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  • Bonnie Rando Leys

What is SEO and why is it important?

[decorative] The beginner's guide to search engine optimisation.

The first time you heard the term SEO you pretended you knew what it was. Somehow years have passed and it’s too late to admit you were bluffing. You just need a brief run-down.

Well here it is – a beginner’s guide to search engine optimisation (optimization for our American friends) to help you contribute more than a nod at your next marketing meeting. There’s even some sweet facts to dazzle your colleagues (you’re welcome).

‘Behind almost every online destination – whether it’s a website, blog, social network, or app – is a search engine. Search engines have become the connecting force and directional guide to everyday life.’

[Reference 1]


What is SEO?

Search engine optimisation (SEO) means making your website (and the content on it) visible to search engines like Google, Bing and DuckDuckGo. This is important because internet users go to search engines to find something – that might be information, goods or services – and if a search engine can’t find you, neither can a potential customer.

Seems pretty obvious right? Well yeah, it is – in theory. Where it gets complicated is how these search engines sort and rank their search results for the user.

Did you know? Google is the most visited website in the world.
See references 2 and 3

Using algorithms to determine search results

If you, as a user, type a question like ‘how do I make tea?’ into the Google search bar, you would expect to return a result with websites providing instructions on how to make tea. A website that sold tea (but didn’t provide a how-to) shouldn’t be one of the top results. Neither should a website explaining the Boston tea party.

Instead, search engines like Google use algorithms to filter results so you are only shown websites that are relevant to your search terms.

As of January 2020 there were over 1.74 billion websites on the Internet.

[Reference 4]

The number of websites out there means these algorithms must be sophisticated in order to return useful results.

While the details of these algorithms are kept secret (so we can’t cheat the system), there are some things we know about Google’s PageRank algorithm:

  • the frequency and location of keywords on the webpage matter – if the searched keyword appears once on one page and ten times on another, the page with ten will score higher

  • the ‘age’ of the webpage – more value is placed on pages with an established history

  • the number of other webpages that link to the page in question – the more links to a page, the more relevant it appears to Google. [Reference 5]


The three sides of SEO

Successful SEO addresses three different aspects:

  1. Technical SEO

  2. On-page SEO

  3. Off-page SEO

The three sides of good SEO are on-site, technical and off-site SEO
Good SEO has three parts

Technical SEO

Technical SEO refers to the process of optimising your website so it can be crawled, interpreted and indexed by search engine bots.

Search engines use bots to read your site map, headings, content and metadata so they can understand what your site is about, index it in the search engine directory and determine a page rank within the directory.

Technical SEO has nothing to do with the content of the website – the main goal of technical SEO is to optimise the infrastructure of a website’ [Reference 6] so search engine bots can find and index it.

On-page SEO

On-page SEO works to optimise the structure and content of a webpage for both the reader and search engine bots. This is usually the type of SEO most people think of because it is the most visible.

To boost on-page SEO, your page content should be clearly structured with appropriate heading tags, formatting and metadata, all images should be clear and have alt text.

Specific keywords should be used throughout to help search engines and readers understand the meaning and context of your page. [Reference 7] Pages should also be mobile-friendly and fast loading. All of this helps the reader and bots navigate your page with ease.

Off-page SEO

Off-page SEO ‘refers to activities you can perform outside the boundaries of your website.’ [Reference 8] This includes link-building, social media marketing and brand mentions.

This form of SEO uses social media, brand awareness and links to your webpage to assure search engines of the quality and usefulness of the content on your page.

The more links to a webpage (from another website, not internal links), the more authority that page (and brand) appears to have, leading to a higher Search Engine Results Page (SERP) ranking.


SEO builds trust and credibility

When your website turns up on the first few pages of an internet search, it lends credibility to your content. The higher your website is listed in SERPs, the more visible it is to users and the more likely they are to click on it.

