How Does SEO Work? | Understanding Modern SEO & Content Marketing

How does SEO work?

Understanding SEO can be challenging. It’s complex and constantly evolving, making it hard to keep up with unless you’re working with it every day. However, SEO shouldn’t be written off as too complex and ignored. Some basic concepts of SEO are essential for everyone to understand. To illustrate the initial planning process at a high level, we use an SEO infographic. For a bit more detail, think of your website and content like writing a book, with search engines acting as libraries and bookstores.

SEO Part 1: Develop Great Content

To create effective content for any medium, it needs to be informative, original, and easily digestible. A book that’s dull, off-topic, or unnecessarily complex won’t attract readers. Similarly, digital content should be engaging and informative.

  • Utilize pillar content and topic cluster strategies in your content marketing. This approach involves creating core ‘pillar’ content and supporting it with related ‘cluster’ topics, providing in-depth information on specific areas. This not only boosts your site’s authority and visibility but also helps in better connecting with your audience.
  • Ensure content meets Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-E-A-T) best practices. This is vital in modern SEO, especially for Your Money Your Life (YMYL) content. Boost credibility by highlighting author expertise, referencing reliable sources, and ensuring accuracy. Strong E-E-A-T enhances your site’s search ranking and builds trust with users and search engines.
  • Perform trend and keyword research to make sure that the selected topic has potential and is properly optimized.
  • Format and style content so that it is easy to digest.
  • Monitor bounce rates and user behavior. Search engines watch for how long users stay on a website. If users frequently bounce, your SERP (Search Engine Results Page) rankings will decrease.

SEO Part 2: Optimize the Structure of the Content – Technical SEO, Tags, HTML, Accessibility, Mobile Responsiveness and Structured Data

Think of this stage as making your ‘book’ accessible and appealing to all readers. This includes creating a user-friendly structure, like a table of contents, and ensuring content is accessible and mobile-responsive.

  • Optimize website performance so that the content will load quickly. Review important metrics such as Core Web Vitals.
  • Ensure your site and content has a clear UX, structure and links so that it can be easily understood by users and search engines.
  • Optimize the behind the scenes elements like tags and HTML. Search engines review page structure to build out search results and determine the quality of content.
  • Make sure that content meets all accessibility requirements and that it is responsive to different device types. Search engines favor content that works well on all devices for all users. Additionally, it is never a good idea to alienate a portion of your audience.
  • Add in structured data or markup. Normal, human-digestible content is more like a second language to search engines. In some cases, search engines can gain more valuable insights from structured data.

SEO Part 3: Conversion Optimizations – Local SEO, Voice SEO, SGE and SERP Appearance

Now that the content is written and optimized, the book needs a good cover to maximize conversions. On a book, a cover needs to be eye-catching, match the content and match what people are searching for. The same applies to how a website appears in Search Engine Result Pages. A search result needs to follow the same guidelines

  • Develop quality titles and meta descriptions to stand out and help drive conversions from search engines.
  • Match content to different intents, like voice searches and local searches. Let the search engine and users know if your content is relevant to a user’s area. Keep your content conversational and be mindful of how it aligns with voice search usage.
  • Manage your Google Business Profile and other local citations to ensure they provide accurate information.
  • It’s crucial to understand and prepare for Search Generative Experience (SGE), a developing yet vital concept. Google views SGE as the next major revolution in search, where AI directly provides more answers instead of directing users to websites. With this shift, fewer searches, particularly those seeking information, will lead away from Google. Therefore, adapting to SGE’s evolving nature shouldn’t be ignored.

SEO Part 4: Publishing – Get Content Indexed by Search Engines and Promote Content

Now, an author could stop here, but their book would never be found. For a book to be successful, it needs wide distribution – the same applies to your website content. Promoting new content and a larger outbound marketing plan is critical to get content to your target audience and bring them back to your website.

  • Regularly update sitemaps and monitor content index status to ensure search engines can find and understand your content.
  • Create a strategic plan to maximize results when publishing and promoting content across digital channels. A small budget to boost traffic initially can have a big impact.

SEO Part 5: Reputation Management and Backlinks

One of the final parts of a successful SEO program involves recommendations and reviews. It is more likely that others will choose a resource with suggestions and positive reviews. The same follows for digital content with both users and search engines.

  • Monitor your digital reputation and reviews. Reviews help to drive conversions across websites and search engines. Ensuring that positive reviews are available can significantly impact traffic, conversion rates and SEO.
  • Acquire and curate backlinks from other reputable websites. Much like how we trust reviews and recommendations, search engines consider a backlink a recommendation. The number and quality of backlinks can significantly impact SERP rankings.

SEO Part 6: Keep Content Updated

At this point, the content has been out a while and done well. We could leave it alone, but traction will be lost over time as the content gets out of date. To prevent this from happening, new updated editions or versions should be released.

  • Review the content and make updates and repurpose content when appropriate. This can help to keep content relevant and recent. This helps both search engines and users.
  • Analyze competitors to ensure that you are still performing well in key areas.
  • Set up a website management and maintenance program to ensure optimal functionality, and most importantly, cultivate trust with your audiences.
  • Review and/or rebuild your website every 2–3 years to ensure that it is user-friendly, positioned favorably against competitors, meets business objectives, current with developing technology and meets SEO best practices.

Final Notes on SEO

Developing an effective SEO campaign requires planning and an efficient strategy to pull all the different parts together. The different parts can have an impact alone but deliver much stronger results when working together within a cohesive plan. It’s also essential to continuously adapt to the latest SEO trends and practices, ensuring your strategy remains relevant and effective.

This article was previously published on November 6, 2018, and updated on December 19, 2023.