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How SEO Really Works (In Simple Terms)

How SEO Really Works
Amanda Meade
How SEO Really Works

SEO isn’t as simple as stuffing a bunch of keywords into an article and expecting to rank on Google. There are multiple facets that all need to be approached individually to help rank.

SEO is like racing a car. You want to finish in first place to win. But with SEO, you have multiple parts of the vehicle that must be tended to in unison to win. Each part represents a facet of SEO:

  • Keyword research

  • Content

  • Link building

  • Technical SEO

  • Social media

Of course, just as with racing, there are certain rules you must abide by—you can’t just do whatever it takes to win and expect it to take home the trophy. This is where Google’s ranking algorithms come into play. It’s essentially the rulebook by which your car must abide. Keep in mind that no on can directly read or view Google's algorithms. All we can do is surmise what works based on what Google tells us which may or may not be true and what testing finds.

Google frowns upon strategies and tactics that serve to increase your performance without providing any real value to users. At the end of the day, they want to provide people searching the web with content that gives a user what they’re searching for. Gimmicks like keyword stuffing don't work these days. The algorithm will detect it and make sure you don't rank. And black hat SEO tactics give a short term rankings boost that will eventually lead to bad consequences once Google's algorithm catches you. Black hat SEO is like pouring the wrong fuel into your car. It might boost performance for a minute but will ultimately wreck everything.

With this in mind, let’s take a closer look at each part of the car that you're racing.

Keyword Research

ON-DEMAND WEBINAR: A 7-Step Roadmap to Successful Lead GenerationKeyword research is where it all begins. It’s the blueprint for how you’ll approach the rest of your SEO strategy. It’s essentially the art and science of finding search terms that real people are using and then coming up with a plan to fulfill the search intent behind the queries to those search terms that your brand can rank for.

In the simplest terms, a keyword is the exact term that you're targeting in a paid search or organic search campaign. Queries are what the user types in. As Search Engine Journal points out, marketers use keywords; users use queries.

Whether it’s a single word or a complete sentence, queries are the entirety of the phrase users enter on Google. The important thing to focus on with keyword research is the intent behind the search.

Understand search intent in keyword research can tell you if someone is searching for information on a product, instructions on how to do something, help with some kind of problem they have and more. Understanding this intent and creating solutions to these problems are the foundations of keyword research.

Doing good keyword research gives you the ability to figure out what users are searching for and determining how difficult it is to rank for those keywords. Without good keyword research, you’re driving in the dark.


The next car on your racing team is content. Content is your response to a particular keyword. As such, it needs to provide real solutions to real search queries. Without solutions, you aren’t providing value to the people searching the web, and as such, you won’t rank.

Content includes every type of media possible, spanning every kind of topic. It includes anything you consume, watch, read or listen to on the web, such as:

  • Blog posts

  • Infographics

  • Podcasts

  • Videos

Ideally, you want an approach that looks at the SERP for your keyword to see what forms of media the competition is using. A brand that offers various types of blog posts, videos and other kinds of media is going to perform better in the long run than someone who focuses only on one medium.

Link Building

Link building has to do with establishing authority  for your website, and it’s one of the most important cars in the race in terms of ranking. It requires an organic effort in building your brand and nurturing your audience to help amplify your content.

You can think of link building as growing your reputation and it should be organic/natural. If you have ten articles published in high-quality sites, but they all have the same anchor text, Google will know link-building is happening and lower rank. Anchor text needs to be varied.

In an ideal world, people naturally link to your site because of the value your content provides. More realistically, an outreach team tries to get content mentioned in other blogs or submits guest posts with a link back to the original blog.

3 Widespread Myths About On-Page SEO

Technical SEO

Technical SEO is, in simple terms, making your website readable by search engines. A search engine isn’t a human—it can’t read and understand your website and then reason as to whether it has a quality answer to a search query. But it can crawl your website and use very sophisticated algorithms to understand whether your content is answering questions that real people are asking.

However, to make this work optimally, you need to have a technical SEO strategy. This entails having the appropriate HTML tags, properly configured web hosting, and a fast-performing website so that search engines can process your website without any hiccups. In short, it’s optimizing the technical structure and performance of your website to make it readable by search engines.

Social Media

Social media plays a critical role in contributing to your SEO by increasing your brand’s exposure with the links you share across social media platforms. They influence SEO in four key ways:

  • Longer lifespan of your content

  • Increased content distribution

  • Increased brand recognition and reputation

  • Improved organic traffic

    Does Social Media Help SEO?

Note that the link between social media and organic traffic may be indirect. Correlations have been found, but that does not prove causality.

While correlational studies cannot show that social signals caused the rise in rankings, what social signals can do is increase the visibility of a blog on a social media platform. As social signals accumulate, more and more people will have the chance to click through to the web page.

According to Google, traffic itself is  not a ranking factor. However, backlinks from other websites are one of the most important ranking factors. This is important because there is only one way for your website to gain backlinks: a website owner or blogger must know the article exists (assuming you aren’t engaged in guest posting or other outreach link building methods).

Increasing traffic heightens the chances that one of these owners or bloggers will find your article and then create their own blog, which includes a backlink to you.

Another important measure with social media is the idea of brand advocates. When your business posts a link to quality content on social media and someone shares it, they become an advocate for your brand. Think of it as a PR person who’s hyping your company. And when one person becomes an advocate for your brand, their follows do the same, and the effect flows outward to an untold amount of people.

The Bottom Line

Once you start gaining momentum in one area, it will increase your rankings and start pushing traffic to your site. But it won’t serve you well to stop there—you need to perform well in all areas since they all depend on each other to receive long-lasting, sustainable rankings.

The bottom line is that lasting results to improve your rankings, traffic and, eventually, your conversions, require focused effort across multiple areas. Keyword research, content, link building, technical SEO and social media are all critical areas. Without all parts working together, you won't be taking home a trophy anytime soon.

But with a complete strategy that abides by Google’s rulebook and a car with every part working together in the race for every aspect of SEO, you can expect to finish first and start pushing quality traffic to your site that results in higher conversions. And that’s the best kind of trophy you can hope for.LeadG2 Inbound Marketing Strategy Checklist

About Author

Amanda Meade

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