Did you know? 75% of users never scroll past the first page of search results.
See reference 9

Search engine algorithms are updated all the time

Search engine algorithms are updated all the time to improve and refine the user’s search experience.

Last year alone, Google launched 3,234 improvements to search.

[Reference 10]

Some updates are small, others are more major changes to the way the search engine functions, looks for and ranks your web content.

Unfortunately this means SEO work is never really ‘done’. It is simply revised according to algorithm updates and SEO best practice at the time.

SEO requires attention, review and updates at least every six months in order to remain effective. While this recurring task can be frustrating for businesses, it is worth remembering the importance of internet searches in the lead-up to (research) and purchase of goods and services.

Did you know? 47% of total global purchases are completed online. Of the shoppers who visited a ‘bricks and mortar’ store, 90% said they used online search prior to their visit.

[Reference 11]

To be competitive in this environment, SEO must form a critical part of your business development and marketing strategy.

Organic search results v paid advertisements

SEO is the process of optimising a website and its content so it will appear in a prominent position in organic (ie. not paid) search engine results.

Although paid advertisements take out the top spot in SERPs, they don’t always mean more clicks. In fact, between 70% and 80% of users completely ignore paid advertisements [Reference 12] making SEO crucial when promoting your business and/or product online.

Paid online advertising (also known as pay per click or PPC) can be an important part of your online presence but it shouldn’t make up all of it. Again, this comes back to credibility and trust – consumers value organic search results more highly because they are free from paid influence.

Combining both paid advertising and good SEO can increase click-through as it combines the visibility of an ad and the credibility of organic search results.

‘Marketers using both organic SEO techniques and pay-per-click ads see an average of 25% more clicks and 27% more profits compared to using a single technique.’

[Reference 13]


Is it worth it?

Yes! Ultimately SEO is all about good content. Good content is the stuff your audience (target market) finds valuable or useful, so find out what they want and deliver.

Once you have good content you can implement technical and off-site SEO to ensure your web content is visible to search engines, accessible, tagged appropriately, and optimised for mobile, tablet and desktop viewing.


Learn more



  1. Baker, L. (2017.) ‘Chapter 1: 20 years of SEO: A brief history of search engine optimization’. SEO 101: Learn the Basics of Search Engine Optimization, Search Engine Journal. Published by Alpha Brand Media.

  2. Fisher, S. (2019.) ‘The Top 10 Most Popular Sites of 2019’, Lifewire. Updated 25 November, 2019. Accessed 25 November 2019.

  3. (2019.) ‘The top 500 sites on the web’, Amazon. Accessed 25 November 2019.

  4. Liedke, L. (2020.) ‘100+ Internet Statistics and Facts for 2020’, Published 31 January 2020. Accessed 7 February 2020.

  5. Strickland, J. & Donovan, J. (2019.) ‘How Google Published 30 May 2019. Accessed 23 November 2019.

  6. Chris, A. ‘What is Technical SEO? Best Practices for Higher Rankings (and a Checklist)’, Accessed 13 February 2020.

  7. Chris, A. ‘On-Page SEO Techniques That’ll Boost Your Rankings (Checklist Included)’, Accessed 13 February 2020.

  8. Chris, A. ‘What is Off-Page SEO?’ Accessed 13 February 2020.

  9. Shelley, R. (2019.) ’80 SEO & SEM Statistics That Prove the Power of Search [2019 Update]’, SMA Marketing. Published 16 October 2019. Accessed 7 February 2020.

  10. Think with Google. (2020.) ‘Our mission: Rigorous testing’. How Search works. Accessed 7 February 2020.

  11. Think with Google. (2019.) ‘Shopping insights: Understand how people around the world are shopping’. Consumer Insights. Accessed 7 February 2020.

  12. Shelley, R. (2019.) ’80 SEO & SEM Statistics That Prove the Power of Search [2019 Update]’, SMA Marketing. Published 16 October 2019. Accessed 7 February 2020.

  13. ibid.

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