What Is SEO? A Get-Started Guide to Search Engine Optimization

SEO Image

Search engine rankings are a winner-takes-all game. The top three results have click-through rates of 30% – 10%; by position nine, that’s dropped to just 2%. If your website doesn’t appear on page one for relevant search terms, it’s not reaching its full potential.

That’s where search engine optimization (SEO) comes in.

What is search engine optimization (SEO)?

SEO is a broad phrase that refers to anything a company does to drive organic traffic to their website from search engines. Technical features such as site architecture, as well as more imaginative elements such as content production and user experience, are all part of SEO.

It appears to be rather straightforward. Even for seasoned digital marketers, SEO is a moving goal. Myths persist, algorithms shift, and SEO strategies that formerly worked may now result in a penalty. To maintain a site optimised, you’ll need a thorough understanding of both how search engines “think” and how real people think about and react to your web content. Search engine optimization feels like a hybrid because of the combination of usability, site architecture, and content production.

How Search Engines Work

Every day, Google alone processes approximately 3.5 billion searches. The search engine combs through the estimated 1.9 billion domains on the internet and returns relevant results in under 0.5 seconds. So, what’s going on in the background?

A search engine must do three things in order to return relevant results:

  • Create a list, or index, of pages on the web
  • Access this list instantly
  • Decide which pages are relevant to each search

In the world of SEO, this process is normally described as crawling and indexing.

Crawling and indexing

The internet is made up of an ever-growing collection of pages linked together through links. These pages must be found, understood, and stored in a large data storehouse known as an index by search engines.

They achieve this by scanning the web for hosted domains with bots known as spiders or crawlers. The crawlers keep track of all the servers they come across as well as the websites they host. They then go through each website and “crawl” it for information, noting the different sorts of material (text, video, JavaScript, and so on) as well as the number of pages. Finally, they discover links to other websites using code tags like HREF and SRC, which they then add to the list of sites to crawl. The spiders can then create a wider web of indexed pages by bouncing from page to page and adding them to the index.

Search engines keep this data in massive physical databases from which they retrieve information whenever someone conducts a search. Google operates data centres all throughout the world, including one in Pryor Creek, Oklahoma, which is believed to be 980,000 square feet. Google can store billions of pages across multiple machines thanks to its network.

Search engines continuously crawl and index, keeping track of newly added pages, deleted pages, new links, and new information. When a user conducts a search, the search engine has a constantly updated index of billions of possible responses ready to be delivered to the user.

All that’s left is to rank these findings based on their usefulness and quality.

How search engines Rank relevant Results

How does a search engine pick which results to show the searcher in the optimal order if a search term yields hundreds of thousands of results?

At Search Engine HQ, a team of humans isn’t in charge of determining relevant results. Instead, search engines utilise algorithms (mathematical equations and rules) to decipher searcher intent, locate relevant results, and rank them based on authority and popularity.

In order to combat black-hat SEO, search engines are notorious for refusing to expose the inner workings of their ranking algorithms. Search marketers are aware, however, that algorithmic decisions are dependent on over 200 variables, including the following:

  • Searchers look for a variety of stuff, ranging from video and photographs to news. On the basis of intent, search engines prioritise distinct categories of content.
  • Quality of Material: Search engines place a premium on content that is both valuable and instructive. Although these are subjective criteria, SEO experts often interpret this to indicate material that is thorough, unique, objective, and solution-oriented.
  • Freshness of content: In addition to other ranking variables, search engines provide the most recent results to users. As a result, if the algorithm judges two pieces to be of equivalent quality, the most recent item will most likely display first.
  • Page Popularity: Google still utilises a modified version of their original PageRank algorithm from the 1990s, which assesses a page’s quality based on the amount and quality of links leading to it.
  • Search engines penalise low-quality, spammy websites by lowering their rankings (more on that below).
  • Language: Not everyone is looking for information in English. Search engines give preference to results that are written in the same language as the search phrase.
  • Many searches are local (for example, “restaurants near me”), and search engines recognise this and prefer local results when possible.

