What is SEO and how does it work: A guide for start-ups and small businesses…

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What is SEO and how does it work?

If you want to understand SEO then you have come to the right place. The aim of this guide is to explain what is SEO and how does it work. This includes how to use SEO optimisation techniques and SEO marketing to increase free organic traffic to your website. SEO is not a quick fix. But, if understood and applied correctly, you will start to see great results in the medium to long term.

What is SEO and how does it work? This is the million-pound question that numerous start-up businesses and SMEs ask us. The words Search Engine Optimisation can sound intimidating to someone who does not know what it means. And many SEO agencies fail to break down SEO into understandable terms so clients can understand what and why certain things are being done.

It shouldn’t be this way, so our what is SEO and how does it work guide sets out to clearly explain SEO. Even if you do not have an in-house marketing team or anyone with SEO experience. We aim to provide guidance on how to effectively implement SEO within your business. And by following the guidelines we aim to empower you to be able to do so.   

Are you are ready to begin your journey into finding out what is SEO and how does it work? Ok, let’s get started…

SEO Definition

Before we delve into SEO optimisation, we must first answer the following question – what is SEO?

SEO means Search Engine Optimisation and is a digital marketing strategy that focuses on your website’s presence in search results. Examples of search engines include Google and Bing. By optimising your website correctly, you will overtime rank higher in the search engine results page (SERP). This results in more organic, un-paid traffic being directed to your website.

When you understand how SEO works, you can apply a variety of techniques to increase your businesses visibility, allowing you to rank higher in search results.    

What is SEO and how does it work for start-ups and small businesses – The Meaning

The meaning of SEO is to make appropriate changes to your business’s website design and web page content. By doing so you make your website more attractive to search engines. This then encourages search engines like Google and Bing to display your website higher in the search engine results page.

Search engines want to deliver high-quality results for their customers. This means providing results that the searcher wants to see. In other words, the search results need to be relevant to what the searcher wants to find. To find relevant results, search engines crawl through websites to understand what they are about and if they are relevant to the searchers intent. They can then display appropriate results to the searcher based on the topic and keywords. As well as relevance, the search engine will check websites to identify how easy they are to navigate. User-friendly websites are then rewarded with higher rankings on search engine results pages.  

So, having determined that search engines like to display relevant and user-friendly sites in SERPs – how do you as a business make sure your website ranks higher for relevant keywords and phrases that you wish to rank for?

Put simply you will need to identify relevant keywords that you wish to rank each web page for. SEO is then the process of helping those web pages rank higher in search results for those targeted keywords.  

There are several benefits in investing time in implementing SEO for your business. The advantages include:

  • Increased visibility on search engines
  • Reach and engage with more potential customers
  • Increase targeted organic website traffic through SEO-focused content

Visibility and readability are the key to effective SEO for your business. To achieve this optimising your website and content helps to give your SEO meaning.

How do I do SEO Marketing?

Now we have given you an SEO definition and discussed the meaning of SEO for start-ups and small businesses, you maybe trying to understand how you can properly implement it within your business to achieve better SEO results.

Firstly, let’s look at the factors that impact SEO ranking. Google has an algorithm that is used to rank websites, which they will never openly give away. There are a few factors that do impact on (SERP) rankings, and these include on-page SEO and off-page SEO factors.

What is SEO and how does it work: On-page and Off-page optimisation

Keyword Research

Before looking into on-page and off-page SEO in more detail lets look at one of the most important factors. If you want your target audience to find you on the search engine results page you must appear for keywords that your target audience is searching for. The power of keyword research lies in better understanding your target market and how they are searching for your content, services, or products. Keyword research allows you to identify specific search data that helps you answer the following questions:

  • What does my target audience search for?
  • What is the search volume?
  • How do they want the information displayed to them? E.g. blog, infographic, video

When you identify how, what and why your target audience is searching for your content you start to uncover a new world of strategic SEO. You’ll begin to understand what is SEO and how does it work for your business.

Content Marketing

The creation of content is a great way to attract search engines to find and rank your content. Great content also allows your business to connect with website visitors. The higher the quality of the content you create and upload to your website, the better the chance you have of ranking higher on Google.

