What is SEO?


Reshaping the internet with Search Engine Optimisation

The internet is one of the last wild frontiers. It’s not wild because of the content – it’s wild because of its sheer size. The Digital 2023 report shows there are now more than 1.13 billion websites in the world. If that’s the case, how does anyone find anything amongst the noise? The answer is search engines. Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines make it possible to find anything you want on the internet. They do this by cataloguing millions of websites in their databases. When you go to Google and type in a search query, supercomputers instantaneously search these databases, providing a list of results that contain the info you’re searching for. That sounds great, but how does Google know what you’re looking for? How does it know whether one website is better than another? The answer is long, and it involves highly complex algorithms. The short version is that Google has learned how to interpret the subject matter, quality and value of every web page in its database. With that in mind, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the art of optimising websites to make them appear higher in the list of search results. In this article, we’ll find out what SEO is, how it works and why it’s important for businesses in the digital age.

Written By: Jessica Gordon 
Published: November 30, 2023

minute Read

Reshaping the internet with Search Engine Optimisation

The internet is one of the last wild frontiers. It’s not wild because of the content – it’s wild because of its sheer size. The Digital 2023 report shows there are now more than 1.13 billion websites in the world. If that’s the case, how does anyone find anything amongst the noise? The answer is search engines. Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines make it possible to find anything you want on the internet. They do this by cataloguing millions of websites in their databases. When you go to Google and type in a search query, supercomputers instantaneously search these databases, providing a list of results that contain the info you’re searching for. That sounds great, but how does Google know what you’re looking for? How does it know whether one website is better than another? The answer is long, and it involves highly complex algorithms. The short version is that Google has learned how to interpret the subject matter, quality and value of every web page in its database. With that in mind, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the art of optimising websites to make them appear higher in the list of search results. In this article, we’ll find out what SEO is, how it works and why it’s important for businesses in the digital age.

Key Takeaways

  • Search Engine Optimisation is the process of improving websites to increase their visibility in Google’s organic search results
  • SEO works by making strategic tweaks that help search engines understand your website better
  • SEO is important because it generates organic traffic that can support your business in the long term
  • Achieving higher search rankings makes your business more competitive, builds trust with customers and can help you achieve your goals
  • SEO strategies consist of making on-page optimisations, link building and writing content
  • This process can take 6-12 months to make an impact, but it’s the best way to ensure long-term success

What is SEO?

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is a technique used to optimise websites and increase their visibility on search engines like Google and Bing. This helps to attract more visitors to your website, which can increase sales, phone calls, emails and other conversions.

The ultimate goal of SEO is to increase the amount of organic traffic to your website. When handled correctly, SEO is the best way to support your business’ long-term marketing and growth goals.

How does SEO work?

SEO works by reverse-engineering the principles that search engines use to rank content. 

To understand that better, we need to discuss how search engines operate.

Let’s go back to basics. Search engines make money by providing answers to user search queries. The more accurate search engines get, the higher the chance the customer will use that search engine again

We know Google’s aim is to serve up relevant search results. To do that, Google maintains a database containing information about millions of websites from all over the world.

This database is generated by AI robots called “crawlers.” Crawler robots trawl through the internet, following links from one page to the next. When they land on a new page, the crawler looks at the HTML to understand the content of the page and how it’s relevant to someone who’s performing a search. These results are recorded in Google’s database to be retrieved at a later date.

When a user performs a search, Google’s supercomputers use those words and phrases to search through its database, and it returns the best results it can find. The user then has the option to click on these websites and find the information, products or services they’re looking for.

With SEO, the aim is to ensure your website shows up in these search results. If you don’t show up, there’s no chance a potential customer will visit your website, which means you’ll never be able to capture that sale.

An illustration of how the Google search engine works

This is a simplified explanation – you can read more about how search engines work in our full article.

Why is SEO important?

SEO is important because it helps your website show up higher in the organic search rankings. The higher you show up, the more website users you’ll attract, which can have a big impact on your profitability.

