, which you purchase through AdWords. You’ll see these ads on more generic queries in particular.
Other than the small label, these search results look almost indistinguishable from other search results. Of course, this is intentional, as lots of users click on these results without realizing that they’re ads.
The anatomy of search results
SERPs consist of paid search results and “organic” search results, where the organic results don’t contribute to Google’s revenue. Instead, Google delivers organic results based on its assessment of a site’s relevance and quality. Depending on the type of search query, Google will also include different elements on the SERP, like maps, images, or videos.
The volume of ads on a SERP depends on what users have searched. If you were to search the word “shoes,” for example, you’d likely find a substantial number of the top results are ads. In fact, you’ll probably have to scroll down the page to find the first organic result.