Search Engine Optimization

What is SEO? Search Engine Optimization For Beginners

What is SEO or Search Engine Optimization can be very confusing for beginners! This guide explains On-Page, Technical, Off-Page SEO, Keywords & Backlinks in easy terms

What is SEO or Search Engine Optimization can be very confusing for beginners! This guide explains On-Page, Technical, Off-Page SEO, Keywords & Backlinks in easy terms

What is SEO or Search Engine Optimization can be very confusing for beginners! This guide explains On-Page, Technical, Off-Page SEO, Keywords & Backlinks in easy terms

May 1, 2024

What is SEO or Search Engine Optimization
What is SEO or Search Engine Optimization
What is SEO or Search Engine Optimization

SEO is short for Search Engine Optimization. SEO is the process through which you can improve your website’s rankings and search position on Google.

Sounds simple? Indeed.

But it’s hard, really hard to rank on the first page of Google. If you’re ambitious, you’d ideally like to rank #1 on Google for your desired products or services, i.e. if users search for your products or services on Google, you’d love to be the first organic result, wouldn’t you? Fortunately, it’s hard but possible. But before delving into how to optimise your website for search engines, you need to really understand what is SEO or search engine optimization.

This article is meant for beginners - who’d like to understand SEO from scratch. We will cover all the basics of SEO. And for enthusiasts who would like to understand the nuances of SEO, not just the practical aspects. Because if you understand exactly what is search engine optimization, you can implement it 1000x better than if you were following a checklist without understanding how each point helps with SEO or search engine optimization.

Here are the things we will cover in this blog about what is SEO

  1. What is SEO or Search Engine Optimization?

    1. What are Search Engines and How Do They Work

    2. What does Search Engine Optimization Mean

  2. What are On Page SEO, Off Page SEO and Technical SEO?

  3. What are Keywords and Backlinks?

Let’s get started on our comprehensive what is SEO guide -

  1. What is SEO - Search Engine Optimization?

Before we understand SEO, let’s understand what is a search engine. Most of us know Google to be the universal God of Search Engines. But there are others that claim minority search shares like Bing, Safari, etc. However, according to Statista, since Google claims the lion’s share of the market, we are mostly going to focus on Google. However, all search engines will follow the same basic principles.

1.1. What are Search Engines and How Do They Work?

Search Engines are websites where you type in your query and get back multiple pages of results from across the web that hopefully resolve your query. As a user, you click on a few of them and go to the desired pages. You go through those pages and decide if they are useful to you. If they are not useful, you close those tabs and get back to the search results to find better pages that serve your purpose. A simple process.

For the search engine though, you’ve created thousands of data points that it will use to further improve its search results. Let’s see the kind of data points that the search engine has tracked to understand your behaviour. These data points are what you’ll be tracking and optimising for SEO.

A. Impressions

Each result that shows up in your search is an ‘impression’. So if you Google ‘What is SEO’ and you scroll through to 8 results, then each of those 8 results have now recorded an impression. Search engines record each impression along with the position and the query for which that impression occurred. Search engines then use these impressions (along with CTR and other parameters below) to determine how well the particular link satisfies the user’s interest.


CTR is Click Through Rate. It means that if a particular result appears a 100 times (if you’ve already graduated to SEO talk - records a 100 impressions), how many times is it clicked by the user? For e.g. if a 100 people searched for ‘What is SEO’, how many people clicked on Link #1, Link #2, Link #3 etc. It is fascinating to understand the CTR by search position. This chart by Backlinko below shows what is the CTR for each search position, i.e. CTR for search results at Position #1, #2, #3 etc.

If you observe this chart of Organic CTR, you’ll see that while Result #1 has a 27.6% CTR, Result #10 only has 2.4%. That means that Result #1 on Google is clicked 10x more times than Result #10, despite being on Page 1! The top 3 results comprise of more than 50% of Clicks. This means that more than 50% people do not venture beyond the top 3 results. So if you’re not in Top 3 results, you’ve already lost 50% of the users’ attention. No one wants that! Solution? SEO!

Well then, let’s double down on learning what is search engine optimisation thoroughly, shall we?

C. Time Spent on Page

Once a user lands on a page, the search engine tracks how much time the user spends on the page, how deeply they scroll and how much they interact with the page. This indicates how useful the user finds the information on the page. A user is unlikely to stay on the page long if it doesn’t satisfy their needs.