There’s two big things to consider here:

  • 68% of online experiences start with a search engine. Search engines are the most effective way to drive users to your website. If your website doesn’t show up in search engines, you are missing out on a huge amount of potential customers.
  • 53% of website traffic comes from organic search, and just 15% from paid search. While paid search marketing provides an excellent Return on Investment (ROI), it’s less effective than SEO when it comes to generating website traffic.

The sheer number of people who use search engines to find the products, services and information they’re looking for means SEO can seriously impact your bottom line.

The best part is that SEO is sustainable. It’s so reliable that SEO is the foundation of many broader marketing strategies. It sets the tone for paid campaigns, directs your content strategy and supports your other marketing channels.

These things add up to make SEO one of the most effective marketing tools at your disposal!

An overview of common SEO techniques

There is no single way to perform Search Engine Optimisation. Rather, SEO involves dozens of techniques that make incremental improvements to a website.

Each SEO agency uses its own strategies and techniques. These can be broken down into three major categories: technical SEO, content optimisation, and link building.

Technical SEO

The technical elements of a website have a big impact on SEO. This includes things like:

  • Site architecture. The “architecture” of your site refers to how easy it is for search engines to crawl and index the pages. Site architecture can be optimised by tweaking URL structure, page hierarchy, internal links, navigation and other factors.
  • User experience (UX). Google wants to provide its customers with the most relevant search results. If a user clicks on a website with a bad UX, they’re likely to leave quickly without finding the information they’re searching for.

This means UX is a major technical ranking factor. How fast is the website? Do pages load properly? Is it mobile friendly? Is it easy to navigate? These factors all play a role in UX.

  • Structured data (schema). Schema is a type of HTML code that helps search engines understand your website more easily. Schema is used to mark up content about events, people, places, products, recipes, organisations and more.
  • Other technical factors. Things like site security, the speed of your web host, and the Content Management System (CMS) you use can all impact SEO.

Content Optimisation

Everyone who visits your website is there for one reason: the content. This encompasses everything that actually appears on the page when it’s loaded by a user.

Google places significant value on content that meets its Experience, Expertise, Authority and Trust (EEAT) criteria. That is, all the content on your website needs to be well-written, well-researched and provide the information that the user is searching for.

You can optimise content by making sure it:

  • Is written by an author with genuine expertise in the subject
  • Is unique, and that it presents original ideas
  • Includes the keywords and phrases that users are searching for
  • Is well-written and free of major spelling and grammar errors
  • Contains accurate, up-to-date information, with references where necessary
  • Is structured in a logical format that helps the reader understand the topic
  • Includes rich media (e.g. images and videos) to illustrate the point and improve readability

Content can also be optimised by tweaking title and header tags, meta descriptions, alt text and metadata.

Link building is the practice of adding links to your website (and placing links on other peoples’ websites) to help Google understand your content better.

There are dozens of types of links in the SEO world. To keep it simple, we break them into two main categories:

  • Internal links. These are links that exist between two pages on your own website. Internal links help users find the information they’re looking for (e.g. by linking to a related blog article or product). Google also uses these links to correlate the pages on your website with one another.
  • External links. External links (often called backlinks) are any links that direct users to your website from an external website. External links come from places like social media, directories, press releases, articles and blog posts, and user-generated content.

An illustration demonstrating the difference betweek internal and external links

Links help Google understand and contextualise the information on your website. It also allows Google to determine whether your website provides a quality experience that helps users find the information they’re searching for.

Other SEO Techniques

Google’s ranking algorithm is incredibly complex. While links, content and technical details are the most important ranking factors, Google considers information from all over the internet.

This means there are lots of other ways to improve your search rankings! This includes things like:

  • Setting up optimising your Google My Business listing
  • Running Google Ads to help boost your recognition with customers
  • Listing your business on directories (such as Yellowpages)
  • Maintaining an active social media presence and doing things like sharing content, engaging with customers and answering questions
  • Build links with other websites, such as partnered businesses, indirect competitors and news organisations
  • Asking customers to leave Google reviews about your business
  • Responding to customer reviews on Google

The most important thing is to be consistent with these off-site techniques. Make sure your branding, name, address and other details (like opening hours) are consistent across platforms. Google often uses this information to cross-check what your business does, so it needs to be updated regularly.

