What is SEO: Definition & Guide to Search Engine Optimization

Discover what SEO is and how it works in our comprehensive guide. Learn SEO best practices to boost your rankings today.

What is SEO: Definition & Guide to Search Engine Optimization
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Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is one of the most important digital marketing strategies for businesses today.
But what exactly is SEO and how does it work?
In this comprehensive guide, we'll break down everything you need to know about SEO and how to leverage it to drive more organic traffic to your website.

What is SEO?

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SEO stands for "search engine optimization." It is the practice of increasing both the quality and quantity of website traffic, as well as exposure to your brand, through non-paid (also known as "organic") search engine results.
In simple terms, SEO is the process of optimizing your website and content to rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs) for relevant keywords and phrases. The goal is to attract more visitors to your site when they search for products, services, or information related to your business.
SEO encompasses both the technical and creative elements required to improve rankings, drive traffic, and increase awareness in search engines. This includes things like:
  • Researching relevant keywords to target
  • Creating high-quality, useful content
  • Optimizing page titles, meta descriptions, and content
  • Building high-quality backlinks
  • Ensuring your website has a good user experience and is mobile-friendly
The higher your pages rank in search results for relevant queries, the more likely you are to garner attention and attract prospective and existing customers to your business.

Why is SEO important?

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.
Here are a few key reasons why SEO is so important:
  1. Organic search is most often the primary source of website traffic. SEO helps you position your website properly to be found at the most critical points in the buying process or when people need your site.
  1. SEO builds trust and credibility. The goal of any experienced SEO is to establish a strong foundation for a beautiful website with a clean, effective user experience that is easily discoverable in search with thanks to the trust and credibility of the brand and its digital properties.
  1. Good SEO means a better user experience. Everyone wants better organic rankings and maximum visibility. Few realize that optimal user experience is a big part of getting there.
  1. Local SEO means increased engagement, traffic & conversions. With the rise and growing domination of mobile traffic, local search has become a fundamental part of small- and medium-sized businesses' success.
  1. SEO impacts the buying cycle. Customers do their research. That's one of the biggest advantages of the internet from a buyer perspective. Using SEO tactics to relay your messaging for good deals, groundbreaking products and/or services, and the importance and dependability of what you offer customers will be a game changer.
Ultimately, SEO can have a huge impact on your business's most important goals, like increasing your leads and sales. Without SEO, people simply won't be able to find your website, and all your hard work will be for nothing.

How does SEO work?

Now that we understand what SEO is and why it's important, let's dive into how it actually works. At a high level, search engines like Google use algorithms to determine which pages to show for any given query. These algorithms look at many factors, including the words on your pages, the freshness of your content, your site's structure and layout, and how many other websites link to you.
Here's a simplified view of how SEO works:
  1. Crawling: Search engines send out web crawlers to find new pages and record information about them. These web crawlers are also called spiders or search engine bots.
  1. Indexing: The search engine then analyzes the content of each page and stores it in a giant database, called an index. This index is like a library, except it contains a copy of every web page instead of books.
  1. Ranking: When someone performs a search, search engines scour their index for highly relevant content and then order that content in the hopes of solving the searcher's query. This ordering of search results by relevance is known as ranking. In general, you can assume that the higher a website is ranked, the more relevant the search engine believes that site is to the query.
To determine relevance, search engines use algorithms, a process or formula by which stored information is retrieved and ordered in meaningful ways. These algorithms have gone through many changes over the years in an effort to combat spam and improve search results.
Google, for example, makes algorithm updates every day - some of these updates are minor quality tweaks, whereas others are core/broad algorithm updates deployed to tackle a specific issue, like Penguin to tackle link spam. Most of these updates aim at improving the user experience by providing the most relevant, trustworthy information based on the user's search query.
So in a nutshell, SEO is the process of optimizing your site with the goal of improving your rankings in the search results and getting more organic (non-paid) traffic. This is achieved through a combination of technical improvements, content optimizations, and link building.

