What Is SEO and How Does SEO Work?

Hello there! How did you end up here? You must have been searching for how search engine optimization (SEO) works or something closely related. Whether you used Google, Bing, Yahoo, or any other means to land here on this page, we’re glad you’re here to learn how SEO works.

We’re also very excited to point out the irony in your search query and the results you were delivered! You surely didn’t come across this page by chance.

The search engine you used didn’t randomly pick this page out of the sky and send you here hoping it would answer how SEO optimization works. In fact, it used a very complex algorithm to determine which of the more than 21 million pages it has indexed on the subject of SEO would be most appropriate to present to you in hopes of best answering your question.

Search engines know that by consistently delivering you high quality, relevant results for search queries, they’ll begin gaining your trust and hopefully become the only search engine you ever need. If you want to learn more about how SEO works, keep reading, and give us a call at 888-601-5359.


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What is SEO and how does SEO work?

Let’s get the formalities out of the way (and answer your question).

SEO stands for search engine optimization, which is a digital marketing strategy that focuses on your website’s presence in search results on search engines like Google. When you understand how SEO works, you can use different tactics to increase your visibility (or how high you rank) in search results.

What are the types of search engine optimization?

You can categorize SEO tactics into two buckets:

  • On-page SEO: All on-page SEO strategies happen on your website.
  • Off-page SEO: All off-page SEO strategies happen off your website.

Both on-page and off-page SEO aim to make your site more friendly, as well as trustworthy, to users and search engines. When search engine crawlers see how friendly your website is to them and users, it increases the chances that your site will rank well for different searches.

How SEO works: A quick example

When it comes to learning how SEO works, it’s often helpful to have an example. So, say you have two websites: Website A and Website B.

Website A isn’t responsive, which means users on tablets or smartphones will have a tough time navigating and using the site. Website B, however, is responsive, which means a better user experience for tablet, smartphone, and desktop users.

How does SEO work graphic

For search engines, it’s an easy decision which website is more friendly: Website A.

Of course, how search engines work is a bit more complicated than that. Today, search engines use more than 200 different factors to generate search results, which means a lot of different elements influence your placement in search results.

Why do search engines care about SEO?

Why on earth does a search engine care if you use them or another search engine? After all, you’re not paying them? That’s right, you aren’t paying them…but someone else is! So the answer to this question is that they care because they make their money from advertising.

The page you are delivered to after you enter a search query is called the search engine results page (aka SERP). The SERP presents you with what are called “organic results” as well as “pay-per-click ads” (or PPC). The organic results are those that are influenced by SEO, while the PPC ads are paid for.

You cannot pay Google or any search engine to occupy any position in the organic results.

However, the ads on the page are how they make their money. So, the better the results they deliver you, the more likely you and others are use that search engine again. The more people using the search engine, the more ads they can show and the more money they can make. Make sense?

Why care about how SEO works?

Why you should care how SEO works

The Internet has really put the world at our fingertips. We are usually not more than a few clicks away from almost any information we could be looking for. When people are looking for information, services, products, and so on, they go online.

Try to remember the moment you thought, “I should really look up how search engine optimization works.”

You knew exactly what to do: You got on the Internet and you searched for “how SEO works.”

What did you do then?

Odds are you clicked on one of the first few results, at least initially. If you didn’t find a site that met your expectations, you probably clicked the back button and scrolled down the page until you found what you were looking for.

If your site isn’t properly optimized, it’s safe to assume you’re only coming up on the first page for your branded search queries — although depending on the name of your business, that might not even be the case.

That means people who don’t know you exist but are looking for someone like you will never find you, and you’ll never even have a chance to tell them why you’re better than the competition.

That’s right: Without SEO, you’re giving leads away.

The good news is you’re making it really easy on your competitors who are doing SEO. Odds are, they are loving you for not putting up a fight.

So, who cares how search engines deliver results? You definitely should!

A technical explanation of how SEO works

So now you know why search engines work so hard to provide you with great results and why you should care, we can talk about how SEO works in a little more detail.

Search engines have spiders — not the creepy kind, but the automated robot kind.

These spiders collect all kinds of information about your website and the pages that make up your site. This allows them to easily determine when to serve a searcher a page on your site. They collect things like page speedtitle tagssocial signalsinternal linkingbacklinks, and so on.

With over 200 ranking factors used by Google in their algorithm, there are a lot of things to consider, and actions that can be taken to try to optimize a website. There are both on-page and off-page ranking factors that determine how well your site is optimized, and therefore how well it ranks.

Google Search Console algorithm explanation graphic

The on-page factors are exactly what they sound like: Things that are actually on the page. This includes title tags, content, site speed, page URLs, image alt tags, internal linking, and more. Off-page factors, meanwhile, are almost entirely based on links to your site from other sites.

It’s important to keep in mind that these bots are automated computer programs and not actual humans.

As you might imagine, that means they have some limitations.

They can’t access a website like you or I would because they don’t actually see the website: they crawl the code of the website. This means they can’t see images or videos, nor are they impressed by flashy designs or audio clips.

In fact, they can’t even comprehend content like we do!

How to make SEO work for your business

Congrats! You now know how SEO works. How can you make SEO marketing work for your business, though? And by work for you, we mean help your company increase its rankings and traffic, plus its online revenue.

Well, you can start with these resources, which we’ve organized by SEO element. Check them out!

Keyword research

SEO Keyword Research Guide

Best SEO Keyword Research Tools

How to Do Keyword Research

What Are the Best Keywords for SEO?

What Is Keyword Density in SEO?

[Tool] KeywordsFX: Free Keyword Suggestion Tool


What Is SEO Content?

How to Write Valuable SEO Content

Types of Content for SEO

SEO Content Strategy Tips

SEO Content Checklist

Header tags

How to Use Meta Tags for SEO [Guide]

What Are Header Tags?

What Is a Title Tag?

How to Write a Title Tag

What Is a Meta Description?

How to Write a Meta Description?

Web design and development

Web Design and SEO: 7+ Factors to Optimize

SEO Website Design: Everything You Need to Know

How to Optimize for Mobile-Friendly SEO

How to Create an SEO-Friendly Website Structure

Breadcrumbs and SEO: What You Need to Know

Structured data

Everything to Know About Structured Data for SEO

How to Improve SEO With Structured Data

What Is Schema Markup?

How to Use Schema Markup for Your SEO Strategy

Page speed

What Is Page Speed?

Site Speed Checklist

Page Speed SEO Checker

What Are Google Core Web Vitals?

What Is Page Experience and How Does It Work?

Crawling and indexing

Web Crawler 101

What Is Robots.txt?

What Is Crawlability and Indexability for SEO?

How to Submit Your Site to Google

How Search Engines Work [Guide]

Link building

What Is Link Building?

How to Build Your First Link

Best Link Building Strategies

Link Building Quality vs. Quantity

Must-Have Link Building Tools

What Is a Good Domain Authority?

How to Check Domain Authority

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Need help with your SEO, marketing manager? Check out our SEO Guide for Marketing Managers to start driving more site traffic, leads, and revenue!


You know how SEO works — now make it work for you!

Optimizing your website for search engines isn’t an insurmountable task by any means. If you’re a little less technically inclined, you might find it to be challenging, but you can always reach out to a web strategist for help.

WebFX is an SEO agency that has many years of experience optimizing client websites to make them more attractive to search engines. Whether you’re brand new to SEO or want to take your optimization to the next level, we’re eager and willing to help you out!

Get in touch with an SEO expert at WebFX today to discuss how we can optimize your website with a custom SEO plan. We can’t wait to hear from you!