What Is SEO? A Guide to SEO Strategy

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SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. In marketing terms, it involves optimizing your website – and the content you publish both on and off it – to help it rank highly in search engines: including Google, Bing, Yandex, and Yahoo! And, now that website builders make creating your online presence easier than ever, more and more people are asking the question: what is SEO?

Fortunately, it’s a question we’re answering here – with a simple, no-nonsense (and no jargon!) guide to all things SEO marketing.

Below, we’ll cover all the SEO basics – including on-page, off-page, and technical – and take you on a whistle-stop tour of keyword research and backlinks, so you’ll be able to answer what is SEO on a website? yourself, and put it into practice too.

We’ll also explain why SEO is something your business should care about, as well as provide our expert take on the topics and trends dominating the SEO conversation in the industry right now.

Ready to reinvigorate the way your business and brand approaches SEO? Read on.

The Basics of SEO

Search engines utilize complex algorithms to determine how relevant – and how high-quality – your website’s pages are.

Do they answer the searcher’s key questions? Are they well-written, well-presented, and structured in a way that makes sense? If they fulfill these requirements, search engines will push your web pages to a higher spot (ranking) in its SERPS (Search Engine Results Pages). This ensures more people see your content: which is good for your brand, your business, and your bottom line.

Broadly, the basics of SEO encompass three key elements:

  • On-page SEO: techniques you can apply to your website’s pages to make them more readable and accessible to users and search engines.
  • Off-page SEO: writing content for other websites with links back to your site – which boosts its credibility, trustworthiness, and authority in the eyes of search engines.
  • Technical SEO: tweaking your website’s technical elements – ensuring your pages load fast, render well on mobile devices, and speak the language of search engines.

What Is an SEO Strategy?

Now you have the basics downpat, let’s look at some concrete tips and techniques – including on-page, off-page, and technical SEO elements – that you can use to create an SEO strategy for your business.

Keyword Research and Analysis

Ask the layperson what SEO is, and you’ll most likely get “keyword research” as a response.

Well, keyword research isn’t the be all and end all of SEO – but it is super important. Keyword research is the process of unearthing those questions driving your target audience’s searches online. If you can get an idea of the exact phrases and terms they’re using when they input those words into Google’s search bar, you’re better placed to answer those questions with your website and content – and, accordingly, rank higher.

To do all that, you’ll need a keyword research tool. The best ones, like Semrush and Moz, tend to come with heftier price tags. But you can also leverage free keyword research tools, such as WordStream, to get started for free – or cash in with a free trial of a paid platform while you learn the ropes. (If you’re wondering “what are keywords?” don’t worry, we cover that in the next section!)

On-page Optimization

Now you’ve got to grips with the keywords, you’ll want to start integrating them into your website’s:

  • Title tags
  • Header tags
  • Meta titles and descriptions
  • Content

Your site will also need a URL structure that Google can understand. This means no long, complicated URLs – just concise, keyword-rich, and SEO-friendly URLs that instantly convey a sense of what the page is about. Be sure, too, to link accurately and meaningfully between your pages – but only if it makes sense to within the page’s context and information.

Why is this important?

Well, when you publish a piece of content to the internet, you ‘submit’ it for search engines to have a look at. Search engines use bots (called ‘spiders’) to ‘crawl’ your pages,  sifting through them to understand them, categorize them, and make sense of their relationship to one another. The more (and more accurately) you’ve linked between your site’s pages, the easier you make this whole process for Google.

More information: SEO tools like Moz, Ahrefs, and Semrush can calculate an SEO visibility score for you, which is a metric that gives you an insight into how likely your site is to rank for specific keywords.

Off-page Optimization

Your page doesn’t exist in isolation, but in relation to – and in competition with – the rest of the internet. Likewise, your SEO efforts shouldn’t work in a vacuum, but in harmony with the rest of the internet’s thriving ecosystem of content.

So pen a guest blog and submit it to a prominent website in the space you operate in. Be sure – crucially – to include a link back to your website. Not only for the reader to follow, if they wish to learn more about a particular topic you specialize in, but to gain a small slice of the authority the source that’s linking to your site offers.

