What Is SEO and How It Works: In a Nutshell

What Is SEO and How It Works: In a Nutshell

Search Engine Optimization

There is an SEO article on every other blog talking about doing it right. We, however, decided to answer a simple question «What is SEO and How it Works».

What is SEO? A Very Broad Definition

It’s not always easy – breaking down complex terms and bringing them to a simple explanation, which is exactly what we are going to attempt now.

A very broad explanation would define search engine optimization (SEO) as a set of activities aimed at bringing your website up to the search engine standards, thus, leading to your website ranking higher on the search engine results page under certain keywords, which, in turn, leads to more organic (non-paid) traffic.

Phew! That was tough to write, let alone read and comprehend. Hold on, we will go deeper in just a second.

Three Different Sides of SEO

Three Different Sides of SEO

SEO is a multi-faceted term and it can mean any of the three categories mentioned below, all of which are key to the understanding of SEO.

1. SEO as a Marketing Discipline

It is indeed one! Any online marketer would confirm the fact that no website marketing campaign is complete without proper SEO. Here, SEO is all about reaching certain marketing goals like conversion rate, amount of daily traffic, number of leads, etc.

2. SEO as a Technical Task

Despite being closer to marketing than anything else, SEO does involve a lot of technical, development tasks.

The foundation of a website SEO is built when the site is under development. It is during this time that one can avoid (or, as it often turns out, not avoid) the most common mistakes.

3. SEO as a Common Practice

Believe it or not but SEO is rooted in common sense more than anything else. All these requirements from Google and other search engines are nothing more than good website practices – like brushing your teeth twice daily or doing sports or eating more vegetables.

Now, how many of you brush your teeth twice daily, do sports, and eat a lot of vegetables? That’s it. Same with SEO – this is why we see so few slim, healthy people and so many overweight people who could use a little exercise and personal hygiene.

All these are just different sides of SEO as they speak about the same thing but from different perspectives – the ones you are most likely to come across.

How SEO Works – a View from the Above

To understand this, we need to make a step back and pretend we are Google (or Bing, or Yahoo – from now on, we will be talking about Google mostly since it is the major search engine currently).

How SEO Works - a View from the Above

Before us there are millions of websites, which we don’t know much about but still want to rank them in a way that would most likely bring the better ones to the top and keep the worse ones at the bottom.

That is by no means a difficult task. To start approaching, we need to figure out the following:

  • What criteria/factors we should use to rank websites from the best to the worst
  • Which factors would matter more than the others (ranking the criteria)
  • What kind of information do we want to receive from websites in order to rank them properly

There is one more question usually left unanswered – how much information about our algorithm should we give away to the public in order to not compromise our advertising earnings? 🙂

Google and other search engines are quite secretive about how exactly their algorithms work, and it’s very well understandable. If someone finds out about it (even without telling anyone), he/she would get a major advantage in the form of loads of organic traffic.

This wouldn’t sit particularly well with Google, whose business is paid advertising to those who are in dire need of traffic. And if you already have plenty of free, organic traffic, why buy it from Google?

However, it’s not all conspiracies and shady transnational corporate deals – being a «good boy» from Google’s point of view means almost the same as being a good boy in real life. Most of the factors that Google algorithm takes into consideration are also the factors used by common Internet users to tell bad websites from the good ones.

3 Main Criteria Used by Search Engines to Rank Websites

3 Main Criteria Used by Search Engines to Rank Websites

These criteria are vaguely described by Google as:

  • Quality
  • Trust
  • Authority

Sounds like some qualities an honest man might have, huh? Yet, it’s all about websites. But how can you measure a website’s «quality»??? Good question.

That’s where all the secrecy starts to come in. At any given moment, depending on their current needs, Google might say that quality is «good content» or «the number of citations» or «the size of the images on the page».

Let’s study those three criteria in detail and see what the official Google agenda has to say about them.


Quality refers to the website content.

