SEO 101: An Introduction To The Fundamentals Of Website Ranking


Welcome to the SEO 101 series with First Page Digital!

If you’re reading this, you probably want the low-down on what SEO is all about.

In this series, we will take you through the “whats”, “whys” and “hows” of the many different facets of SEO. You’ve landed on the first installment of our SEO 101 series, where you’ll get a crash course on the fundamentals of this core aspect of digital marketing.

With that said and done, let’s start from the beginning!

What is SEO?

Search Engine Optimization, popularly known as SEO, is the practice of driving website visitors – also called “traffic” – to a website via organic means while raising its search engine ranking based on certain criteria.

In other words, the goal of SEO is to get your website ranking higher on search engine result pages (SERPs). It sounds like a difficult task, but there are countless ways website owners can optimize their website. These help you rank better, get more traffic and drive conversions – win-win!

A strong SEO strategy optimizes a website to provide the optimal user experience, utilizing different techniques to appeal to search engines bots too. There are so many techniques and ways to go about it, SEO can be viewed as an art as well as a science. But this begs the question – why do it at all?

Why is SEO Important?

For businesses, simply having a website is not enough. To make the most out of your website, you need to implement SEO best practices.

SEO is crucial for a number of reasons, the first being that ranking better means your site is more visible to searchers. Higher visibility levels mean more searchers will locate your site on SERPs and give you a click. It can be looked at as a numbers game, and good SEO will stack the odds in your favor.

With a strong SEO strategy behind you, you’ll achieve better outcomes and experience more tangible benefits from your website, ultimately resulting in more revenue for your business.

So how does it all work? SEO uses organic methods to gain organic traffic, but this type of organic isn’t talking about your fruit and vegetables!

Now, on to the technical stuff!

What Does Organic Mean in SEO?

The term “organic traffic” refers to searchers who locate your website by:

  • Directly typing in your website URL
  • A link from another website
  • Unpaid Google search listings

The third point is the one site owners have the most direct power to influence, and therefore will be our main focus in this guide. An unpaid Google search listing is also called an organic listing, which means that the site achieved its ranking by using SEO to get there rather than using paid search engine marketing (SEM) methods.

Websites who achieve rank 1 on a set of search terms in Google, Baidu, Bing or any other search engine get the lion’s share of organic traffic. According to studies by Moz, 71.33% of searches end in the user clicking an organic page 1 search result. Additionally, the first five search results account for 67.60% of all clicks.

This puts organic traffic and SEO right on the top of the digital marketing hierarchy. But how do search engines work out which websites go where on SERPs?

How Do Search Engines Work?

Search engines generally build their index according to the findings of web-crawling mechanisms known as “bots” or “spiders”. These spiders crawl through web pages, usually starting with a list of URLs accumulated from previous crawls. Upon detecting new URLs, the bot will record them in their index.

Each search engine’s ranking formula differs, which is why different providers fetch divergent results for the same search terms. These formulas are referred to as “algorithms”, which often fluctuate and change in order to provide the most relevant search results for the end users.

An understanding of the basic “dos and don’ts” of making your site tick the necessary boxes for these algorithms is the key to achieving a better organic ranking.

What Factors Determine Search Engine Rankings?

Image courtesy of Moz

Now that we’ve outlined how search engines work, it’s time get into the nitty-gritty of what criteria search engines use to actually rank pages in their index. Since there are over 200 individual factors that determine site ranking, we will summarize the ones you need to know the most.

SEO techniques fall into one of two categories: on-page and off-page. On-page SEO refers to altering the elements of the web page you can actually see. This involves optimizing the HTML code, the onsite content quality, and its structure. In off-page SEO, you’ll focus on practices which exist outside of the website including building backlinks, ensuring they are relevant, accumulating social signals and more.

The most critical on-page SEO ranking factors include:

  1. Keywords

    These are the search terms that users type into search engines. By including search terms nominated through research on a relevant platform, your website stands a better chance at ranking higher. A note of caution: onsite content must be readable, first and foremost. “Stuffing” keywords where they don’t make sense can actually decrease your ranking, as it is not an ethical SEO practice.

  2. Content Relevance

    High-quality content reads well, contains the keywords you want to rank for, and is relevant to what the user is searching for. Content is your primary directive for achieving engagement and can include video and pictures as well as the written word.

  3. Webpage Structure

    This refers to the HTML tags that communicate succinctly to search bots. The easier your page structure is for them to understand, the more favorably your site will be indexed. These include optimizing meta descriptions, meta tags, header tags (H1, H2, etc.) and more.

  4. Internal Links 

    These ensure users have easy access to other relevant pages on your site, making it easier for bots to crawl and navigate your website too.

  5. Page Optimization

    On the performance side of things, page load speed and optimization for different platforms or devices also contribute to your site’s ranking. For instance, if your images are too large and take ten seconds to load, this isn’t good. Likewise, now that mobile SEO is crucial you can no longer get away with not having a mobile-optimized website.

Off-page SEO ranking factors include:

  1. Domain Authority

    This evaluates how trustworthy your domain name is. This takes numerous factors into consideration, such as how many other domains link to yours and how long you’ve had it.

  2. Your Backlink Profile

    Arguably the king of off-page SEO, your backlink profile is the collection of links from other sites that point to yours. Building backlinks is challenging, but taking measures like posting a link to your website on social media, doing guest blogs among others can go a long way.

The umbrella topic of SEO has many facets. In posts to come, we’ll take you through the different SEO methods, their ethics, techniques for various platforms and much more. Stay tuned for our next installment!

We hope you enjoyed this first edition of our SEO 101 series. If you want a head-start with on-page SEO and have your landing pages make the right impression, check out our blog to get 8 Ingredients for Powerful Landing Pages