Needless to say, you should check first that the website you want this ‘backlink’ from is authoritative – which Google measures in DA (Domain Authority). You can check this instantly when you install Moz’s free SEO extension for your browser. The higher the number, the more trustworthy and credible search engines perceive the website – which is better for you!

Technical SEO

Technical SEO is all behind the scenes stuff – but it has a big impact on the experience both search engines and your website’s visitors will have when they engage with your site.

To set your website up for technical SEO success, ensure it’s well-optimized for mobile devices. We won’t go into that too much here – we do that in far greater detail in our guide to how to make your website more mobile-friendly – but it’s vital. Of equal importance is your website’s speed – something you can explore how to boost, along with why it matters, in our deep dive into the latest website load time statistics.

Find Out More

Wondering how much optimizing your site for search engines costs? Luckily, SEO at its core is free, but you can pay for extras like premium tools or SEO agencies, so our guide on How Much Does SEO Cost breaks down the costs to expect.

What Are Keywords in SEO?

Keywords, in an SEO context, are essentially the terms or phrases that your audience type into search engines when looking for information relevant to your business or brand.

When someone searches for a specific keyword, search engines aim to provide the most relevant and valuable results. It stands to reason, then, that if you can understand what those keywords are – and integrate them subtly into your content – you can maximize your chances of Google, Bing, Yandex and its chums of serving up your content as relevant to those queries.

Enter: keyword research.

Keyword research involves identifying the words or phrases most relevant to your content – and that users are most likely to search for. It’s about understanding your target audience and anticipating their search behavior. To this end, tools like Google Keyword Planner (free) and Semrush (paid) can help you unearth relevant keywords and assess their search volumes (so, how many people, approximately, are searching for those terms each month).

Once you’ve got a list of your keywords, you need to weave them naturally into your content: integrating them naturally into your titles, headings, and throughout the body of your blog articles or website. We said naturally here, and we mean it; don’t go cramming in keywords in a clumsy, clunky fashion.

Google’s algorithms are designed to recognize and reward content that isn’t just keyword-rich, but also provides value to the user – so never overdo the keywords at the expense of readability.

Broadly, you can place keywords into two main categories: long-tail and short-tail (or head) keywords.

Short-tail keywords are broad, and often consist of one or two words. (For instance, “pants.”) These keywords usually have high search volumes but are more competitive. (So, harder to rank for because so many other websites are trying to do the exact same thing).

On the other hand, long-tail keywords are more specific phrases that usually consist of three or more words. While they may have lower search volumes, they often convert better as they suggest more focused intent. (For example, “pants for tall men.”)

Find Out More

What Are Backlinks in SEO?

What are SEO backlinks? Backlinks – also known as “inbound links” or “incoming links” – are essentially links to your website from another website.

Why are backlinks important for SEO, then? Well, every time a website links to yours, search engines see it as a kind of vote of confidence or endorsement. The more of these your site receives, the more authoritative and trustworthy it appears in the eyes of Google and co, which can also help to improve your domain authority.

But all backlinks are not equal. The most valuable backlinks from an SEO perspective are from highly reputable and authoritative sites – particularly from those in your brand’s niche or industry. Through this lens, quality tends to trump quantity, and obtaining backlinks from reputable, relevant sources is more beneficial than having a huge bank of backlinks from sites that are… less so.

How can you build backlinks to your site? Some good SEO backlink tactics include:

  • Guest posting on reputable sites, where you offer to write content for other websites in exchange for a backlink to yours.
  • Reaching out to websites in your niche to form partnerships.
  • Creating shareable, valuable content that naturally attracts backlinks.

Remember, Google’s algorithms are designed to identify and devalue websites with spammy or unnatural backlink profiles. Engaging in practices that violate Google’s guidelines – such as buying links or participating in link schemes – generally results in penalties, and ends up negatively impacting your site’s SEO performance.

It’s a delicate balance – genuine, organic backlinks are the key to long-term SEO success!

Why Is SEO Important?

It’s a question we hear a lot. What is SEO? But also, why is SEO important? Isn’t it easier – albeit more expensive – to simply pay for clicks, and advertise my website that way?

This debate of SEO vs paid search engine marketing (SEM) highlights the first reason SEO is important, especially for small business and startups on a budget: it’s an extremely affordable marketing method.

