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What is SEO? Search Engine Optimization In Plain English

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The Ultimate Guide to SEO: Better Rankings, More Traffic

What is SEO and Why Does it Matter?

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of optimizing your website to rank higher in search engine results for relevant queries. The higher your site appears, the more organic traffic you’ll receive from people searching for topics related to your business. And since organic traffic converts better than other sources, this increase in visibility directly translates to more leads and sales.

Over 60% of all web traffic originates from searches on Google, Bing, Yahoo, and other major engines. With such a huge audience at stake, mastering SEO is crucial for any business looking to thrive online. The benefits of SEO include boosting brand awareness, establishing authority and credibility, driving high-quality traffic, and ultimately increasing revenue.

How Search Engines Work

To understand how to optimize for search engines, we first need to look at how they actually work. Search engines like Google use crawlers (bots) to scan web pages, index the content they find, and then rank that content in their results pages based on complex algorithms.

These algorithms take into account hundreds of ranking factors to determine the most relevant and trustworthy sites for any given search query. While the exact formulas remain secret, we know the main criteria include:


Does the content directly answer the searcher’s query? The closer the match between content and search terms, the higher it will rank.


Authoritative sites with many high-quality backlinks from other trusted domains are viewed as more credible by search engines. Building quality backlinks is crucial for establishing authority.

User Experience

Pages that keep users engaged with fast load times, easy navigation, and quality content are rewarded with higher rankings. Search engines prioritize satisfying user intent with helpful and user-friendly results.

The Key Pillars of SEO

With insight into how search engines work, we can identify the core components of an effective SEO strategy. At IncRev, we focus on optimizing our clients’ sites across these key areas:

Content Optimization

Creating helpful, informative content optimized around relevant keywords is the backbone of SEO. From blogs and guides to product listings and landing pages, strategic content optimization ensures your site provides value for searchers.

On-Page SEO

Once you have great content, on-page SEO techniques like optimizing titles, meta descriptions, header tags, and internal linking help search engines understand and surface that content in relevant queries.

Technical SEO

Technical SEO encompasses optimizing your site’s structure, code, server, and other backend elements to facilitate easier crawling and indexing by search bots. A solid technical foundation is essential for effective on-page optimization.

Link Building

Even with amazing content, you need quality backlinks from other authoritative sites to signal credibility and boost your domain authority in Google’s eyes. Smart link acquisition elevates your entire site’s trust and rankings.

Conducting Customer and Keyword Research

Before delving into optimization tactics, step one of any SEO campaign is understanding your target audience and the language they use online. This crucial keyword research lays the groundwork for creating content that resonates and ranks.

Building Customer Personas

Start by developing detailed customer personas that capture your ideal customers’ demographics, interests, pain points, and behavioral patterns. Tools like personasClass and surveys can provide rich persona insights.

Mining for Keyword Opportunities

With clear personas in mind, identify the words and phrases they use to search for solutions like yours. Leverage tools like Google’s Keyword Planner, Keywords Everywhere, and Answer the Public to build out comprehensive keyword lists spanning product, informational, and long-tail terms.

Prioritize keywords based on factors like search volume, competition levels, and business relevance. Then use those insights to strategically select your target keywords as pillars for your content.

Content Optimization for SEO

Once you know what your audience is searching for, it’s time to create digital content tailored to those topics and keywords. This content marketing strategy forms the core of any successful SEO campaign.

Blog and Article Content

Quality blog posts and articles are crucial for ranking on informational and long-tail keywords. To stand out, thoroughly cover your chosen topics with data-driven analysis, original research, comprehensive guides, multimedia assets, and other engaging content types.

The goal is to create the single best resource on a subject that satisfies searcher intent while naturally incorporating your target keywords. Consistent publishing on an authoritative blog demonstrates topical relevance to search engines.

Search Engine Optimized Blog Post Concept

Product and Services Pages

While blogs drive traffic around topically relevant keywords, your product and service pages should target more commercially oriented terms that directly relate to your core offerings. Approach these pages as informative sales assets, optimizing titles, descriptions, and on-page copy to convince qualified searchers of your solution’s value.

Don’t be afraid to go in-depth on features, specifications, and use cases—the more helpful details you provide to match searcher intent, the higher you’ll rank for those lucrative transactional queries.

On-Page SEO Essentials

With a content strategy in place, technical on-page optimization ensures that content is properly structured for maximum visibility and impact in search. Key on-page elements to focus on include:

Title Tags

Title tags are the most influential on-page signal, acting as the main headline for how your page appears in search results. For each page, craft an attention-grabbing yet descriptive <60 character title tag that incorporates your target keyword naturally.

Meta Descriptions

While not a direct ranking factor, compelling meta descriptions can boost your page’s click-through rate from SERPs by summarizing the page content and reinforcing relevance to the user’s query. Work your keywords into these ~160 character snippets where appropriate.

