SEO Explained: What is it and How Does it Work?

Here’s a quick exercise. Search for “how many tomatoes are hurled in the La Tomatina Festival?” 

Got the answer?

Now you understand why 95% of web traffic goes to first-page results.

It’s no surprise then that you need your website to rank higher than most others to succeed. That’s where Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) comes in.

SEO has been around since 1997, and we still use it today because it works.

Search engine optimisation is one of the most effective ways to get more traffic, leads, and sales. This article will explain what SEO is and how it works.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation. It’s a process of improving one’s website on search engine result pages (SERPs).

SEO is a vast subject, but the main idea is to follow the best practices to ensure as many people can find your website as possible.

Making a website search-engine-friendly takes real effort, but with the help of this article, you can learn how to do it yourself. While some of these practices occur as you generate and publish content, some require more effort on your behalf.

How Does SEO work?

For a search engine to recognise your webpage, it needs to follow a process.

To determine which websites are relevant, Search Engines use algorithms. A computer algorithm is a system or set of rules that the machine must follow to carry out operations. 

Google revealed their algorithm uses over 200 factors to rank pages. As a result, it’s preferable to think of them as algorithms rather than a single formula.

The algorithms combine with the signals to get a result.

SEO Fundamentals

Before we get into the ranking factors, let’s have a look at how search engines work.

What Are Web Crawlers?

Google’s spiders visit a web address and other links on the site. Then, Google crawls through each page, analysing content and signals, and passes it back to its search index. 

What is the Google Index?

The Google index is a general term for all pages Google has scanned so far. When you search on Google, you’re querying this database, which can tell you whether or not your page appears, as well as how many pages containing the word appear before yours. So, if there were five pages before yours with the term you entered, the rank would be six.

What Are Keywords?

Keywords are words entered to generate results related to those words. So, for example, if I were to run a search for “How to draw portraits”, the top few results would be pages with the words “draw” and “portraits”. Keywords are an easy way to stand out in a flood of digital data.

Keywords appear multiple times (in titles, meta descriptions, H1/H2/H3 tags, URL, and body content). So every time they appear, it’s an opportunity for the search engines to rank them higher.

Meta Titles

Meta titles are HTML attributes that describe the page you’re on. Every page should have one. They typically contain keywords (and sometimes a sentence).

Meta Descriptions 

HTML attributes that tell users what they can expect to find on the page. The description should describe the page in a compelling way to encourage users to click. A study by Backlinko found that pages with a meta description had a 5.8% better CTR than pages without one.

What Are SEO Backlinks?

Backlinks are hyperlinks pointing back to your page. There’s much debate about whether they’re still relevant and how much they matter, but the important takeaway is that you should build them if you want to rank on SERPs. 

Tips for Implementing a Successful SEO Campaign

As SEO becomes more complex, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the amount of information available. Fortunately, there are some key factors that all successful SEO campaigns have in common. Follow these few simple steps to learn how you can improve your organic ranking.

Step 1: Keyword Research

Detailed and extensive keyword research is the first stage in every effective SEO campaign. It’s essential to know what your target audience is searching for regarding the products and services you offer.

Keyword Research Tools:

Google needs to learn what your site is about to rank, so use keywords throughout the page. Find keywords with significant traffic and low competition. 

Step 2: On-Page Optimisation and Content Creation

All content should be relevant and valuable to your target audience—the more content on your site, the better.

You’ll want to optimise your website and blog posts with the keywords you researched in step 1. A single piece of helpful content can produce huge traffic spikes.

Examine your website’s analytics to see which keywords you’re ranking for, how many people visit your site, and at what times. Then, use this information to improve your on-page SEO.

Step 3: Off-Page Promotion and Link Building

To rank on Google’s first page, you need backlinks from quality websites. These websites should be relevant to what you offer and have a higher page rank than your own.

Unfortunately, backlinks are not easy to come by. It will take time to get them, but the rewards are well worth the effort. 

Here are some ideas for off-page promotion:

  • Guest blogging on other sites
  • Interacting with and responding to your audience on social media
  • Participating in Q & A sessions on answer sites like Quora
  • Promoting content via paid ads

Step 4: Optimise for User Experience & Conversion Rate

Optimising your site for user experience and conversion means ensuring your site loads quickly, is mobile-ready, and has a clear call to action.

Here are some ideas to enhance user experience:

  • Adding a blog or additional content that outlines your services and user benefits
  • Re-evaluating calls to action and testing different versions to find winners
  • Using visual tools like infographics
  • Creating promotional videos

“How can I tell if my optimisation is working?” is one of the most common queries we get from clients.

The truth is, there isn’t a simple answer.

Every site is different – your SEO efforts might take longer to show results if you’re building backlinks to a site with no existing search rankings or domain authority.

Some tools can help you see how much traffic your site receives from specific keywords and which pages users prefer.

If you’re still unsure about your SEO efforts, we suggest speaking to a marketing expert who will be able to give you clear and honest advice on how well your website is performing.

How to Build Website Trust

Authority and trust have a direct impact on SEO Rankings. Google’s search results are based on authority, so the more you have, the better it will be for your website.

A website’s authority and trust come from:

  • backlinks: incoming links from relevant and trusted websites with similar content
  • trust signals: social media integration, SSL certificates, HTTPS, reviews

A website will be penalised for the following reasons:

  • keyword stuffing (repeating keywords too often)
  • low quality/thin content (not enough value/poorly written)

The algorithm also considers:

  • Bounce rate – the percentage of people who enter your site and then leave (“bounce”) without clicking on any other links.
  • Domain age – years domain has been registered, as well as how many times renewed.

SEO Myths Debunked

SEO is too complicated

✖ People in the SEO industry like to make things sound complicated to appear knowledgeable and in demand. There are plenty of free resources to learn by yourself, or you could outsource, but you need to ensure the agency has expertise in your field and can provide references.

Every site needs to be mobile-ready

✖ False, but it’s worth time and money to ensure your site looks good on all devices.

The more backlinks, the higher the ranking

✖ Quality always comes before quantity, and relevance is always better than spam. 

Google punishes duplicate content

✖ Mostly false. The system doesn’t favour one site over another this way.

Instead, it looks at the entire domain’s link profile to determine user experience; if Google detects deceptive practices or doesn’t know which pages to index, it will penalise the site.

SEO is dead 

✖ SEO lives! SEO is as vital as ever, as long as you’re optimising for user experience and relevance instead of spamming your way to the top for quick gains.


SEO is undoubtedly a long-term strategy but should be a part of every website’s marketing plan. 

There are major benefits to employing SEO for your business or blog. The advantages include:

  • More visitors
  • Increased brand awareness
  • Narrowing down your target audience and improving conversion rates

Remember: Changes to Google’s algorithm aren’t the end of the world; they’re natural and expected!

Get in contact with our specialists if you want to learn more about SEO services and how to increase your site’s SEO ranking. 

Christian Thomson

Christian is a British-born entrepreneur and founder of Marwick. For over 19 years, Christian has successfully helped businesses excel in digital marketing. Founded in 2012, Marwick has grown from a start-up to the 11th Fastest Growing Company in Canada in 2020 and expanded into the UK in 2019.

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