Guide To How SEO Works

Written by Erik J. Olson. Posted in .
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If you’re not being found in Google, then you’re losing customers to your competitors. The only way to stop that from happening is to learn how Google and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) works so that you can gain an unfair advantage on your competition.

This article will teach you about what SEO techniques are working today, and how to go about “getting SEO” that sends more ideal customers to your website. 

After reading this guide, and implementing it on your website, we guarantee you will see a boost in your website traffic.

What is SEO?

SEO is an acronym for Search Engine Optimization. SEO is the process of ensuring that a web page appears as high in the search engine results returned by a search engine like Google or Bing as possible.

Because 90% of searchers turn to Google for search engine results, we’ll refer just to Google going forward. But the principles we will discuss apply equally to other search engines.

Without applying SEO techniques, it is highly unlikely that you’ll get noticed by Google. So if you want to be found online when people search for topics relevant to you and your business, then you need to think about SEO.

Crawling the Web

SEO starts by looking at every one of the pages on your website. This process is referred to as indexing. The search engine will look at all of the words on the page, the images, and the metadata – the “backend” data that most people can’t see which describes the page in more detail – to determine what the page is all about.

Once the search engine has crawled your webpage, it then looks to see what other webpages it links to and it goes to each of those pages and reviews them. The process of going from page to page is called crawling. Slowly but surely, a search engine will crawl most, if not all of the Internet.

All of the data on each page crawled, and the links between pages are saved into a giant database that will be used later when a person searches for a term.

SEO value comes not only from the content on the page but also from what’s referred to as “off-page” value. The most relevant off-page SEO value comes from how many, and which, other web pages refer to that page. This concept is referred to as backlinking.

A backlink to your web page is seen as a good thing – almost like a vote by the other page that your page is good. The more backlinks, the better. Even better is if the page that backlinks to you has high SEO value itself.

What Does Google Consider “Good”?

Google has gotten so refined that it evaluates all of its crawled data and tries to determine if an individual web page would be valuable to a human reader. The more legible and helpful the page seems compared to their algorithm, the higher the ranking will be.

For that reason, we always recommend that a web page focus very narrowly on one topic. The topic of a web page is also what is typed into the search engine by a person. The more closely your webpage’s content (text, images, backend metadata) aligns with the keyword searched, and the more the search engine believes your web page can provide an answer to the person’s query, the higher you will climb in the ranks.

It’s important to note that SEO is determined at the web page level, not at the web site level. So when you think about optimizing your website’s SEO, you really need to be thinking about optimizing each individual web page within your website.

Why Focus on SEO?

Many of our clients run B2C (business to consumer) companies and want to maximize the traffic that they get coming to their website. The more traffic – especially relevant traffic – that a website gets, the more leads and sales the website can generate for the business.

Website traffic can be generated in several different ways: from SEO, a social media campaign, running ads, etc. But the only way to get “free” traffic is through SEO. Even though the click from Google is free, it takes time and effort to rise through the ranks of the search engines before people will start clicking on the link to your page. That climb takes time, effort, and dedication from a specialist to get the results you’re looking for.

Search engine and SEO algorithms are constantly changing. Google is notorious for changing its algorithm literally multiple times a day, every day. These are typically minor changes but sometimes they are large changes. In aggregate, these rapid changes make for a fast-moving target that is hard to keep on top of unless you dedicate time and energy regularly to being in the know.

The Goal of SEO

The goal of SEO is to get as many people to find you in the search engine results as possible, then have them come to your website. SEO’s responsibility is to get your links ranked high in the search results, and be compelling enough to get people to click on your link. That’s where SEO’s responsibility ends.

Once the person is on your webpage then it’s the job of the webpage to provide something of value. Getting them to “convert” into a lead is a different topic in itself, and outside of SEO, but it’s still equally as important.

Think of it this way…

You need your website to produce leads. But before you can get leads, you need people to find out about you. What we’re describing is the classic sales funnel where the search engine is at the highest level and at the bottom are leads.

How SEO Works in 2019

Choosing Your Keywords

When choosing keywords, always remember to pick ones with a high number of monthly searches. That’s rule #1.

Rule #2 is to also find keywords with low competition. Ideally what you’re looking for are keywords that are searched a lot and are relevant to your offering, but are not used by a lot of other web pages.

