What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

image for blog search engine optimization

The invention of the internet and its impact on the way the world works has been nothing less than revolutionary. Take Google as an example. Today, we have become so dependent on the most popular search engine for finding the information that we need, that people use its name as a synonym for the word “search.”

Google receives 63,000 search queries per second which translates to 5.6 Billion searches per day! Have you ever wondered how website links are prioritized on result pages when you search for anything on a search engine like Google?

Do you usually click the topmost links which appear on the first page of the search engine results? A lot of this makes a fundamental difference when it comes to businesses engaged in the selling of products and (or) services “online”.

Interestingly, 93% of all website traffic is majorly driven by search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo, etc. If we specifically talk about Google, 75% of people searching through web start their searches on Google, and the first five results on Google get 67% of all clicks.

The higher your website link shows up on the search engine result pages (SERPs), the better it is! But how does one achieve the topmost rankings for their website? Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the obvious answer.

SEO is a technique of optimizing one’s website to “rank” higher in the organic SERPs. It is the most effective method to generate organic (natural or free) traffic to your site.

The organic search results are those that appear directly below the top pay-per-click (PPC) adverts in Google, pre-fixed with Ad icon and are most viable for the long-term. Such as highlighted below:

Image showing the organic search result below the paid pay per click google adwords advertisement
An Organic Search Result below the Pay Per Click Advertisement
 SEO can improve visibility in various other search result sets as well, such as map listings, videos, the knowledge graph and more. 

The SEO industry is expected to reach $80 Billion by 2020 according to a report by Borrell Associates that produces advertising reports. The whopping number is for businesses in the U.S. alone.

 How does SEO Work?

Google (or any other search engine) score their search results based mainly upon relevancy and authority of pages it has crawled and included – every detail it crawled through- in its web index.  That index is fed through an algorithm that tries to match all that data with user query to provide the best answer.

Google uses a cluster of ranking factors in its algorithm to score their search results and uses a hyperlink based algorithm, PageRank, to calculate the popularity and authority of a page. This is still a fundamental factor in ranking even though Google is far more sophisticated today. In fact, Google keeps updating its algorithm as the behavior of people changes.

SEO further encompasses technical and creative activities to influence and improve some of those known ranking factors. SEO also includes actions to help improve the number and quality of “inbound links” to a website, from other sites.

Relevant and renowned websites linking to a site is a strong signal to Google that it might be of interest to its users. This also signifies that the website having backlinks is ‘authoritative’ and can be trusted to appear in the search results for relevant queries.

Activities involved in SEO?

SEO activities are often grouped into “Onsite SEO” and “Offsite SEO.” These two categories split practices that can be performed on a website, and away from a site.

Onsite SEO

Onsite SEO, also known as On-Page SEO, refers to technical activities to improve organic visibility within the website. This broadly means optimizing the site and content itself to improve the relevancy, accessibility, and experience for users. Some of the typical activities (though not the complete list) include –

  • Keyword Research– Understanding the user’s intent and their expectations from their search. Analyzing the kind of words and frequency used by prospective customers to find brands, services or products.
  • Technical Aspects– Ensuring the website can be crawled and indexed and is free from errors or user experience barriers.
  • On-Page Optimization– Improving the website structure, internal navigation, on-page alignment, and content relevancy to target relevant search phrases.
  • Content Optimization– Ensuring amazing content with compelling data that establishes subject expertise, authority and trust, and ultimately provides an excellent user experience.

Offsite SEO

Offsite SEO, also known as Off-Page SEO, refers to creative activities carried outside of a website to improve organic visibility. This aims to increase the number of reputable links from other domains hence often mentioned as ‘link building,’ as search engines use them as scoring for trustworthiness.

Quality links from websites and pages with more trust, popularity, and relevancy pass more value to another domain than an unknown poor webpage that isn’t trusted by search engines.

Some of the typical activities include –

  • Digital PR– Strong PR provides reasons for other websites to talk and link to your domain. This might be internal news flow, writing for external publications, original research, expert interviews, quotes and much more.
  • Outreach & Promotion– This involves communicating with key journalists, influencers, bloggers or webmasters about a brand, resource, or content to gain coverage and ultimately earn links to a website.

The more quality, relevant sites that link to your website, the higher your position in search engine results will be. If the site won’t send any visitors, or the audience is entirely irrelevant and unrelated, then it might not really be a link that’s worth pursuing.

Before we conclude, let’s quickly look at different approaches for SEO- black hat and white hat.

White-Hat SEO, Black-Hat SEO, and Gray-Hat SEO

There are two major approaches to SEO – White-Hat SEO (the ‘good’ kind), and Black-Hat SEO (the ‘shady’ kind). There are of course differing opinions about the nature of each of these SEO approaches.

 It’s important to remember link schemes such as buying links, exchanging links excessively, or low-quality articles that aim to manipulate rankings- falls into the category of Black-Hat SEO. These are against Google’s guidelines, and strict action can be taken by penalizing a website.

The best and most sustainable approach is White-Hat SEO. Best way to improve the inbound links to your website is earning them rather than buying them. This can be achieved by providing genuine and compelling reasons for sites to cite and link to your brand for who you are, the service or product you offer or the content you create.

There is another SEO practice called Gray-hat SEO, which is riskier than White-Hat SEO, but may or may not result in your site being banned from the search engine(s). This may involve tactics which are ill-defined and could improve your site’s ranking without negative consequences.

But it’s not wise to get on Google’s wrong side, and if you aren’t sure whether a given method is in violation of Google’s guidelines or not, it’s best to avoid that tactic.


Investing in SEO can return an exceptional ROI compared to other types of marketing and promotion. However, it takes three to six months of ongoing effort for results to come through and requires continuous analytics monitoring.

SEO activities require expertise to carry them though they can also be learned. The other option is to hire professional SEO experts (like Netilly) to help you out.

If you’d like to discuss how SEO can help your business or brand, then please drop us an email or leave your contact details and we will be happy to schedule a free consultation with one of our SEO Specialists.

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5 thoughts on “What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?”

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