How to develop an SEO strategy

There’s no right or wrong way to structure your SEO strategy. Professional SEO agencies use a wide range of techniques, and many of them are highly effective. 

Regardless of how you plan to execute your campaign, you need to develop a solid plan before you start investing your time and money into SEO.

Developing an SEO campaign consists of four major stages:

1. Keyword, Market & Competitor Research

SEO is more science than art. That’s good for anyone that likes research and hard data!

Research is the foundation of every SEO strategy. You can’t begin writing content, building links or optimising web pages until you’ve collected data.There are lots of ways to go about this. We like to start with these research categories:

  • Customer research. Just like paid advertising, your SEO won’t make a dent if you don’t know who your customers are!

You need to know demographic information such as gender, age and geographic location, and you need an understanding of how your customers use search engines.

More importantly, you need to understand their pain points, how your products and services help customers, and how you compare to competitors.

  • Keyword research. Keyword research is the foundation of every SEO strategy. This involves identifying relevant keywords, as well as the search volume and competition for each phrase.

The goal is to figure out which keywords and phrases you need to target. There are lots of ways to perform keyword research, but we often use tools like Google Keyword Planner, SEMrush and Ahrefs.

  • Competitor research. Getting started with an SEO strategy can be tough. One of the easiest ways to find new ideas is to check what your competitors are doing!

Identify a few of your biggest competitors. Visit their websites and see what makes them good or bad. Is the content well-written and researched? Do they provide a good user experience? Do they have a competitive advantage over your brand?

Make note of any opportunities you find. Emulating successful strategies is a great way to kickstart your SEO campaign.

  • Website analysis. If you’ve already got a website then it’s a good idea to review where you’re currently at. Looking at your own web data (using Google Analytics, or tools like SEMrush and Ahrefs) will determine your starting point.

These tools allow you to see how your website is currently performing (in terms of traffic and conversions), the keywords you currently rank for, and whether there are any technical issues that need to be resolved.

  • Rankings analysis. At the end of the day, Google is the only one that knows how the search algorithm works. That means there’s no guaranteed way to find the best keywords or target the right customers.

But, you can find lots of useful information by typing your top keywords into Google. See which websites are ranking and try to figure out what makes those websites good.

This is very useful for identifying gaps in competitors’ strategies. For example, maybe you can publish content that matches a particular search query better than anything that’s already online. That could be your shortcut to earning high rankings and increasing your website’s visibility.

These tasks don’t exist in a vacuum – they all need to be related back to your business goals. If you haven’t determined your business and marketing goals, you’ll need to do that before you start thinking too hard about your SEO strategy.

2. Planning & Implementation

Once your planning is complete, you can move onto the real hard work – implementation. We typically use the techniques discussed above, including on-page and off-site optimisations, link building and content writing.

Don’t start chopping and changing your website right away. It’s important to take a strategic approach to your work:

  1. Review the content on your website and remove anything that’s old, outdated or low quality. These pages typically don’t rank very well and they won’t help achieve your SEO goals
  2. Improve existing content and pages to align to the keywords you identified earlier. This could involve writing new content, updating old content, adding internal and external links, or adjusting technical elements.
  3. Create new content that’s aligned to your keywords and any gaps you identified in your competitors’ strategies. This can be time consuming and should be an ongoing process for the life of your website, so there’s no need to try and do it all at once.

3. Monitoring & Reporting

We’re all doing SEO for the same reason – we want our website to show up at the top of Google.

Being at the top of Google is incredibly important for attracting customers. But SEO is a big investment of time and money, so we need to ensure we’re generating value. The only way to do that is by defining goals, monitoring campaigns and reporting on progress.

The first step is setting your marketing goals. Do you want more website traffic? Online sales? Phone calls and emails? Foot traffic to a brick and mortar store? SEO can help with any of these goals, but it’s up to you to define what success looks like.