Also, if your content is more engaging and interesting than others, the more chance you have of keeping visitors on your website. This improves the chances of them making an enquiry or purchase from you online.

There is no secret to creating great content that is optimised for search engines and site visitors. It comes down to creating an array of different types of content. The content needs to be well written and on subjects relevant to your target audience. You need to engage them with content that they find interesting and want to read. Examples of different types of content to focus on to improve your content marketing and search engine ranking include:

  • Blog articles
  • Thought leadership features
  • Whitepapers
  • Case studies
  • Infographics
  • Social media content
  • How to guides
  • Videos
  • Evergreen content

When you have determined the type of content you wish to create it is just as important to carry out keyword research. The SEO keywords and phrases are relevant words that a search engine user or your target audience uses when searching for answers to questions or looking for relevant products or services. By creating content based upon appropriate keywords or phrases, it gives you a greater opportunity to rank higher in the SERPs.

Another factor impacting your content and search engine ranking is how fresh or new your content is. This refers to how often you post new content onto your website. This does not necessarily mean you need to create new content all the time. For some posts, you can always update them by rewriting parts to make them more readable or add new data and stats.

You maybe looking at this thinking that content marketing and content creation will take up a lot of time and resources. This is certainly the case if you want to create quality, relevant content that your target audience values. Search engines like google need great content, and your target audience needs quality content to better understand the knowledge and expertise of your business.

Our tip is to start creating blog posts and build a following on social media you can share it with. Over time your business can work towards creating different types of content increase brand awareness and attract more leads. If you still feel you don’t have time for this, then check out our content marketing services here.

What is SEO and how does it work: On-page SEO factors

When it comes to on-page SEO, these are all tasks that occur on your website and you have complete control over. As a result, this means that you can work at improving these factors over time.

Here’s some examples of on-page SEO factors that you can work on in order to improve search ranking:

Title tags

By having title tags on each web page, it is a way of telling search engines what your page is about. It needs to include the keyword or phrase and your business name. It is a way of telling the search engine to find your content and rank it when searchers type in the keyword or phrase that you wish to rank for.

Meta Description

The meta description tells the search engine information about what the web page is about. It is used by visitors to the site so they can understand what the web page is about and if it’s relevant for their search. Within the meta description the keyword or keyword phrase should be included, and there should be adequate details to inform the searcher about the content they will see if they click through.   


Sub-headings make your content easier to read and helps with improving SEO. H1, H2 and H3 tags can be used to help search engines understand what the content on the web page is about. These headings also create a better user experience for website visitors, which means they are likely to stay on the site for longer. Again, this is advantageous for SEO.  

Internal Links

By using internal links, also called hyperlinks to other content pages on your website, it helps search engines learn more about your website. As an example, if you wrote a piece of content about the benefits of a product or service that you provide, you can then link to the specific product or service page within the post.

Image Name and ALT Tags

For all images used within your website and blog posts, you should include your keyword or keyword phrase within the image name and alt tag. In doing so you help SEO as it encourages search engines to better index the images, and they may appear when searchers perform image searches for specific keywords.

Avoid Over-optimisation

 You should never place too many SEO keywords and phrases on web pages as this leads to over-optimisation. Search engines such as Google and Bing punish web pages that attempt to use too many keywords throughout web page content or blogs.

It is important to focus on just one or two keywords for each piece of content to ensure your content is specific and relevant. If you have too many keywords it will cause your content to become un-focused and search engines do not like thin content.  

Site Architecture

Your website should be built in a way that it is easy for search engines to scan and crawl your pages for content. Therefore, your website architecture should take this into account. Another site architecture concern is whether your website is mobile-friendly. Google prioritizes mobile page load speed as a key metric when determining your website’s search ranking. So, if you want to rank ahead of other websites, having a mobile friendly site is a must.

Creating and Submitting a sitemap

By creating and submitting a sitemap to search engines such as Google can help with your websites crawlability and even give search engines a greater understanding of the content that is available on your website.