By keeping these factors in mind, search marketers can create content that’s more likely to be found and ranked by search engines.

Types of Search Engine Results Page (SERP) Features

Results in the early days of search were displayed as a simple list of descriptive snippets and links, as shown in the previous image. SERP features, richer results that contain photos and other information, have been added to these conventional results in recent years. When we do a search for Philz Coffee New England Patriots, for example, a feature result appears with additional information that the searcher could find useful:

You can’t guarantee that your site will receive more SERP features, but you can improve your chances by doing the following:

  1. Creating a web structure that is both search engine and user friendly.
  2. Organizing your content on the page in such a way that it can be scanned by both search engines and users.
  3. Using schema markup, or structured code, can aid crawlers in better understanding a site.

The most common organic SERP features include the following:

  1. Rich Snippet: A visual addition to a traditional result (e.g. review stars for a restaurant listing).
  2. Featured Snippet: A highlighted block at the top of the search results page that often contains a summarised answer to a search query as well as a link to the source URL.
  3. People also inquire about: These are a block of expandable related questions asked by searchers, also known as related questions.
  4. Right-aligned panels that display crucial information about a search phrase. A knowledge panel including their emblem, corporate information, and social accounts is shown in the Philz Coffee sample above.
  5. Image Packs (carousels): A horizontal row of image links that appears for queries that require visual material.
  6. Instant Answers: These results appear when Google can provide a quick response to a searcher’s question, such as when you look up the current weather where you are. There is no link to any source site, unlike featured snippets.

Takeaway for Search Marketers

On the basis of the phrases used by users searching for information online, search engines emphasise returning relevant, high-quality content. They accomplish this by indexing all of the pages they can locate, using relevance-based algorithms, and presenting results in a variety of formats that are most relevant to the search intent.

You’ll be better equipped to develop websites that rank higher and receive more traffic if you understand how search engines identify and grade web pages. You’ll need a strategy that incorporates three sorts of SEO: technical, on-page, and off-page.

What is Technical SEO?

The skill of preparing a website for crawling and indexing, known as technical SEO, is a crucial stage in getting a site to rank. No matter how good your on-page content is, if you build a site on insecure technical underpinnings, you’re unlikely to see results. This is because websites must be built in such a way that crawlers can access and “understand” the information.

Content generation, link-building methods, and content promotion have little to do with technical SEO. Instead, it concentrates on the architecture and infrastructure of the place. Technical SEO best practises must change and become more sophisticated as search engines get more “intelligent.” However, there are a few technical SEO constants to keep in mind.

URL Hierarchy & Structure

It’s critical to create a site-wide URL structure that’s both crawler-friendly and user-friendly. This does not imply that you must sketch out each and every page your website will ever have; that would be impossible. However, it does imply creating a coherent URL flow that moves from domain to category to subcategory. When new pages are produced, they can be inserted into that hierarchy.

If you ignore this step, you’ll wind up with a slew of strange subdomains and “orphan pages” with no internal links. This isn’t only a headache for users; it’s also a disaster for crawlers, who are more likely to stop indexing your page.

SEO-friendly URLs should be organised in a way that defines the page’s content for both crawlers and people on a granular level. That implies using key search phrases as near to the root domain as feasible and keeping URLs under 60 characters (512 pixels). URLs can operate as a positive ranking element for crawlers and encourage consumers to click through if they are properly optimised.

Page speed

The better for search engine rankings, the faster a web page loads. Users prefer lightning-fast loading, with 40% abandoning a page that takes more than three seconds to load.

The goal of technical SEO is to reduce the use of items that slow down website loading. That involves limiting the number of plug-ins, tracking codes, and widgets, as well as compressing the size and weight of photos and videos. To develop a page design that incorporates all of the necessary design aspects while loading in under three seconds, online marketers and designers must work together.

XML Sitemaps

An XML sitemap is a text file that lists all of a website’s pages, including blog posts. Because search engines utilise this file to crawl a site’s content, it’s critical that the sitemap excludes sites that you don’t want to appear in search results, such as author pages.


