How does SEO work?

Search engine optimisation, or SEO for short, is anything you do to improve your website’s visibility on search engines.

Imagine you’ve got a website called that sells cat food. You might think that people would be able to find your site simply by going to Google and typing in ‘cat food’ - but if your web pages aren’t well optimised, they may not appear in the search results at all.

How do I get my website to show up in the Google search results?

Google and other search engines use bots, also known as spiders, to ‘crawl’ each page on a website. The spiders follow internal links (links that lead elsewhere on the same site) as well as external links to other sites, examining all the content in order to fully understand what each page is about and how they all fit together.

Once a page has been crawled, it is added to the search engine’s index - a massive database of web pages from all over the Internet. Every new page you create must be added to this index before it can appear in live search results. You can use Google Search Console to submit new URLs for indexing.

When you type a query into Google, it uses complex algorithms to search through its enormous index and show you what it considers to be the most relevant results for that query. SEO is all about ensuring that your content stands out as the best possible result for a particular query.

How does Google decide what comes up first?

Google’s job is to show its users the most relevant results. Nobody looking for information on cat food wants to know what sharks eat, for example. But just how ‘relevant’ does a piece of content have to be?

Behind the scenes, Google is constantly analysing the behaviour of its users to determine what they actually want out of their searches: their ‘search intent’. Broadly speaking, every search can be sorted into one of these four categories:

• Informational - The user is looking for information and isn’t yet ready to take action. Example query: ‘what do cats eat’.

• Commercial - The user is looking for information about the product to help guide their decision. Example query: ‘what is the best cat food.’

• Navigational - The user is looking for information on where to find what they want. Example query: ‘where can I buy cat food.’

• Transactional - The user is ready to make a purchase (or take some other action) right now. Example query: ‘cat food offers’

When you perform a Google search, the search algorithm isn’t just looking for pages that contain the words you’ve typed - it’s also considering the underlying search intent, and the results you see will be tailored to match that intent.

For example, a thoroughly-researched article on feline nutrition might show up in the search results for ‘what do cats eat’, but it’s unlikely to be one of the top results for ‘buy cat food’ as that query suggests a more transactional intent.

How do I get my website higher up on Google?

To get your site as high as possible in Google’s rankings, you’ve got to serve up high-quality content that fulfils the search intent expressed by the keyword you’re targeting.

Seems simple, doesn’t it? Your website sells cat food, so if the homepage is in Google’s index, it should appear in the search results for cat food.

But popular keywords like that tend to be extremely competitive, so you may have to do a bit of extra work to be in with a chance of showing up on page one.

There are many different types of content that can help with SEO, including…

• Information pages
• Product reviews
• Blog posts
• High-quality images

If that seems like a lot to process, don’t fret: we’ve put together a handy guide to the best kind of content for SEO.

One good content strategy is to keep an eye on the latest news in your field and write about any breaking stories. This will help you to stand out as an expert on the subject at hand, and these regular displays of authority will help your website to rise up the organic search results.

It's not just being an expert that helps, though. You also need to use keywords in your content. There will be different keywords for different topics, and there are various tools out there that can help you to find the best ones (i.e., the words and phrases that appear most often on other top-ranking sites). Check out our in-depth guide to choosing keywords for more help with this side of SEO. You may also want to check out our SEO glossary if you’re unsure what certain terms mean.

Of course, keywords are just one ingredient in the perfect SEO recipe. As well as including the right mixture of semantically-relevant words and phrases, your content should be…

• Easy to read
• Trustworthy, reliable and authoritative
• Unique
• As comprehensive as possible

Use your expertise to start answering some frequently-asked questions about cat food (or whatever your business actually sells) and your rankings will benefit from it, especially if you’re answering each question in an engaging way that people enjoy reading.

Search engine optimisation isn’t just about content, however. You can also improve your Google rankings with backlinks (sometimes called inbound links).

What this means is making sure other people’s websites link to your site. It helps if the external websites are authoritative in their own right and relevant to yours in some way - for example, a feline health expert might recommend a product that’s available on your cat food website.

When other sites link to yours, it increases your perceived authority within Google’s index, improving your chances of ranking highly in the search results.

SEO is a vital part of getting eyes on your website. If you need help optimising your website for the search engines, why not ask about our SEO services?

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READ MORE: Everything You Need to Know About On-Page SEO