What is SEO and how does it work: Off-page SEO factors

Now that you have learnt about on-page SEO and how does it work, we can move onto off-page SEO. There are a number of important off-page factors that can impact your search engine ranking. It’s important to understand that you do not have full control over off-page factors but there are methods that can be deployed to increase your chances of success.

To be clear and to define off-page SEO; it refers to actions taken outside of your own website to impact your rankings within search engine results pages (SERPs). Here are some examples of off-page SEO factors that you can work on to try to improve ranking:


Google ranks websites based upon several factors and one of them is trust. Google wants to rank legitimate, safe sites that visitors will be able to trust. An effective way of building trust with Google is to build legitimate backlinks to your website from other websites that can be trusted and have authority in Googles eyes.

Backlink Building

Its not about the number of backlinks you have, its about the authority and relevance of the websites that are linking to your site. You should aim to build backlinks from sites with high authority and that are relevant to your website. There is no point linking from a diet website to your motorcycle website, the link has no relevance. You should take time to build relationships with influencers within your industry or niche. You want links from websites that create quality content and who will link back to your website from within their content. Other methods include email outreach, fixing broken links and public relations.

Social Signals

Another important off-page SEO factor is social signals including likes and shares. It is important to reiterate that by creating quality content you are going to get more and more likes, shares and backlinks. Examples include:

  • Infographics – Visuals are really easy to link to.
  • List posts – e.g. 21 benefits of…, these provide lots of information in an easy to understand format.
  • Original research and data – stats and data are highly linkable.
  • Ultimate Guides – Comprehensive amount of information in one go to place.

 The more relevant and interesting your content is, the more chance you have of other people linking to it and sharing it across social media channels. This will have the effect of demonstrating that your content is trustworthy and search engines such as Google will see it that way also.

A word of warning on Black Hat SEO

No guide to SEO would be complete without a word of warning on black hat link building. Black hat SEO is a practice against search engine guidelines, used to get a website ranking higher in search results. These tactics seek to trick search engine algorithms and usually end in a penalty. They include keyword stuffing, cloaking, poor quality content, sneaky redirects, link farms, blog comment spams and more.

Black hat SEO uses dodgy tactics to get your website to rank instead of earning the right to be ranked highly, and by continually using this approach, over time it will damage your presence in search engine results.

Black hat SEO isn’t illegal, but you should expect to pay the price if you choose to use this tactic. Being penalised by search engines such as Google could mean your website drops down search rankings or gets removed altogether. The negative result of this includes less and less free organic traffic to your site and fewer converting customers.

Play by the rules with White Hat SEO

White Hat SEO means to play by Googles rules by using Google approved website optimisation techniques. To do this effectively you must prioritise the user over everything else.

So here’s how you play by the rules:

  • Optimise for humans not search engines
  • Create quality content that people actively want to read and share
  • Create a website that stands out from your competitors

This approach will allow you to create a long term sustainable business online.

You may have noticed a repeating theme throughout that involves providing a great user experience throughout your website and publishing high-quality content that visitors want to actively engage with.

What is SEO and how does it work – Final Thoughts

You should now be able to understand what SEO is and how it works. As a result, you should be able to apply the on-page SEO tactics to your website and make positive changes. You should also be able to better understand off-page SEO and the crucial role that creating high-quality content plays in the success of your SEO.

It is crucial to understand what your target audience is searching for using keyword research. You can then optimise your web pages to target the most appropriate keywords or phrases to get your website to appear in front of them in search engine results.

Creating valuable and relevant content for your target audience is crucial. Quality content aimed at helping your human visitors to your site is the best way to build a sustainable business. As a result, it will bring in new organic site traffic to your website and help your site rank higher in search results.

Being patient is crucial as it may take months for your content to rank highly on the search engine results page.

Not got the time to effectively look at your SEO? Capella Synergy has years of expertise as an SEO Agency in Swindon and serving businesses of all sizes throughout the UK. We will improve your search engine ranking and drive relevant free organic traffic to your website.

We are also experts at creating inspiring and engaging content. Our content marketing services include content strategy, content creation and digital PR. As content marketing is crucial to SEO success now could be a great time to let the experts create your content.