SEO basics: the ABCs of search engine optimization

Women holding magnifying glass to signify she knows a lot of about search and SEO.

What is SEO?

Simply put, SEO stands for search engine optimization, which is the practice of optimizing a website’s content so it will appear higher in organic, or unpaid, search results. Search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo rank and display webpages based on what the search engine determines to be relevant to a particular search query. After all, the number one goal of a search engine results page (SERP) is to provide a user with the best, most relevant answers to their question. By optimizing a page’s content to best match what your target audience is searching for, then, you can improve your SERP ranking — which ultimately leads to more traffic to your site. In a nutshell? Mastering the art of SEO means free traffic to your website.

Why is SEO important?

SEO is critical for any business in today’s market — even brick-and-mortar businesses. But it’s especially important for those that operate online. According to the article “25 Mind-Bottling SEO Stats for 2021 (and Beyond),” 68% of online experiences begin with a search engine, and 75% of people don’t scroll beyond the first page of search results. What’s more, 61% of B2B marketers reported that SEO generates more leads than any other marketing initiative. That’s huge! If you have a website that you want to increase online traffic to, then SEO should be a fundamental part of your marketing strategy.

How does SEO work?

Search engines use crawlers that go out and crawl the web, collecting information about all the content they find on the internet. Those crawled pages are then indexed and put through an algorithm, which then decides which webpages are shown for certain search queries and what order the results will appear in. Google regularly updates and improves its algorithm to reflect its focus on the user, overall content quality, and relevance of the search results.

In order to provide highly relevant and high-quality search results, Google uses three factors to measure a website, known as E-A-T: expertise, authority, and trust. Google’s primary goal is to provide value to its users, and to do that, it only promotes websites that it understands and trusts. You can begin to improve the E-A-T of your website by focusing on putting the user first and nailing SEO fundamentals.

SEO fundamentals

The fundamental ranking factors of SEO can be broken down into a handful of categories: architecture, backlinks, content, device, and experience for the user — thus, the ABCs of SEO. These SEO fundamentals consist of both on-page and off-page SEO elements. On-page SEO is focused on improving components on your website to achieve higher rankings, whereas off-page SEO is focused on gaining exposure for your website via other websites and channels off of your website.


Architecture refers to the technical SEO of your website and is a fundamental piece of on-page SEO. Technical aspects like site speed, crawlability, security, and more contribute to your site’s rankings and are important for users and search engines alike. In fact, 40% of people abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load, according to Neil Patel. Slow loading and poorly formatted websites can even drive users away for good! Creating a strong technical foundation for your website resonates with users and search engines alike, so it’s a no-brainer to make site architecture a top priority.


Backlinks are links that point to your website from an external website. Backlinks are an important ranking factor for search engines because they can demonstrate expertise, authority, and trust in your website on a particular topic. Link building is off-page SEO and is focused on generating reputable links to your website from other websites. This is seen as a vote of trust.

It’s important to note that not all backlinks are created equal. Backlinks are weighted differently depending on the quality of the website they’re coming from. Links from websites with a higher domain authority (think sites that demonstrate E-A-T) are more powerful and will pass on more link value to another website than an unknown website with poor rankings will.


Haven’t you heard that content is king? Content refers to the copy, images, charts, videos, and more that make up a page. SEO used to be very focused on keywords and using them the right number of times and in the right places on a webpage. Over the years, however, search engines have advanced exponentially and have grown to prioritize a site’s content, as well as its usability and relevance, over keyword density. In order for content to be considered high-quality, it must be:

  • Aligned to user intent
  • Comprehensive
  • Unique
  • Relevant and valuable
  • Authoritative

Quality content creates a positive experience for users and can drive them to return to your site. Content also helps to establish and build a relationship with prospective clients. It’s estimated that consumers view 3-5 pieces of content created by a company before talking to a salesman from that company.


There are a number of devices used to access the internet, including desktop computers, mobile phones, and tablets. With more and more people accessing websites and online content via their smartphones, it should be no surprise that mobile matters for SEO. In recent years, Google has been moving toward mobile-first indexing, which means that the mobile view of a website is used for indexing and ranking rather than the desktop version. For this reason, it’s crucial [LG2] that your site’s content is consistent between a desktop and mobile device. If your mobile site is missing key functionality or important content that’s used on your desktop site, you may see a negative impact on your website’s rankings.


SEO and the user’s experience go hand in hand. User experience is essentially a culmination of everything we’ve discussed above: enabling fast page load times, delivering valuable content, and creating a sound experience on different devices. You also need to think about the site’s visual appeal. Are you using engaging graphics like tables, charts, and images that help enhance the page’s text? Are you using headers throughout your website and webpages for scannability? There isn’t just one kind of user, so making sure your website is inclusive and accessible is an important part of user experience. Although Google and other search engines may not come out and say it, user signals play an important role in rankings. If users aren’t interested in and engaging with your website and its content, it’s more than likely you’re going to see a negative impact on your organic rankings. Bottom line: The overall user experience of your website weighs heavily into SEO and search engine rankings.

Next steps…

It’s important to recognize that all of the ranking factors outlined above work together. Your site may have great content, but if it’s slow to load, there will be a significant drop-off and fewer visitors will actually see your content.

Now that you understand what SEO is, why it’s important, and how it works, your next step should be to evaluate your website against the SEO fundamentals we’ve outlined above.

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Sara Hanlon

Sara Hanlon is the President and co-founder of Peer Sales Agency. At Peer, she guides clients with sales-focused strategies that unlock revenue and helps them scale. She’s happy to ideate and orchestrate, providing solutions that move the needle.


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