How and Why SEO Works (and How to Make It Work for You)

You’re good at what you do. That’s why you’ve been able to keep your small or local business afloat for so long. But you’re not an expert in all things, and nobody can expect you to know every dimension of every service that your business might need. Take “SEO,” for instance: What’s going on with that?

You don’t need to know everything about SEO to succeed with your business, but you should brush up on a few things. And if you know just enough, you’ll be able to make a smart outsourcing deal that covers your business’s SEO needs. Here’s the what, why, and how of SEO.

How SEO works

To talk about how SEO works, we first need to define it. SEO stands for “search engine optimization,” and it’s the process of making your business’s online presence as search-engine-friendly as possible.

Now we’ve inspired a new question: How do search engines work?

Search engines exist to help internet users find things on the World Wide Web. The internet is a really big place, so search engines such as Google offer potential destinations to folks who input queries.

Google and the other search engines are able to provide results because they have already cataloged lots of the websites on the internet. Search engines use programs called “spiders” to “crawl” the web, reading page text and HTML code to figure out what’s on each page. Search engines are updating things all of the time, so the spiders are always crawling.

When users put in a query, Google and the rest of the search engine gang use top-secret algorithms to determine which pages should go on the search engine results page (SERP).

So how does SEO work? It works by tweaking and improving all of the things that seem to matter most to that algorithm. Keywords are one example: SEO experts are always trying to create online text that offers the right “keyword density.” Too few keywords, and Google won’t realize what your site is all about; too many, and it will think your site is cheap and spammy.

Which keywords you target will be just as important, of course, which is why SEO experts need to know how to do keyword research. Keyword research is about more than finding the most popular terms; it’s about making sure each is relevant and about finding niche terms where you can edge out weaker competition. You may not be able to compete in “bike maintenance,” but “motorcycle maintenance” might be an easier keyword to target, for instance.

Other factors include links (which sides link to you, which sites you link to, and how reputable all sites involved are to the search engine), HTML tags and metadata, and even the number of words on the page. All of these factors are tweaked and massaged in SEO. And because search engines often update their algorithms, SEO experts have to constantly update their strategies, too.

Why SEO works

Now we know how SEO works. But why does it work for small businesses? What makes it worthwhile to do this stuff in the first place?

In a word: customers. Customers and clients that you hope will choose you are, like virtually everyone else these days, making heavy use of their computers and their mobile devices. Google and the other search engines direct a staggering amount of traffic, and plenty of queries on search engines lead directly to the sale of goods or services. The more prominently you feature on the results pages for queries relevant to the products or services that you offer (and the more prominently you feature on other search-related things, such as mobile maps apps), the more customers and clients will come your way.

Armed with a little knowledge about how SEO works and an understanding of why it is essential for your business, you’re ready to take action. You don’t have to become an SEO whiz yourself: You can, and should, outsource your business’s SEO needs to a digital marketing firm. A great digital marketing strategy will include SEO and will help your business compete in our modern world.