What is SEO?

by | Oct 7, 2019 | 0 comments

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is an umbrella term for a number of techniques to improve the rankings of a website in the organic search results of a search engine – such as Google. The main objective of SEO is to increase the amount of relevant visitor traffic to a target website. Google is predominately the target search engine for these activities as it accounts for approximately 75% of the market share for searches (Sep 2019). Bing, the second most popular search engine has just under 10% market share. This is why most SEO efforts are focussed towards optimising a website for Google.

Why Is Page One Of Google So Important?

A question many people ask is – How do I get my website on the first page of Google? Whilst intuitively you would want to be on the first page, there are very strong statistical reasons as to why this is critically important for organic search. Research has consistently shown that websites on page one of Google receive almost 95% of all clicks (for the given search term). Research has also shown that the higher up a search term is on page one, the higher the click-through rate (CTR). In practical terms, this means that although all top ten ranked keywords will receive the same number of search impressions, the top-ranked result will get a disproportionate amount of the clicks, often as much as 35%. It’s probably likely that in the majority of cases, the top 2 ranked keywords will get at least 50% of all the clicks for any given search. click through rate chart for top 20 ranked pages

Google Search Results – Page Layout

The layout of Googles search engine results page has changed quite a lot in recent years and includes quite a lot of different results as they adjust and improve their search algorithms. In many cases, Google Ads will appear at the very top of the page (see below). This is then quite often followed by a “Featured Snippet” and then a “People also ask” section related to that search. Then, after that, what’s called the Organic Search Results. Below is a screenshot of a typical page layout followed by a more detailed description of the various highlighted sections. Google search results screenshot There are also various other listings that can appear in the Google search results, such as map listings, videos, the knowledge graph and more. SEO can include improving visibility in these result as well.

Top of page (max 4 results) and bottom of the page (max 3 results) – Outlined in red Google Ads is Google’s online advertising programme. Google Ads is a product that allows people to create adverts for their products and services and have them displayed to Google users when they search for related search terms. This allows you to promote your business and sell your products and services through paid ads.

Featured Snippets

Outlined in blue Featured snippets are highlighted search results displayed in reverse order. So the description comes before the link to the page. The idea is that the featured snippet is determined by Google’s search algorithm to be the best answer to the search query. Google then highlight the search result as a featured snipped above the organise search results (and after the paid ads). A featured snippet is sometimes referred to as a position zero result for organic search.

People Also Ask

Outlined in light green Sometimes also referred to as PAA results. These are results related to your search that Google has determined may be useful to the person conducting the search. This can help improve the search experience using Google. From an SEO perspective, this information can be useful in building content that will be topically relevant to the target search term.

Organic Search Results

There are ten separate organic search results per page – Outlined in orange The organic search results are sometimes known as the free results and are the most well known and understood search engine results. These are the results that Google consider to be the best result for any particular search query. It should go without saying that ranking well for organic search terms is very important for a website.

How Does SEO Work?

Google uses an algorithm called PageRank to rank webpages. The ‘Page’ part of PageRank is actually named after Larry Page, one of the founders of Google (fun fact!). Without getting too technical, the algorithm is being constantly updated to provide users with the best most relevant result for their search query. How Google determine when a result is the best and most relevant for any given search term is extremely complex. However, when you look at Google search results you will quickly see that they are very good at this. This is one of the reasons that page one of Google will generally give a person everything they need and why most searches start and finish on page one of a Google search. Whilst Google does not give away how their algorithm actually works, they are clear about what signals or factors are important when ranking a web page. Google state that there are over 200 individual ranking factors making up their algorithm. All of them are intended to ensure web pages that meet their goal of serving their users with the best result for a search query are ranked highest. This means that before we dive into any specific details, you should always keep this in mind.

Google’s Ranking Factors

Google’s ranking factors could broadly be broken down into the following categories;

  • Domain name
  • On-page content
  • Sitewide factors
  • Backlinks
  • User Interaction / Site Usability
  • Special Google Algorithm Rules
  • Brand factors
  • On-Site sand Off-site spam factors

Domain name

Various domain name factors that Google would take into consideration are things such as the age of the domain name, the words that are in the domain name and length of domain registration. The history of the domain would also be a factor as Google will have built up a history of a domain for the entire period of time it’s been crawled by their bot.

