What is SEO? (& How it Works?)

What is SEO?

Firstly, SEO stands for "search engine optimization". It's the concept of understanding how search engines work (and in particular how they rank content in their search results) and how to then optimize your content to perform better in search results leading to more traffic from search queries.

Another way of putting it is that it comes down to knowing what people are searching for online, which of those questions or queries you can potentially answer well with your content, making sure Google (& other search engines) can find and understand it, and then figuring out how you can fulfill that users specific intention (and better than someone else might).

Really quick, this is not to be confused with SEM or "search engine marketing" which is the process of using those queries to serve relevant paid advertisements to the users searching (that's another course). Bottom line: SEM is when you pay for advertising on a search engine result page and SEO is when you organically show up in the search results (see: without paying anything for it).

How SEO Works?

To understand SEO, we need a little background on how search engines function.

Search engines (Google being the most popular by a huge margin across the world which is why you'll hear it referenced the most) essentially scour the web's content in a process called crawling.

They send out robots (often referred to as crawlers or spiders) to find content--whether that's a blog post, YouTube video, image, PDF, anything that is publically available digitally on the internet really.

Googlebot (the name occasionally given to Google's robot) will crawl a few pages and then follow the links on those pages to find new pages to crawl and find links on those pages to crawl and find new pages and so on and so forth. And it does this a lot of times across the internet over and over even updating what it finds new pages or that things on existing pages or links between pages have changed.

It then uses this database of URLs (website addresses) and stores information that it finds (and also think is of a certain level of quality--will get to that later) in its search engine index.

They then use a series of algorithms to decide which of these pieces of content will best serve users depending on what they typed into the search box (the words you type in we call keywords or keyword phrases).

Now, if you've ever searched for something on say Google or YouTube (which is the second largest search engine itself behind Google) and ended up clicking on a result to answer your query (and statistically speaking you, like everyone, does this a lot), you've taken part in the concept. The results you received and in what order they were in on the SERP or search engine results page, is based on the search engine's algorithm deciding which of those results best answer the keywords that you just asked.

Next Up

Now, that we get the basic gist of what SEO is, let's talk about why it matters tremendously to you as a producer of content online, and then let's dive further into how they decide what content to show for those queries and in what order, so we can optimize our content to rank as high in those results as possible in order to receive the most traffic from them.