It can be like looking for a diamond in the ruff. It’s a balancing act and may take a little time. But when you find the right combination of search high volume and low competition, it’s like hitting payday.

Google Adwords Keyword Planner will provide you with all the data you need to perform this analysis. It will also provide an impressive number of keyword suggestions.

Like we said earlier, each webpage on your website should have one well-defined keyword or keyword phrase. The page title, URL, headings, alt tags (part of images), link text, and metadata (ex: the page description) should all include the keyword phrase or a variation of the phrase in order to ensure the page is optimized for ranking well in Google search.

Search engines are then able to generate rich snippets, which are small summaries of information that will appear in search results to give users a preview of the content they will see when they click through.  

Google My Business

Businesses have the ability to register with Google and then provide data about their business directly to Google. This includes the business name, address, hours of operation, and more.  This is what experts in the industry would call “Local SEO”

This is data that the business and the public have supplied directly to Google. It’s a rich source of high-quality information and SEO results are weighted heavily from it.

Besides the basic data listed above, Google My Business contains several other placeholders for data that is useful for Google and its users. Most businesses fail to fill these placeholders in. Don’t make that mistake…they will set you apart from the competition.

Questions & Answers

You’ll notice in the screenshot above that it includes a section for “Questions & answers”. Think of these like frequently asked questions, like you would find on a website. But instead of being posted on a website, they’re posted by people in Google.

When someone asks a question, anyone can answer. We recommend that the business always answer these questions, and answer every question received.

Another strategy is to populate these questions in Google with the top 5 sales objections you typically receive from customers. Don’t worry – no one can see who asked the questions. Then log in as the business and answer these questions with your standard response. This allows you to address common objections and questions up front before the person even reaches out!

Ratings & Reviews

Google allows individuals to submit reviews for any business. With each review, the person can select between 1 and 5 stars, and provide details about their experience.

Like all Google My Business data, this is a rich source of social validation that Google leverages when determining SEO value.

Ratings and reviews provide social proof about the quality of a company. Thus they are extremely important to prospective customers. If you have a bad rating (anything less than 4.5 is frowned upon by most people) then most people will continue searching for an alternative provider.

The more reviews, the better. And the more good reviews, the better. Be sure to ask your customers for reviews. If you have a highly transactional business, then the software can be triggered after a completed sale and automatically email or text your customer requesting a Google review. This is a great way to get reviews quicker.

If you have a low transaction business then software won’t help. Instead, ask your customer for a review. Even better, first ask them if they’re pleased with their experience and if they say yes, then ask them to give you a review on Google.

To make it easy for your customers to give you a review, send them the link that will take them directly to the page in Google to leave a review. Here’s a great Google Review Link Generator.

Recall that Google’s algorithm is attempting to determine if a webpage, and thus the company that controls the webpage, is a good fit for Google users. Ratings and reviews are important to people, so Google bakes them into their SEO algorithm as well.

Google never reveals exactly how it’s algorithm works, but it’s guesstimated that 10% of SEO value comes from Google reviews.


Did you know that starting in 2017 the majority of web pages were rendered on mobile phones and not on desktop computers? This trend has been building for years; it was only a matter of time.

Mobile web usage chart

As a result, Google now indexes web pages based on how they render on a mobile phone. That means that your website has to, at a minimum, be mobile-friendly. But really, if you want to win with customers and with Google, then your website should put mobile-first.

That means that your website should work very well on mobile phones and adapt to desktop computers. It’s a subtle but important distinction – mobile first, desktop second.

As nonintuitive as it may seem, people love their phones and use them all the time. Google has recognized this change in how people work and adapted their algorithm to fit. If you have a mobile-unfriendly website then it will hurt your SEO value. Be sure your website is mobile responsive.

A Secure Webpage is SEO-Friendly

So far we’ve seen that Google has built into its SEO algorithm the smarts to predict what a human would like to see and read. But with this tip, it’s not about what humans want to read, it’s about protecting us from bad people on the Internet.

Make sure your site is secure with a current, valid TLS/SSL certificate. TLS/SSL is the technology that allows your website to use a web address that starts with “https://”.

The “s” in the https:// stands for secure. With a TLS/SSL, any data that is transmitted from the web page to the server is first encrypted then decrypted on the server. That means that no one can read it while it’s being transmitted across the internet.