On-Page Content

Factors such as the keyword being in the page title and meta description are ranking factors. Content length and relevance, keywords in heading tags and keyword frequency are the most obvious page attributes here. Other important factors would be page loading speed, outbound links, originality and quality of content.

Sitewide Factors

Domain trust or authority is a key factor in how a search engine will rank a website. This has to be earned over time so there are no shortcuts to building trust or authority. Other sitewide factors would be your NAP information (Name, Address and Postcode) – does this match your other citations online? Site architecture is also important, is your site properly silo’d to organise information and content that makes it easy to navigate and understand. The site map, SSL certificate (https), privacy policy and your site being mobile-friendly are other key factors.


A backlink is a link to your site from another website. These can ‘flow’ trust or authority to your website. Backlinks should be acquired organically and to do so requires having good content for people to share and link to.

User Interaction / Site Usability

Google knows how users interact with a website from the data it collects. So, for example, if a user clicks on a search result for your website and they take a quick look and then immediately hit the back button – Google knows they didn’t give the user the result they were looking for. Conversely, if they click on the result and spend a long time on the page and don’t click the back button, this will send positive signals to Google. It’s worth noting that some pages will have a naturally have a high bounce rate – a contact page is a great example.

Special Google Algorithm Rules

Search results can sometimes be ‘customised‘ for an individual user based on their search history. Results can also be ‘localised‘ if Google thinks that a local search result will be more appropriate than a national one. For example, if you just searched for a plumber in Google, you would get results that are based near your physical location. You would also likely get results from Google My Business in what’s called the ‘map pack’. Other search features such as ‘featured snippets’ or ‘people also ask’ results will be given if Google thinks these would be useful. These are covered briefly above.

Brand Factors

Brand names and brand searches are also factors that will be considered in the search engine results. At a top-level, searches that result in a click through to a website are either branded or unbranded search terms. For example, if you searched for a brand name, you already know the brand of the product you are looking for. This would allow Google to ‘narrow’ its search. If you searched for a product or service without any sort of brand or company name, your results would be more generic. Social media is also a consideration as these accounts are usually brand oriented and will provide search engines with intelligence on brand perception which they will factor into their results.

On-Site and Off-Site Spam Factors

Links to bad or spammy sites, sneaky redirects, too many pop up ads, poorly written or spammy content and keyword stuffing are among the hit list of things Google and other search engines will frown upon. Malicious content from a website hack is clearly an issue as are paid for backlinks from sites that Google identifies as suspect.

Summary of Ranking Factors

As you will have now gathered, SEO involves a multitude of factors. Making sure a website is user-friendly, good technically, has quality content and with a good user experience is critical. Content should be written naturally and have authority and value. If your content is good, people will link to it and also share it which will help build a positive history and improve rankings. Paying attention to technical soundness is clearly important too. Whilst many ranking factors are technical, common sense and putting yourself in the shoes of your visitors goes a long way.

EAT – Expertise, Authority and Trust

Google’s 167 page search quality rating guidelines document gives lots of detail and examples of what they consider high or low quality content and websites. These guidelines also highlight the emphasis on the importance of expertise, authority and trust (EAT).

How To SEO a Website

As we have outlined above, SEO has both technical and creative attributes. These are often categorised further into ‘Onsite SEO’ and ‘Offsite SEO’. This terminology is not necessarily that helpful because they are inherently linked. Also, one aspect you have direct control over and the other much more limited control over – for example, you cannot control who gives you a backlink. You can however control the quality of your content and then how well you promote and share it.

Expertise Required for SEO

It will be clear by this point that many of these activities require specialist skills and expertise. That being said, like anything, these skills can be learned. It’s also fair to say that not every aspect needs to be tackled in great detail to get results. There are many online resources and tools that are free and if used properly will get results. The other option is to hire a specialist SEO Consultant or Digital (SEO) Agency who have both the skills required and access to the often expensive tools required to get the best results. As with anything, the extent to which you wish to pursue SEO for a website depends on many factors. Time, budget, goals to name a few.

