SEO for newbies: The basics

You may have come across the term SEO if you’re new to the world of digital business or marketing. If it could benefit your career to know the basics of what SEO is and what it is used for, then this guide is for you.

This is not an in-depth guide on how to do SEO but a short, no-nonsense introduction for beginners who don’t want to feel out of their depth when the term comes up at work.

Let’s get started.

What does SEO stand for?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation.

But what does that mean?

When you search for something on Google or a similar search engine, users generally click on the top few results. If you consider your own searching, you will probably find that it is rare that you will even click on the second or third page of Google results.

So, SEO is all about businesses trying to optimise their websites so that they appear in those first few search results. The upshot is the higher up they are in the search engine results, the more visitors they will get to their websites, and the more profit/awareness/fund-raising/engagement etc. they will generate.

Two key terms:

Traffic: The number of visitors that a website receives.

Ranking: How high or low a website appears in a list of search engine results.

So how do you get your website to rank highly in search results?

To understand this, you first need to understand how we find anything on the internet. Fear not; it’s not as complicated as it might sound. Think of the internet as a huge, unmapped jungle full of information – every website in existence and all its individual pages. Without search engines, it would be extremely difficult to find the specific information that we need. To help make sense of it all, search engines like Google send out ‘crawlers’ (it helps to think of them like little digital robots) that scan around the internet, using links to hop from page to page, and record them on a database. This is called the search engine index.

Two key terms:

Web Crawler: A program that methodically and automatically browses the World Wide Web, one page at a time.

Indexing: The process of recording crawled web pages on the search engine index. The crawler records not only the link of the page but all the words on the page and their location within that page.

Then what happens?

After the content has been extracted and stored on the search engine index, this information can then be interpreted and sorted by the search engine algorithm to decide where in the search engine results that web page should appear.

Wait, what’s the search engine algorithm?

The algorithm is fundamentally a set of criteria that search engines use to decide how each web page compares to similar web pages and whether it has more value or usefulness to the person searching.

These algorithms are hugely complicated and always evolving as the internet develops and grows. (And growing it is… according to Siteefy, as of July 2022 there were 1.1b websites on the web – with 3 more being added every second.) But it all boils down to two factors:

Relevance – is the webpage relevant to the search?
Popularity – how popular is your site or page?

In January’s article, we’ll explore the basics of SEO strategy – and what businesses can do to increase their rankings