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Search engine optimization (SEO) refers to the process of improving your site's organic traffic and ranking on search engines such as Google, Bing, and other search engines. 

This includes creating high-quality content in addition to monitoring your site's technical health (more on that later).

How Does SEO Work?

SEO is the art of persuading search engines to recommend your content to their users as the best solution to their problem.

In order to collect information on web pages, search engine bots "crawl" sites to create an index. You can think of the Worldwide Web a bit like a spider web -- the bots (or spiders in this example) travel from page to page by links.

Once the bots get this information, an index is created. Search engine algorithms then review the index based on hundreds of ranking factors to determine which pages should appear where on the search engine results pages (SERPs) when users type in a specific query.

Keep in mind that this isn't a "set it and forget it" type of process -- search engine optimization, after all, focuses heavily on optimizing pages. This means keeping your content up to date, adding information to target relevant keywords, gaining relevant backlinks to your site, and much more.

Why Is SEO important? 

Search engine optimization brings "free" traffic to your site -- i.e., high-quality pages that answer a user's query will show up at the top of the SERP, and you won't need to pay for clicks.

There are typically paid results on that same SERP; they are identifiable by the 'Ad' icon to the left. When a user clicks on a paid result and visits the site, the advertiser pays the search engine for that visit.

SERP results example: Paid and Free

Both paid and organic traffic can be effective. Still, it's beneficial to stay on top of your SEO strategy to continue reaping the benefits of free, ongoing traffic (provided you are creating high-quality content!).

How Search Engines Work?

The fundamental aim of search engines is to satisfy their users. They want to provide the best results when a user searches for something. When someone uses a search engine, such as Google, Bing, or Yahoo, they are looking for the solution to a problem or the answer to a question. These engines want to provide the most helpful, relevant, and credible answer or solution.

Keywords

In SEO, we often refer to ‘keywords’ — this is slightly misleading. ‘Search queries’ is a much better term. We are not looking at individual words; we are looking at combinations of words that express a problem or a question.

Note: even when a user searches with just one word, they are still expressing a problem or question — they are just not being very clear! 

What Is Your Audience Searching For?

To work effectively on your SEO, you need to figure out what your potential customers are searching for. Find the phrases that they use to search, and then create content that brings a clear, simple, and helpful solution to the problem that the user expressed. Semrush offers a tool that allows you to find out based on your market and your competitors. 

Keyword Magic Tool by SEMrush

Google vs. the Rest of the Search Engines

Google dominates search in most countries across the globe, almost to the point of being a monopoly, particularly in English. In English, worldwide, 88% of searches on desktop are on Google. On mobile, that figure is a whopping 96%. Bing and Yahoo combined account for 1.5% of searches on mobile and 8% of searches on desktop. That makes Google vastly dominant. And by far, the most important search engine you should be focusing on.

most popular search engine in the world

Desktop Search Engine Share Worldwide

best search engine for mobile phones

Mobile Search Engine Share Worldwide

So, as a business with a website, your reliance on Google is pretty much a given. Great SEO is not an option; it is a necessity.

Google Ranking Factors 

Google’s algorithm takes thousands and thousands of signals into account when evaluating a page to determine where it should rank for a specific user query. 

When we talk about ranking factors, we are simply identifying which groups of signals have the most influence on how well a piece of content will perform in a Google search.

From your perspective, we are identifying which aspects of your content, website, and reputation you can improve to most effectively boost Google's opinion of your content, and thus gain a higher position in the search results. 

Here are the main Search Engine Optimization factors you need to get right to help your content to rank higher in Google (there are more than 200, so we have only detailed the most important ones in this guide).

How long it take for SEO to show results?

Search Engine Optimization is a long-term strategy. As we saw earlier, SEO has three main pillars — technical, content, and backlinks. For your strategy to bear fruit, all three need to be solid, and that doesn’t happen overnight. 

Some of your efforts will pay off in the short term after they are implemented. Changing meta titles, headings, or improving the content on a few pages are typical examples. 

Other efforts, such as implementing Schema.org markup across a number of pages, creating a substantial volume of informative content, building links, or attracting positive reviews, take time and will pay off in the long term.

No single thing will revolutionize the performance of your SEO strategy. All the elements I described above work together, and it is the combination of all the signals Google reads that will make the needle move for you.

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