Onsite SEO – Overview

On-site or on-page SEO refers to any activities that take place on the website itself. These would fall into the category of technical as well as website content. Page titles and meta descriptions are key examples of on-page content. Some of the principle practices that make up onsite SEO would be;

Keyword Research

This is about establishing clarity regarding the keywords that you use on a website that will result in search traffic. Knowing the search terms that people use and then making sure that these are used naturally on the website to attract visitors. ‘Natural’ is the key here, keyword stuffing is definitely out and should not be considered as Google and all other search engines will spot this and penalise the site. Also, don’t ever assume that you know the keywords your visitors will use, you probably don’t – always carry out research.

Competitor Research

It’s very important during the research phase to understand your competitors. Both who they are (as you might not actually know) and what they are ranking for and receiving traffic. This will give you insight into market sizing and search volumes. It will also give you ideas for topics to cover in your content.

Technical Auditing

Making sure a website works properly sounds obvious but many people don’t do it. Technical auditing checks for site integrity, identifies problems as well as missing content. Issues such as missing page titles right through to slow pages and broken links will be picked up by a technical site audit. Any issues that are critical should be fixed immediately and any lower priority issues scheduled for fixing when time and or budget allows.

Onsite Optimisation

Improving the website structure, navigation, and relevancy. Using the data collected from the other phases above will guide this part of the process. Taking your research and applying the insight to improving and fixing the website.

User Experience

Another often overlooked aspect of SEO is analysing the user experience. Many website owners spend no time doing this. Analysing the user experience is critical for identifying major errors or problems that might not get picked up elsewhere. Spend time using a website as a regular visitor would. Then identify and fix any issues. This list is only a very high-level view of what’s involved in SEO at an expert level but is intended to give an overview of the key activities involved in on-page or on-site SEO.

Offsite SEO – Overview

Offsite SEO relates to activities that are not carried out directly on a website but outside of one. This term is largely interchangeable with the term link-building but could be argued to include the general promotion of a website via other external sources too. Essentially, links back to your website from other websites can be beneficial to its rankings. This is largely tied to the authority of the website providing the backlink. This basically comes down to trust and authority. Backlinks from a website with high trust and authority with Google can boost the ranking of a website receiving the backlink because Google put weight on this signal. In order to obtain backlinks (tip: never buy backlinks – ever!), you can undertake the following activities;

Content Marketing

High authority, high-quality websites link to valuable content. So, the creation of high quality, authoritative content is the first step to receiving high-quality backlinks. This is the best most natural way to signal to Google and other search engines that your content is worthy of higher rankings.

Digital PR

PR provides reasons for other websites to talk and link to a website. This might be press releases for your products and services. Article writing, guest posting or contributing to industry forums or research.

Outreach & Promotion

This ties in with the two points above and is the active marketing and promotion of your content. This can be direct via email or more commonly via other social media platforms and industry groups or bodies. There are other examples of activities that can result in a link back to a website but they all essentially come down to the quality of the content on your website. Backlinks have become a commodity that involves time and effort both from a receiving and giving perspective. This is where building networks and making a contribution in terms of your time and skills can be valuable. It’s also worth remembering that there should be topical relevance to any sites giving a backlink. Google is very smart and will be able to assign relevance to a backlink. So random backlinks that come from sites with no relevance to your own have significantly less value. Just to reiterate, never participate in link schemes, buying backlinks or do anything that is in any way fake. At best you will receive no benefit, at worst you will get a penalty from Google from which it can be difficult to recover. Just spend time on creating great content and you will, over time, grow high-quality backlinks organically. This is what Google expects to see so anything unnatural will get you noticed, but not in a good way.

Resources To Learn SEO

There are lots of useful resources on the web to help learn more about SEO. Some of the key resources I’d recommend are;

  1. SEO Starter Guide – Google
  2. Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines – PDF from Google
  3. Selection of How-To Articles – SEMrush
  4. SEO Spider Tool –  Screaming Frog

Need Help With Your SEO?

Mountain SEO is an SEO consultancy that runs remarkably successful SEO campaigns. We specialise in getting to know businesses and their objectives before embarking upon a campaign. Everything we do is bespoke in order to deliver the best results. There is no hard sell with anything that we do and we are 100% focused on SEO and nothing else. If you want a free no-obligation chat, then just get in touch via phone or our contact form.

Like with almost everything SEO related, the devil is in the detail.