Anytime that someone logs into the administrative module of your website, they transmit the admin’s username and password from the web page to the server. If your website is not secured then those credentials fly across the internet in plain text. Bad actors can sniff out Internet traffic, get those credentials, log into your admin module, and do all sorts of bad things to your website. That’s bad for you and your business. A TLS/SSL protects you from that.

For that reason, Google very much encourages websites to be secure with TLS/SSL certificates. As an incentive to doing that, they’ll give you a small SEO boost. So by securing your website, you’ll climb through the rankings a bit more.

Your Click-Through Rate, Title, and Description

Let’s say you do all the things listed above and your webpage rises through the ranks and ends up on page 1 of Google. Congratulations! Your job is done, right?

It’s great to be on the first page, or even in the first position. But what’s the point if no one clicks on your link?

Now it’s time to optimize your CTR – your click-through rate.

To do this you need to think through the link’s title and description. The title is composed of the words used in the hyperlink itself. That’s controlled by the <title> HTML element of the webpage.

The description is set in a metatag, which is also a type of HTML element. Descriptions should be about 150 characters long and, as concisely as possible, describe the value of the page and what benefit the person will get from the page.

Tweak the title and description to determine if you can increase the CTR of your links. Try different titles to see what works best.

How Long Will SEO Take?

SEO will not generate traffic instantly. It will take weeks or months for the effects of SEO to kick in. For that reason, we don’t recommend SEO as the first thing to try if you want quick results (check out our article on the best online advertising platforms for ways to get quick results).

But when executed properly, SEO can have a very high return on investment over the long haul.

Keep in mind that testing and tweaking the content, metadata, and keywords will take time. But it’s all worth it when the search engines have bumped your web pages to the top of the results page and you continue to get “free” clicks.

Analyzing Your SEO Value

If you’re going to be working on SEO then you’ll need to get familiar with Google Analytics. Once you’ve set up your account, Google Analytics will provide a tracking code. Copy that code and paste it into your site. Follow the directions in Google Analytics for specifics about where to place the code.

Once in place, your Google Analytics will start tracking a ton of useful data about how people use your website. Some pertinent components to analyze include: how visitors got to your site, which pages they came in, which type of device they used, how long they stayed on the site, and from which page they left the site.

Be sure to review Google Analytics data often to understand how your traffic relates to the rank of the respective web pages. Google Analytics will provide the data you need to improve your SEO strategy, but you will need to analyze that data and understand what it means.

Google Search Console

Like Google Analytics, another important tool is Google Search Console.

Google Search Console provides data about how your links get into search results and how people click through to your site. Contrast that to Google Analytics which provides data about what a person does once they arrive on your site. There is a bit of overlap between the two tools, but both are important tools and are needed when you work on the SEO of your website.

Previously named Google Webmasters Tool, it provides the ability to view keywords that people are entering into Google to find your website. It will provide data such as the number of impressions each page receives over a period of time, and the number of click-throughs those search results got to your website.

Within Google Search Console you may find a variety of keywords that you never considered that are leading prospects to your site. You can then incorporate those keywords into your next article or use those keywords when optimizing an existing low-performing webpage.

Update Frequently

Many think that SEO is something you do once and then you’re good. But it’s not. Google wants to see that your website is an ever-changing source of valuable information. It monitors your website for change and rewards you for constant improvement.

It’s best to update your site, and publish new content, regularly. Ideally, you will publish multiple articles per week. We know that’s difficult for most businesses to do, or cost-prohibitive if they have to pay someone. As a good rule of thumb, if you have to cut back on publishing new work, don’t publish less than two per month. But really, weekly is best.


SEO can be time-consuming. It can take a while for it to kick in. But when it does, you’ll start getting free traffic to your website. That’s a win/win/win. It’s a win for you because you get more traffic, it’s a win for potential customers because they find what they need, and it’s a win for Google because they are providing high-quality and relevant search results.

Don’t fight Google. If you want high SEO value, we’ve laid out the steps you need to take. Call 757-333-3021 or use our contact page to speak with a SEO expert today! 

Happy SEOing!

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Written By Erik J. Olson
Founder & CEO
Erik J. Olson is the Founder & CEO of Array Digital—a marketing agency that enables its clients to achieve their dreams, fulfill their missions, and impact more lives with their services.

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