How SEO Works

How SEO Works in Terms Everyone Can Understand

You may have heard how important SEO can be if you want your website and its content to reach page 1 of Google search results. But before you invest time and money, you’re probably wondering how SEO works, exactly.

In order to understand how SEO works, you first need to understand…

What is SEO?

The quick answer is that SEO (a.k.a. Search Engine Optimization or Search Optimization) is a set of techniques that are used to help search engines find, analyze, and categorize your website and its content.

SEO Basics in Terms Everyone Can Understand goes into more detail about exactly what SEO is.

Why SEO Matters to Google and Other Search Engines

Like any online business, Google and other search engines want to attract customers and make money. Search engines attract and retain customers by consistently providing the best information and answers in response to users’ search queries. And they make their money by selling advertising spots.

Search engine advertisements typically appear at or near the very top of a Search Engine Results Page (SERP) like this, so users will be more likely to click on the ads.

Screenshot of SERP Advertisement for Dog Food

In order to consistently provide the information their users request, search engines use sophisticated computer programs called “spiders,” “crawlers,” or “bots” to continuously scour the Internet for new content to analyze and categorize. And that’s quite a feat because there are more than 200 million active websites, many of which create new content every day, and as many as 1.9 million new websites being launched each day. (Source: InternetLiveStats, 2020)

In fact, that’s such a monumental task that it would be impossible without SEO.

Why SEO Should Matter to You

Your website was probably a significant investment for your business. With SEO, your website can become one of your greatest assets, providing a continuous stream of new leads and customers and helping you generate more revenue.

Yes, there are consumers who are actively searching for someone like you. If they don’t know you yet and can’t find you, they’ll go to someone else. When you don’t invest in SEO for your website, you’re giving away business to your competitors who have invested in SEO.

So now that you understand what SEO is and why it matters, let’s look at…

How SEO Works

Search engines want to provide users with the best information in response to their search queries. They also want their users to have a good experience on the websites that are accessed from the SERP.

To do that, the search engines identify a set of factors like keywords, page speed, time on page, number of pages visited, shares on social media, backlinks, etc. that help them determine what content users find relevant and useful, and which websites are popular and provide the best user experience.

Once this information is collected, the search engines use a complex set of rules (known as “algorithms”) to classify and rank websites and their content. Each search engine has its own proprietary set of factors it considers and rules about how each of those factors will affect a website’s ranking. Although we can’t be certain about how many factors there are, SEO experts have been able to test and identify over 200 factors used by Google for ranking websites and their content.

SEO techniques are used to help your website and its content conform with these rules so the search engines can find, analyze, classify, and rank your content. SEO also helps ensure that visitors to your website have a good experience, making it more likely that they will spend time on your website and return to it again when a need arises in the future.



Keywords are the words and phrases people use to search for information on the Internet. Keyword research is an SEO technique that helps ensure that:


  • You have the right content for your industry, niche, and target audience,
  • You’re providing the information consumers want, and
  • You’re answering the questions consumers are asking about your industry as well as the products and/or services you offer.


This helps your website to appear on as many Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) as possible. Appearing in more search results means more opportunities for customers to find and choose you.

For example, if you’re an auto mechanic:

You Will Definitely Want To Appear
When Someone Searches For

  • Auto mechanics
  • Automotive mechanics
  • Automobile mechanics
  • Mechanics
  • Auto mechanics near me
  • Mechanics near me

You May Also Want To Appear
When Someone Searches For

  • Fix a flat tire
  • Brake repair
  • Car maintenance
  • Engine repair
  • Transmission repair
  • Tune-up


Schema is a collection of instructions, written in computer code (like Javascript). It is another SEO technique that provides key information about a website page, in a format that search engines easily understand, so they can categorize and display it in the right search results.

Schema Example 1 for How SEO Works

Schema also helps search engines make your links more appealing to consumers when your website appears in search results. It can tell search engines to display a picture, ratings or reviews, related links on your website, and other relevant information, like you see in the examples below, that will make consumers want to click on your link when it appears in search results.

Schema Example 2 for How SEO Works

Link Checking

Another SEO technique checks to ensure that all the links on your website are functioning properly because, let’s face it, no one likes to click on a link that doesn’t work.


Unlike other methods you may use to attract customers, like marketing and advertising which stop being effective after a campaign is complete, SEO continues to be effective long after the work is done and initial results are achieved.

However, what makes SEO particularly challenging is that search engines continually revise and update their algorithms… sometimes creating new rules that never existed before… in response to the availability of new technology (like mobile devices and voice search) and in an effort to provide better, more useful information to their users.

Which leads to the question…

How Long Does It Take To See Results?

You’re not going to want to hear this, but the truth is that it depends on a number of factors like:

  • How much competition there is in your industry, niche, and/or geographic area
  • How often you create or update your website and its content
  • What other methods you use to drive traffic to your website
  • How much time users are spending on your website
  • How many high-quality, authoritative websites are sharing links to your content

On average, it takes most websites over 2 years to rank in Google’s Top 10 results and almost 3 years to rank #1 according to a study by Ahrefs, a leading SEO tool developer, who analyzed 2 million websites and 2 million random keywords. In fact, they found that, “only 5.7% of all newly published pages will get to Google’s Top 10 within a year” and less than 2% will make it to Google’s #1 spot within a year.

(Source: Ahrefs, 2019)

In spite of these statistics, you will likely show up in search results within 3 to 6 months… just not necessarily on Page 1. And, if you keep at it, you will see your rank improve over time.

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