When you visit a website, make an online purchase, or fill out a web form, you are transferring data across the internet. Servers utilised a protocol named HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) in the beginning. HTTP is a quick means to transport data, but it’s not safe because your connection to the website isn’t encrypted. This means that third parties will have access to your information.

That’s why Google announced in 2014 that websites that use HTTPS (Secure Hypertext Transfer Protocol) will receive a tiny ranking bump. HTTPS carries data between browsers in the same manner as HTTP does, but with the addition of SSL, or Secure Sockets Layer, which encrypts data and safely transports it across the internet.

For inexperienced search marketers, all of this may seem overwhelming. The message is that it is preferable to have your site constructed from the ground up to run HTTPS rather than switching to HTTPS later.


AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) is a Google-sponsored open-source framework that renders website content on mobile devices practically quickly. Videos, advertising, and animations that used to take a long time to load on mobile now load quickly on any device.

There are two effects on SEO. First, as we all know, people abandon sites that take too long to load, and mobile users demand even faster load times. If your site is slow to load on mobile, your bounce rate will rise, which will have a negative influence on your rankings. Second, data suggests that search engines (at least Google) favour AMP-optimized results in their ranks.

Search Marketers’ Takeaways

Crawlers do not “understand” information in the same way that humans do; they require specific technical structures and signals in order to rank your content efficiently. Fortunately, search engines themselves offer advice on how to improve a site’s technical SEO—for more information, see our technical SEO audit infographic.

What is On-page SEO?

On-page SEO (also known as on-site SEO) is the practise of improving rankings by optimising everything on a website. On-page SEO is the front end if technical SEO is the back end. It covers text layout, picture optimization, HTML code basics, and internal linking. The good news is that on-page SEO is not affected by external influences; you have complete control over its quality.

Meta Tags

Meta tags are minor coding elements that help determine the structure of a web page’s content. An H1 tag, for example, informs crawlers about the title of a blog post or web page. H2 and H3 tags, like subheads of varied widths in an analogue page, represent information hierarchy. The text under each title tag is then compared to the terms in the title to ensure that the material is relevant.

Good meta-tag SEO helps search engines figure out what a web-page’s content is about and when to show it in search results.

Page Titles & Meta Descriptions

People aren’t the only ones that read page titles; search robots do as well. That implies on-page titles optimised for SEO should contain essential search phrases and be no more than 70 characters long. If the title is longer than that, search engines will truncate it in SERPs, making it unreadable to users.

In SERP results, meta descriptions—short text snippets that summarise the content of a web page—often appear underneath the page title. While meta descriptions aren’t used by Google as a ranking element, SEO-optimized meta descriptions attract more visitors from SERP pages since individuals who are looking are more inclined to read them. This, in turn, gives positive signals to search engines regarding the site.

Avoid the urge to cram a lot of keywords into your titles and descriptions. Keyword stuffing has a direct detrimental impact on search engine rankings. Instead, use clarity and concision to tell search engines what the page is about.

Image Optimization

Crawlers must be able to read images; if they aren’t, search engines will be unable to provide effective visual results. To describe photos to crawlers, search engine marketers use ALT text (an HTML property). Relevant search-query terms should be included in optimised ALT text, but it should also make sense to human readers.

Outbound and Internal Links

We already know that when crawlers index web pages, they use links to navigate between them; pages without links are inaccessible to search engines. As a result, linking is an important aspect of excellent SEO, both externally to high-quality sites and inside within a website’s pages.

Outbound links direct users away from your site and to another website. Because search engines interpret these links as a seal of approval, they add value to the external site. This means that if you link to an external site, you’re giving it a thumbs up from search engines and offering users a better navigation experience.

Internal linking, or creating links between a website’s own pages, enhances crawlability and informs search engines about a page’s most essential keywords. It also keeps users on your site for longer periods of time, which search engines interpret as a favourable representation of site quality.

Need help with getting your business found online? Stridec is a top SEO agency in Singapore that can help you achieve your objectives with a structured and effective SEO programme that will get your more customers and sales. Contact us for a discussion now.