D. Bounce Rate

Along with time spent on the page, search engines like to observe whether the user closes the tab almost immediately or navigates to other pages within the website. If the user closes the tab too soon, it’s a bad indication. If they navigate to other blogs/ home page etc, your content has hit the mark! You’ve done your job right.

E. External Links

Once you are on a page, do users like to navigate to other external pages from this page? Are there other pages of authority that this page derives from or redirects to? What are these pages? If they’re coming from a source users love, that means a lot!

And while there are several other parameters that search engines track, this is a good introduction for the purpose of SEO. Search engines store and analyse billions of such data points to dynamically decide the ‘SERP Ranking’, i.e. Search Engine Result Page Rankings.

How Do Search Engines Find Results for Every Query?

Now you might ask - well, I understand the concept of SERP Ranking but how do search engines produce these list of results for every query at all? The answer is - by crawling billions of web pages every day. Search engines skim through content and meta data of all pages, analyse the content and store important information about these pages.

Search engines determine the relevance of these pages in context of your query on a real-time basis, but based on information they have already gathered and stored. This process is called ‘crawling and indexing’ webpages, and is a necessary part of SEO. If your pages are not crawled and indexed by the search engines, they CANNOT appear on SERP pages at all. Rankings come into consideration only after they are eligible to be shown.

Now that we understand the basic structures of Search Engines, let’s talk about optimising for them, i.e. Search Engine Optimisation, lovingly known as SEO.

1.2. What does Search Engine Optimization mean?

Search Engine Optimisation means that you optimise your website content for improved search positions on SERPs. That means you are eventually aiming for

  1. More impressions

  2. Better CTR

  3. More time spent on page

  4. Less Bounce Rate

While the first 2 occur on the search page and may not be entirely under your control, the last 2 are 100% under your control through the content you serve up. And if you present delightful content, you indirectly influence the first 2 parameters as well.

Let’s dive into details about the 3 most important parts of SEO and how each of them impacts your search position.

  1. On-Page SEO

  2. Technical SEO

  3. Off-Page SEO

  1. On-Page SEO, Technical SEO, Off-Page SEO

As evident from the name, on-page SEO means optimisation actions that you can implement directly on your webpages. Technical SEO means SEO optimisations that are related to the code/ architecture or your website and impact the usability of your website. Off-page SEO refers to elements outside of your webpage that render a significant impact on your SEO.

2.1. On Page SEO

On-page SEO means optimising the content on the pages of the website for search engines. On-Page SEO includes optimising several parameters on every page of the website like

  1. Meta Data - Page Title, Description, Keywords etc

  2. Page Headings - HTML Heading tags on page like H1, H2, etc.

  3. Page Content - The text that goes onto the page and the proportion of text to other content

  4. Image Alt Tags - Alternative text for images that help search engines understand what the images are about

These are some of the few SEO parameters on the website pages that must be optimised to make for an SEO friendly site. Google itself looks for indicators that content on the website should be very relevant to visitors! Each of the data points that search engines collect (discussed above) are driven by the relevance of the page. For e.g. the Meta Data and Headings indicate to Google what is the topic of the page. The most important element in optimising the on-page elements is extensive keyword research and selection. We’ll talk about what are keywords

2.2. Technical SEO

Apart from the relevance of content, the usability of the website itself also plays a huge role in whether search engines “recommend” that website or webpage to users. For e.g. if a link indexed on Google leads to a broken page or 404, Google will automatically prune that link away. Similar if a webpage takes a long time to load and most users close the tab before the webpage even loads, it is likely that Google will take that into account and penalise the page for poor performance. There are infact several technical website performance indicators that comprise Technical SEO of a website, like

  • Page Speed

  • Mobile usability

  • Content Load Time

  • Internal Navigation

  • Crawlability

  • Correct Implementation of Robots.txt

  • Sitemap

  • Canonicalization

  • Simple URL structure

  • UI/UX and website interface

Many of these factors affect user experience on the site and search engines are laser-focussed on redirecting users to pages which offer impeccable user experience, which in turn determines the effectiveness of the search engine itself. Don’t worry about the technical terms right away, these can be learnt later when it comes to Technical SEO implementation. For now, it is only important to understand that Technical SEO encompasses site performance related parameters.

