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What is Search Engine Optimization? SEO & How It Works Explained

At OuterBox, we help many clients reach their full potential on the Internet with our digital marketing services that cover e-commerce, web design and SEO. While our eCommerce and web design services are fairly straightforward, some of our clients are new to SEO and often ask “How does SEO work?”

Well, we decided to put together a guide to show you what is SEO and how it works, as well as giving you insights as to why it’s so important for your long-term digital marketing strategy. SEO is the key to increasing online sales.

What is SEO?

Okay, so first things first: what is SEO? 

SEO is an acronym that stands for search engine optimization, which, in layman’s terms, means making your website easier to find at the top of relevant search results on search engines such as Google, Bing, Yahoo and much more. For example, if you own a bicycle shop in Atlanta, Georgia, SEO can help potential customers find your business when they search “bicycle shops in Atlanta.”

What is SEO

How Do You Do SEO for a Website?

If you’re new to SEO, you may be thinking that including the words (in the case of the bicycle shop example) “The Best Bicycle Shop in Atlanta” in the title of your homepage may greatly impact the SEO of your business’s website. Although that plays a role in helping your business be found, SEO is much more than just using that one phrase in your homepage. Does this sound confusing? Let’s look at this step-by-step guide to fully understand what SEO is and how it works:

On-Page SEO

When it comes to SEO, there are both technical and non-technical aspects to making a website fully optimized for search engines. So, how does SEO work with these two components? On-page SEO is handling the backend of a website, while off-page SEO is centered more around what you can’t control (we’ll explain). Learn more about on-page ranking factors from!

There are a few things that you can optimize on the website through on-page SEO to improve your website’s search ranking. This includes:

  • Enhancing your website’s meta title and meta description (these explain more about your website to search engines)
  • Utilizing internal links within your website (links that direct to other pages on your site)
  • Adding images with descriptive, keyword-rich alt-tags (think of these as captions that are simply relevant, searchable keywords for what the image is)
  • Enhancing any headers within your website’s content with keywords (i.e., “The Best Bicycle Shop in Atlanta”)

Off Page SEO

Off-page SEO is a little more complicated, however, because this type of search engine optimization depends on other people.

You do have some control over the first way to do off-page SEO, which is to build backlinks with other websites. This means linking to other websites and (this is where it depends on other people) having other websites link to you. You’ll need to build strong content that legitimate websites will want to link to, as well as solid relationships with businesses or authors of blogs for future collaboration.

The other two areas of off-page SEO rely on social media elements such as likes, shares and follows, and building trust with Google by having a legitimate website filled with fantastic content, plenty of backlinks and has little to no incorrect information (i.e., name, address, phone number, working links, etc.). also has a great resource on off- page SEO and related ranking factors you should definitely check out.

SEO domain comparison

Content Marketing

As the name suggests, content marketing is all about creating great, high-quality content for your website.

But, what qualifies as great content, and how does SEO work in conjunction with it?

Any blog article, social media content, videos, or infographics that you publish should exhibit two traits: engaging and relevant. The last thing you want is a website filled with content that nobody cares to see. However, you also don’t want that content to be vague, off-topic or completely irrelevant from what your business is truly about.

Make sure that any content you write is interesting enough for people to stick around and read or, even better, share or comment on. This will decrease your bounce-rate (percentage of people leaving immediately after viewing one page on your site) and bode well with Google’s algorithm. Likewise, by having a plethora of high-volume, relevant keywords or phrases in your content, you will make a great impression with Google, which will increase your page’s search ranking. Just don’t be spammy with the keywords. Google will penalize your website and decrease your ranking if you use too many keywords, especially in succession. For example, don’t say “Mountain Bikes, BMX Bikes, Bicycles, Carbon Bikes, Off-Road Bikes” all in one line of text. You’ll want to space this out and sprinkle it throughout various parts of your content.

One of the earliest forms of content marketing was John Deere’s publication of The Furrow, which shared tricks and tips and general farming advice from farmer to farmer. The Furrow lives on today and remains one of the best uses of content marketing out there!

Google Crawl

So, you’ve written excellent content and your on-page SEO is on point. Still, how does SEO work in regard to search engines like Google knowing about your efforts?

Google performs something called a “crawl” which basically means that they scan your website for everything mentioned above. If your website displays many noticeable errors such as broken links or content that looks like spam, they will dock you points towards your search ranking.

Fortunately, if your website does have some errors that you’ve been meaning to fix, you can always submit your website page for re-indexing (ask Google to crawl the page again) to ensure that everything is okay.

How Long Does it Take for SEO to Work and Why Does Your Marketing Strategy Need It?

The most important thing to know about optimizing your website with SEO is that it won’t instantly improve your website overnight. SEO can take some time to get results. Now you might be thinking “Is SEO worth it?”

Search engine optimization is more of a long-term approach and, if handled properly, it can gradually increase the amount of people viewing and visiting your website, and bring in more customers.

That’s why it’s crucial that you start implementing SEO into your digital marketing strategy if you haven’t already begun. In the grand scheme of a full, beneficial digital marketing strategy with a great ROI, search engine optimization plays a critical role. Here’s how:

As you begin adding optimized content to your website, the search ranking of the multiple pages within your site, including your homepage, will start to go up. This will slowly push your page closer to the top of Google search results in relevant searches and make it easier for customers to find you. When more of these customers find you, your sales will increase and you’ll begin building credibility and trust with more people, especially if some customers leave positive reviews of your business.

For another interesting piece on how long you should expect to start seeing SEO results, check out this great piece by Search Engine Journal.

After quite some time, your website has become more optimized and trustworthy, and Google’s algorithm will recognize that and potentially place your website at the top of search results. Is SEO worth it? Yes, SEO is absolutely worth investing in!

SEO Works!
Above, note the strong organic growth the OuterBox website has seen over the last several years!

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