Why Site Owners Should Know How SEO Works

Do you know how SEO works? While many site owners know that having a presence in search is important, most don’t know what it takes to increase search visibility. SEO has changed a lot over the years, but the basics and foundations of search have stayed relatively unchanged. It’s essential for all site owners to have a basic understanding of how SEO works to ensure that their site is optimized correctly.

Not all who claim to be experts in SEO are. In fact, a lot of the business we get is from site owners or companies that were unfortunately taken advantage of previously. But just because there are a few bad apples out there doesn’t mean the industry is corrupt. When done correctly, SEO can help website owners drive targeted visitors to their site who are looking to act.

Many have claimed over the years that SEO and search would soon be on their way out. But nothing could be further from the truth. Marketers see SEO as becoming more effective, with 82% reporting effectiveness is on the rise, and 42% of this group stating effectiveness is increasing significantly. (Source: MarketDive, 2016)

Search continues to be one of the top activities users do online. This means companies and site owners need to invest in SEO to increase the site’s organic visibility. While some will venture out and will optimize their website, most will hire out help. But just outsourcing your SEO without any understanding can lead to terrible results. Therefore, I firmly believe that all site owners should have a basic understanding of how search engines work and why SEO is important.

A Basic Understanding of Search

For this article, we are going to focus on Google. The reason is that Google is by far the most popular search engine in the U.S. and it’s where you will most likely generate a majority of your site’s organic traffic.

Search engines are very complex systems that are designed to index or store information hosted on the internet. Google has created a very nice site, https://www.google.com/search/howsearchworks/, that talks about how their search engine works. It is broken down into three main categories; Crawling and Indexing, Algorithms and Responses.

Crawling and Indexing

Google and other major search engines have “spiders” that crawl the internet looking for sites and content. As the spiders crawl websites, the search engines are learning what content those sites contain. Then they save the information in the index. The index is very similar to a library, but instead of books, it is millions and millions of web pages.


Algorithms are complex programs that analyze the data in the search index to better understand the context. When you perform a search, multiple algorithms take your query and analyze the sites in the index to deliver the best possible answer in as few a clicks as possible.

Here are some of the ways Google uses Search algorithms to return useful information from the web:

  • Analyzing your words
  • Matching your search
  • Ranking useful pages
  • Considering context
  • Returning the best results


The goal of every search engine is to deliver the most relevant information to a user in the shortest amount of time possible. This is why Google changes their algorithm as well as the results page often. In the past, the typical search results page was just a few blue links. Today search results can have videos, images, maps, suggestions, pricing information and more. These elements have been added to enhance the end user’s experience. They can also greatly benefit the websites which are awarded these stand out listings.

Where SEO Fits In

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It is the process of making one’s website easy for both a user and a search engine to find and engage. Typically, SEO divides into two types of work, on-site SEO, and off-site SEO.

On-Site SEO

On-Site SEO deals with the elements that are within your website. This means optimizing your content, site structure, code, speed, user-experience and so on. On-Site SEO is an essential aspect of SEO because your website is the foundation for all of your other online marketing activities. Having a site that is easy for a search engine to crawl and understand is key to ensuring that it is indexed properly.

Off-Site SEO

Off-Site SEO refers to all the work you do “off” of your main website. This typically means any link building activities, directory listings, social accounts, and other publishing platforms. According to Andrey Lipattsev, Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google, high-quality content and link building are the two most important signals used by Google to rank your website for search. (Source: Search Engine Watch, 2016)

A good SEO strategy includes an understanding of how search engines work and how to use both On-Site and Off-Site optimization to increase a site’s overall search visibility. SEO is a powerful long-term strategy that can lead to consistent growth over time if you know how to execute.

While you don’t need to have a full understanding of LSI Keywords or schema markup, having a basic knowledge of how SEO works can help ensure you hire the right person for the job. If you want to learn more about SEO, I have created a course specially designed for site owners and marketers who want to get more out of search. Check out the details at Simplified Search.

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SMA Marketing Global Digital Marketing Agency Ryan Shelley Founder and CEO Headshot
Ryan is passionate about helping companies make a more personal connection online with their customers and prospects. He is a regular contributor to Search Engine Land, the largest and most popular SEO news site on the web. His works have also been featured on the HubSpot Blog, Business2Community and by LinkedIn Marketing Solutions.

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