Paid marketing certainly has its place: for all SEO’s wealth of drawcards for your brand and bottom line, it’s not a strategy characterized by short-term wins. Articles usually take months to rank and, even if they do, unless the content is properly structured, with meta titles enticing the reader to click, there’s no guarantee they’ll garner clicks or conversions.

On the other hand, paid (or PPC; pay-per-click) advertising – which involves bidding on clicks with competing businesses to place your brand at the summit of the SERPs – is a good short-term plan that can lead to more traffic for, and audience engagement with, your website.

The drawback of paid advertising is, of course, that “paid” bit in the name. PPC strategies cost money – which many businesses at the very beginning of their growth trajectory quite simply don’t have.

So, while SEO might take longer to start bearing tangible fruit, it’s like email marketing in that it won’t cost you any money – making it more sustainable and, ultimately, more scalable than its PPC counterpart.

Beyond scalability and sustainability, though, there are so many reasons why SEO is important in 2024. Here’s a quick whistle-stop tour of our favorites:

  • Increased brand visibility and traffic: good SEO leads to more clicks in the long run, which translates into more viewers; and more people sitting up and taking note of your brand and website.
  • Enhanced credibility and trust: users tend to trust websites closest to the summit of search engine results pages. Building trust in your website is important because people that trust you are more likely to engage with your website and brand – and potentially become paying customers, too!
  • A better user experience: all the things search engines love are also things users love. So when you optimize for Google – looking at, for example, improving your site’s speed and mobile responsiveness, as well as providing high-quality content – you’re also optimizing for a seamless, enjoyable experience for everyone who engages with your online presence.

SEO Trends for 2024

SEO marketing is like a shapeshifter: always evolving and expanding. The answer to what is SEO changes and adapts from year to year as new technology and new ways of searching emerge.

That’s why it pays to stay on top of the trends. This year, the top SEO trends include:

  • Voice SEO: with more users using voice assistants – like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and Google Assistant – to make queries online, optimizing your content for voice searches is vital. For more tips about how to up your site’s voice search optimization game, check out our comprehensive take on the topic.
  • Local SEO: to tap into the lucrative world of local SEO, first ensure your business’s Google My Business account is up to date and relevant. You can also incorporate local keywords – those relevant to the country, region, or neighborhood you operate in – and create content that taps into events and attractions happening nearby.
  • Mobile SEO: more people are using mobile devices to search online than ever before. Because of this, search engines are now prioritizing mobile-friendly websites, so ensure your website is responsive and loads quickly on tablets and smartphones.


You asked “what is SEO?” and we answered! We’ve written about 2,000 words on SEO marketing here – but the truth is, we could write 20,000 more, and still barely scratch the proverbial surface.

So before you head off to start putting the SEO marketing strategies we’ve outlined here, be sure to tick off the boxes of our comprehensive SEO checklist – and visit our SEO glossary to bust the jargon, and get to grips with those perplexing SEO terms you’ve been grappling with.

Good luck – and enjoy!


Website builders remain the easiest, fastest, and most affordable way to set up your online presence. Our proprietary in-house research will help you get started – we ranked Wix as the overall best, with Squarespace the top performer when it comes to value for money. If you’re looking to build a website in double-time, choose GoDaddy – while Shopify remains the best way of constructing, and scaling, an online store.
The five best website builders for SEO are Wix (perfect for absolute beginners), Squarespace (which comes equipped with splendid in-built SEO features), and WordPress.com (ideal for site owners happy to be a bit more hands on). We also recommend Weebly and GoDaddy for their dozens of high-quality SEO apps and SEO support, respectively.

To dive deep into our list of the best SEO website builders, explore our guide dedicated to just that.

Written by:
I’ve written for brands and businesses all over the world – empowering everyone from solopreneurs and micro-businesses to enterprises to some of the ecommerce industry’s best-known brands: including Yahoo!, Ecwid, and Entrepreneur. My commitment for the future is to empower my audience to make better, more effective decisions: whether that’s helping you pick the right platform to build your website with, the best hosting provider for your needs, or offering recommendations as to what – and how – to sell.

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