Once you know how you will measure success, use your SEO tools to make data-driven decisions. When it comes to monitoring and reporting, we usually recommend a combination of the following:

  • Website analytics. Free web analytics tools (such as Google Analytics 4 and Google Search Console) can collect incredibly powerful data about your website and users. This information can help you measure traffic and conversions, so you can track the monetary value of your SEO efforts.
  • SEO-specific tools. Tools like Ahrefs are incredibly useful for monitoring the performance of your SEO. While these tools aren’t free, they’re indispensable for checking your progress, keeping an eye on competitors, and identifying potential opportunities.

4. Ongoing Optimisations

Yep – you guessed it. The final stage of any SEO strategy is to take the things you’ve learned and make further improvements.

Your industry, customers and competitors aren’t sitting still. Industry and economic conditions change. Consumer behaviour changes. Competitors may release new products or ramp up their own marketing efforts.

These things impact your business and whether your SEO strategy is effective.

You’ll need to perform continuous research and reporting to see where you can improve your SEO strategy. This commonly involves:

  • Looking for keyword gaps and new opportunities
  • Reviewing competitor websites to see what you can do better
  • Building links with other high quality websites
  • Working with your agency to improve new and existing content
  • Keeping up with Google’s updates and adjusting your strategy as necessary

This sort of detailed work is time-consuming, but it’s the best thing you can do to ensure your website stays at the top of Google’s search rankings.

How long does it take for SEO to work?

SEO is one of the most effective digital marketing tools out there. But it’s a long-term strategy, so you shouldn’t expect instant success.

It often takes 6-12 months to see real results from SEO. The longer you keep it up, the better the results get.

While you might be waiting a while to see a serious uptick in website traffic, SEO has a snowball effect, so little successes can turn into huge wins. The tricky part is understanding that you might not see returns on your SEO investment for a year or more.

It’s also important to keep up your SEO efforts, even once you start seeing results. You can’t reduce your SEO investment just because you’re seeing an increase in website traffic and conversions.

If you let up, your competitors will easily be able to overtake you, and it could be incredibly difficult to reclaim your position in the race.

How SEO differs from PPC

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Pay Per Click (PPC) are two types of digital marketing that centre around search engines.

As we discussed above, SEO is designed to improve your position in search rankings. This increases organic search visibility and website traffic. The more website traffic you have, the easier it gets to generate sales, phone calls and other revenue-driven goals.

SEO is important because organic traffic is free, and users tend to perceive these results as being higher quality and more trustworthy than paid results.

PPC is on the opposite end of the spectrum. Like the name suggests, PPC is a type of paid advertising where you pay for each click.

Google and other search engines often incorporate paid advertising space alongside their organic search results. This is how they generate revenue.

With PPC advertising, you can bid for one of these coveted spots and instantly attract more clicks, calls and conversions to your website.

The major benefit of PPC is that it has an immediate effect. SEO could take months to show results, but PPC begins working as soon as your ads are published.

While they’re very different disciplines, SEO and PPC are both forms of Search Engine Marketing (SEM). They work best when used together – with PPC ads generating immediate traffic and sales, and SEO generating long-term results.

Take your business to the next level with an SEO agency!

The world of SEO is big, complex and ever-changing. Google is always trying to refine its user experience, and that means nothing stays the same for very long.

This adds a layer of difficulty to developing an effective SEO strategy. It’s even tougher if you’re trying to go it alone, which is where an SEO agency comes in handy!

The SEO pros at Gordon Digital have decades of combined experience in the industry. We aren’t just focused on making your website rank higher – we design strategies that have a real impact on your bottom line.

Our SEO strategies are tailored to suit your business, industry, competitors and goals. That means we can help you achieve success, whatever that looks like for your brand.
Contact us if you’re ready to get started, or book a strategy session to partner with Gordon Digital!

Jessica Gordon

Jessica Gordon is the founder and managing director of Gordon Digital a Brisbane based digital marketing agency that provides tailored digital marketing solutions that include SEO, Google Ads, Social Media Ads and Conversion-Focussed Websites to SME's across Australia since 2015. Gordon Digital stands out in a crowd for one simple yet profound reason: We redefine transparency and embrace radical honesty.