Ideally, it should provide something valuable, interesting and unique to visitors, which is fairly logical. If your content has been stolen (pardon, duplicated) from other websites, no high ranking for your website. Fair enough.

On the other hand, going creative and original with your content (texts, videos, and images) along with properly marked meta tags might win you a better spot under the sun.


Trust refers to the website reviews and inbound links.

Trust refers to the website reviews and inbound links.

How can you, a regular Internet user, help Google with the challenging task of deciding, which websites are better? By reviewing/rating this website. «Well, I don’t usually review the websites that I visit,» you might say. It turns out you do (without knowing so).

Let’s say, there’s a scam website out there

The average time spent on this website landing page is 1 second while the bounce rate (the metric showing how many people have exited (left) your website from the same page they entered it (from Google search) thus visiting no more than 1 page) is close to 100%.

These are clear signals for Google that this website is definitely not trustworthy and it should be downgraded (rightfully so).

Another important note to add is that «trust» (in the cold, lifeless eyes of Google) also refers to how often it is quoted (with a backlink) by other websites and how trustworthy they are.

Basically, it is almost the same as if someone were to ask your friends a question about how good of a person you are. If you are a social persona and have good friends (a lot of them), most will say «Yeah, that person is cool». Being a sociopath and having few friends will most likely results in the opposite answer.

This is why all these damn «social buttons» matter so much. They are a way for you to get the word out about your website and how good it is.


Authority refers to how popular you are among similar websites.

This is the last but not least of all the criteria. It comes into effect latest when your website has already been deemed «quality» and «trustworthy» enough, along with a few dozen (hundred, thousand, million) other ones under a given search query.

Authority refers to how popular you are among similar websites

How do you rank all these websites? The fact that your website and that of Nike are both offering sports shoes is the only thing you two have in common. You have a hundred visitors per week, two reviews, and a couple of backlinks. Nike, on the other hand, has a hundred visitors per second, millions of fans worldwide on all social networks and platforms imaginable sharing links, photos, etc.

You don’t need to be a wise guy to figure out who is going to get a higher ranking.

An important conclusion to be drawn out of this sad state of things is that there is absolutely no point in trying to compete for keywords and phrases like «how to make money», «find a hotel in [insert town name]», «pictures of kittens and sexy chicks» 🙂 , etc.

Your luck lies within niche, local keywords and phrases like «where to eat donuts in Green Valley» and «buy organic produce from local farmers in [insert area name]».

Other Important SEO Factors

Quality, trust, and authority are the main criteria used by Google to rank websites. Under these criteria there are a lot of factors, that directly influence your website search rankings.

These SEO factors include:

  • Website page load speed
  • Mobile friendliness
  • User experience
  • Keywords and search phrases
  • On-page and off-page SEO
  • Social media integration
  • Content
  • and more…

We will go through these factors in the upcoming articles.


Meanwhile, thanks for getting to the end of today’s «What Is SEO and How It Works: In a Nutshell» article!

The right thing to do would be share this article with your friends on the social networks – just click on one of the icons of social media, it’s that easy.

If you have further questions on the subject, please write them in comments – I’ll be glad to answer.

For more articles on SEO, be sure to check these ones first:

PPC Services for Small Businesses: What’s in the Box?

PPC Services for Small Businesses: What’s in the Box?

There’s more to PPC services than meets the eye - so many confusing options and possibilities that only this article…

On-page SEO Checklist: How to Build a Perfectly Optimized Website Page

On-page SEO Checklist: How to Build a Perfectly Optimized Website Page

On-page search engine optimization is a process of internal website optimization. Like any process, it has a few steps and…

What’s the Difference Between SEO and SEM? Detailed Explanation with Examples

What’s the Difference Between SEO and SEM? Detailed Explanation

Here in this article we’ve got everything you need to know about the difference between SEO and SEM, and how…

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (48 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)

Speak Your Mind


Let's Make Something Great