The three pillars of SEO

While the specific tactics and best practices of SEO are always evolving, the core tenets have remained the same. Effective SEO can be boiled down to three main pillars:
  1. Technical Optimization: This is the process of completing activities on your site that are designed to improve SEO but are not related to content. It often happens behind the scenes. Examples include improving page speed, using HTTPS encryption, having a mobile-friendly site, and submitting a sitemap to search engines.
  1. On-Page Optimization: This is the process of ensuring the content on your site is relevant and provides a great user experience. It includes targeting the right keywords within your content and can be done through a content management system. On-page factors include optimizing your titles, header tags, meta descriptions, internal linking, and images.
  1. Off-Page Optimization: This is the process of enhancing your site's search engine rankings through activities outside of the site itself. The main off-page factor is the quantity and quality of backlinks pointing to your site from other reputable websites. Other off-page tactics include social media marketing and guest blogging.
To have a successful, long-term SEO strategy, you need to focus on all three areas. Focusing on just one pillar won't get you very far. For example, you can have the most optimized content in the world, but if your site takes 20 seconds to load or you don't have any backlinks, you likely won't rank very high.

SEO best practices

With the fundamentals of SEO in mind, here are some key best practices to follow to ensure your site is optimized for search engines:
  1. Do keyword research: Understand what terms your target audience is searching for and create content around those topics. Use keyword research tools to find relevant keywords with good search volume but lower competition.
  1. Create quality content: Develop unique, valuable content that matches search intent and provides a positive user experience. Your content should thoroughly cover the topic and be better than what currently ranks in the top search results.
  1. Optimize your titles and meta descriptions: Write compelling titles and meta descriptions that include your target keywords. These are the first things users see in the search results.
  1. Use header tags: Structure your content with H1, H2, H3 tags to provide hierarchy. Include keywords in your header tags where relevant.
  1. Optimize your images: Use descriptive file names and alt text for your images. Compress images to improve page load speed.
  1. Improve page speed: Use tools like Google PageSpeed Insights to test your site speed. Implement their suggestions to make your pages load faster.
  1. Make your site mobile-friendly: With the rise of mobile search, your site needs to look good and function well on mobile devices. Use a responsive design that adapts to different screen sizes.
  1. Use HTTPS: Install an SSL certificate to encrypt the connection between your site and users' web browsers. HTTPS is a ranking signal and builds trust.
  1. Build quality backlinks: Reach out to other reputable sites in your industry for links. Create link-worthy content that naturally earns backlinks. Avoid spammy link building tactics.
  1. Leverage internal linking: Link to other relevant pages on your site within your content. This helps search engines understand your site structure and spreads link equity.
By implementing these SEO best practices consistently, you can improve your site's visibility in the organic search results and drive more targeted traffic. However, it's important to remember that SEO is an ongoing process that requires continuous testing, measuring, and optimizing to see sustainable results.

The future of SEO

As technology evolves, so does the world of search and SEO. Here are a few key trends that are shaping the future of SEO:
  • Artificial intelligence: Google and other search engines are using AI and machine learning to better understand search queries and user intent. As a result, creating comprehensive, high-quality content that satisfies user needs is more important than ever.
  • Voice search: With the rise of digital assistants like Siri and Alexa, more people are using voice search to find information. Optimizing for voice search involves using more natural, conversational language and targeting long-tail keywords.
  • Visual search: Platforms like Google Lens and Pinterest Lens allow users to search using images instead of text. To optimize for visual search, it's important to use high-quality, relevant images with descriptive file names and alt text.
  • Featured snippets: Google often displays featured snippets at the top of the search results to directly answer users' questions. Structuring your content with clear headings, bullet points, and concise answers can help you earn featured snippets.
  • EAT: Google's algorithms are placing more emphasis on Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (EAT) when evaluating content. Building a strong reputation and demonstrating your expertise is crucial for ranking well, especially in YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) topics like health and finance.
By staying on top of these SEO trends and continually adapting your strategy, you can stay ahead of the curve and maintain a strong presence in the search results.


SEO is a complex and ever-evolving field, but understanding the basics is key to improving your site's search engine rankings and driving more organic traffic. By focusing on the three pillars of SEO - technical optimization, on-page optimization, and off-page optimization - and implementing SEO best practices, you can boost your visibility in the search results and achieve your business goals.
Remember, SEO is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time, effort, and patience to see results. But by consistently creating valuable content, earning high-quality backlinks, and providing a great user experience, you can build a strong foundation for long-term SEO success.
As search technology continues to advance, it's important to stay up-to-date with the latest trends and algorithm updates. But the core principles of SEO - relevance, quality, and user experience - will always remain the same. By keeping these principles at the forefront of your SEO strategy, you can adapt to any changes and continue to thrive in the world of search.

Written by

Ilias Ism

Ilias Ism is the founder & CEO of Links Report