2.3. Off-Page SEO

In addition to content and technical aspects of the website itself, there is one other factor that determines the relevance of the website and its pages. It is the online version of ‘word of mouth’ for that particular website and webpage. I.e. how many other high-quality websites recommend (i.e. link to) your website. You might have heard the term ‘backlinks’ in context of SEO. Backlinks are links to your website on other webpages across the web. These Backlinks essentially drive off-page SEO. A general rule of thumb is more the backlinks, better the website. High authority websites (for e.g. Wikipedia) have millions of backlinks because other authors like to use then as trusted sources of information or references.

Hence, in summary, the parameters that must be optimised for SEO are

  1. All elements on page - Make sure they are as relevant to the context of the page as possible. Use relevant keywords for the same.

  2. All technical aspects of website - Make sure the pages are as user-friendly as possible

  3. Backlinks for website/ webpages - While backlinks are not entirely in one’s control, try to garner as many high-quality backlinks as possible.

  1. What are Keywords and Backlinks?

We'll also briefly explain what do the terms Keywords and Backlinks mean in context on SEO, but these are vast topics in themselves and we will delve into them in depth in other articles.

3.1. What are Keywords in On-Page SEO?

We briefly touched upon keywords while discussion On-Page SEO. Since they are one of the main ‘ingredients’ of SEO, we’d like to explain them in more detail.

Keywords are essentially ‘search terms’ that people are searching for on Google. For e.g. if these will be the keywords related to ‘what is digital marketing’

For effective on-page SEO, you need to select the right keywords for your business that are relevant, but also have decent search volume. The process of finding and analysing possible keywords and shortlisting the right keywords is called ‘keyword research’. For e.g. the keyword we shortlisted for this article is ‘What is SEO’.

Once you have finalised the keywords, the idea is to include the keywords within the On-page SEO elements like meta tags, content etc. to indicate to search engines that this webpage is linked to these particular keywords. These keywords will then be indexed by search engines to ensure that your webpage appears on the SERPs for similar queries by users.

3.2. What are Backlinks in Off-Page SEO?

We touched upon backlinks when talking about Off-Page SEO. Backlinks are links to your website from external pages. Search Engine use backlinks as a proxy for the ‘popularity’ or authoritativeness of a page. If thousands of websites are linking to your page/ content, then your webpage must be genuine and value-rich.

Like everything else, backlinks come in several shapes and forms. The most important classification of backlinks are

  1. Do-Follow Backlinks - Do-Follow Backlinks are links where the source website is actively ‘recommending’ your website. This is achieved through a ‘do-follow’ tag in the link HTML

  2. No-Follow Backlinks - No-follow Backlinks are links where the source website is essentially claiming that while we have this link here, we do not endorse it and it is mere informational. Social Media sites typically use ‘no-follow’ backlinks as content on social media sites is user-generated and the sites themselves take no or little responsibility for the content. For e.g. all links on Facebook, Instagram, Quora are no-follow. Similar to ‘do-follow’ backlinks, ‘no-follow’ backlinks are also marked through a tag in the link HTML.

Do-follow backlinks carry more weight from the perspective of Google and other search engines. We should aim to get more do-follow backlinks.

The quality of backlinks is also an important factor in the weight that search engines assign to different backlinks. For e.g. a backlink from Harvard Business Review website is much much more valuable than 10 backlinks from a spammy website with no or irrelevant traffic. Hence, along with the quantity of backlinks, quality of backlinks is equally or more important.

  1. Summary of What is SEO

Hopefully, you’ve gathered a good idea about what is SEO or Search Engine Optimisation, what are on-page, technical and off-page SEO, and what are keywords and backlinks.

Here’s a quick review of what we’ve covered for better retention.

What is SEO or Search Engine Optimisation?

SEO is the practice of optimisation of your website’s internal and external parameters to improve your search rankings on the SERP pages of search engines like Google

What are Search Engines and How Do They Work?

Search engines are website that show the most relevant results from across the web for specific user queries. They crawl and index billions of pages on the web, and track user behaviour to determine the eligibility and ranking of all pages on SERP.

What are On Page SEO, Off Page SEO and Technical SEO?

On-page SEO is optimisation of elements visible on your page for SEO. Technical SEO is optimising page performance, site speed, load time and similar technical factors of your webpages. Off-Page SEO is improving the quality and quantity of backlinks to your website and individual webpages.

What are Keywords and Backlinks?

Keywords are the phrases that users search for on search engines that are both relevant to your content and have significant search volumes. You can shortlist keywords for your pages using tools like Google Keyword Planner. Backlinks are links to your page from external websites and pages that search engines use to analyse the E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) of your webpage, which is an important search engine ranking factor.

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