Header Tags

Break up your content into logical, skimmable sections using properly nested header tags (H1, H2, H3). Include relevant keywords in headers to reinforce content themes, and structure headlines as questions searchers may ask for improved visibility.

Image Optimization

Search engines can’t read images, so enhance yours with descriptive alt text that incorporates keywords. Also optimize file sizes, formats, and filenames to improve page load times and accessibility.

Internal Linking

Strategically link to related pages and posts across your site using relevant anchor text keywords. This signals content relationships to search crawlers while improving visitor engagement through contextual linking.

Technical SEO Foundations

For content to rank, it must first be easily discoverable and digestible by search engine bots. That’s where technical SEO comes in, optimizing site infrastructure and backend elements like:

Crawlability and Indexability

Ensure your site’s content is accessible to search bots through proper robots.txt file configuration and logical XML sitemaps. Remove barriers like JavaScript rendering issues and duplicate content that confuse or block crawlers.

Site Speed

Page speed is critical for user experience and increasingly a ranking factor for search. Optimize images, leverage browser caching, integrate CDNs, and address any other front and backend performance issues.


With over half of online traffic now mobile, Google and other engines prioritize sites with responsive, mobile-optimized experiences in their rankings. Test and refine your mobile UX using tools like Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test.

Site Architecture

A logical, crawlable architecture facilitates ranking across your entire domain. Conduct a technical SEO audit to analyze areas like URL structures, redirect implementations, structured data, canonical tags, and other vital infrastructure elements.

Link Building for Authority

Content and on-page optimization are crucial, but without authoritative inbound links from other quality sites, your SEO performance will be limited. Building a diverse backlink portfolio signals credibility and boosts rankings.

High-Quality Link Sources

Not all links are created equal – focus your link acquisition efforts on earning editorial backlinks from relevant, authoritative, and trusted websites, magazines, directories, influencers, and other high-quality third-party sources.

Strategic Tactics

Proven link building tactics include:

  • Guest blogging and content contributions on industry publications
  • Unstructured link acquisition through PR campaigns and branded promotional efforts
  • Curating data-driven studies and visualizations worthy of being referenced and cited
  • Strategic partnerships, sponsorships, and co-marketing initiatives to foster backlink exchanges

Continuously expand your backlink portfolio through creative, relevant campaigns to strengthen your authority and search visibility.

Optimizing for Search Intent

Search engines are becoming increasingly adept at understanding user intent behind queries and surfacing the most relevant, satisfying results. Optimizing your content and on-page elements to match that intent is critical.

Understanding Intent Types

Search intent generally falls into four main categories:

  1. Informational: Searchers looking for specific information, answers or instructions
  2. Navigational: Queries aimed at finding a particular website or web page
  3. Transactional: Users intending to complete an action like a purchase or download
  4. Commercial Investigation: Preliminary research to understand options around a future purchase

Optimizing for Each Intent

Tailor your content strategies, on-page elements, and even conversion funnels to provide the ideal answer based on each search intent category:

  • Informational: In-depth guides, tutorials, definitions, and educational resources
  • Navigational: Clear site hierarchy, internal linking, search functionality
  • Transactional: Persuasive product details, secure purchasing flows, clear CTAs
  • Commercial: Comparison pages, buying guides, video reviews, pricing details

Nailing user intent not only helps your pages rank but also improves conversions once users arrive on your optimized content.

SEO Trends to Watch

SEO is an ever-evolving field. As search engines and user behavior shift, new best practices and optimization opportunities emerge. Here are a few key areas to keep an eye on:

AI and Natural Language Processing

Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing (NLP) are enabling search engines to better understand semantics, context, and intent beyond just keywords. Optimizing for nuanced language models and conversational searches will be key.

Visual and Voice Search

While text-based search still dominates, optimization around visual and voice queries is becoming more crucial. Ensure transcripts, captions, structured data markup, and image/video optimization facilitate visibility across these modes.

Featured Snippets and No-Click Searches

Search engines are striving to provide direct answers within their result pages through featured snippets, knowledge panels, and other SERP features. Crafting content optimized for these no-click search experiences can capture significant visibility.

Mobile-First and Local Optimization

With mobile and localized searches surging, ensuring a seamless mobile UX and local business listing optimization are becoming necessities for prominent search visibility in many industries.

Keeping tabs on these trends and proactively adapting your SEO tactics will help future-proof your efforts and maintain a competitive edge in search.


How long does SEO take to work?

SEO results can vary greatly depending on factors like your site’s existing authority, content quality, competition levels, and overall strategy execution. While you may see some ranking improvements within a few months for lower-difficulty terms, it often takes 6-12 months to achieve significant organic traffic gains, especially for highly competitive keywords and industries.

Does SEO still work in 2024?

Absolutely – SEO’s importance and value are only increasing as more businesses vie for online visibility and search remains the dominant driver of website traffic. However, SEO tactics are constantly evolving to align with changing user behavior and algorithm updates. Succeeding requires an agile, data-driven approach optimized for the latest search engine expectations.

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