The Basics of SEO 2023

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in 2023: The Basics

The purpose of Search Engine Optimization by definition is to optimize our website from a content, technical, and link profile perspective in order to rank in better positions on the search engine results pages (SERPs) for the most important queries. However, in order to achieve this goal we need to know how a search engine like Google works.

In this article I’m going to show you the theory behind how a search engine (Google) works, and how the logic behind ‘ranking’. If you want to rank effectively then you need to understand what you want to optimize for.

How does Google work?

In order to be able to rank better on the SERPs, first we need to start from the theory of a search engine.

The Beginnings

Before the emergence of search engines, if we wanted to visit a website, we had to be in possession of its URL. Of course, there were aggregator sites that acted as a sort of hub with the aim of helping us navigate on the internet, but they were only a satisfactory solution. This is when search engines came into the picture. 

The theory behind a search engine was that websites point at other websites, which they deem valuable. So the creators were like ‘Let’s create a crawler that is able to travel via these links and can discover other websites on the internet. Then it creates a copy of that website & adds it to our index.”

Imagine this as a city: links are the roads, and websites are the buildings.

Azaz: indexeli az oldalt. The purpose of a crawler is more or less the same today: following links, discovering new pages, creating a copy of them (if they deem the page valuable), and placing it in the search engine’s index. Or in other words: indexing. Plus, refreshing their current index.

So as how Google works today. In other words, when we search in Google we don’t search on the internet, but only in an enormous catalogue that is in constant change.

This process is called: Crawling-Indexing-Ranking.

The three etaps of how Google works

When someone initiates a search then Google collects all the relevant results from its index, then – based on a highly confidential formula – ranks them based on how useful, authoritative & relevant they are to the user. This is the point when our page’s position on the list makes a difference.

How do we get the results from Google on a SERP?

We can read about the steps of how results are generated in its official documentation. Here’s the process a nutshell:

  1. Meaning of your query: Google first assesses the underlying meaning behind a search term, and what the user may look for.
  2. How relevant is your content?: This is when Google collects all the relevant results that are compatible with the query. In other words: which results contain the user’s keyword & its related expressions. On-page SEO plays a crucial role at this stage (for example: title).
  3. How quality is your content?: At this point, Google assesses the authoritativeness of the results & prioritizes them accordingly. Off-page SEO (backlinks) plays a crucial role at this stage. Or in other words: the relevancy, quality, and number of backlinks of a page.
  4. Has your website good usability?: Google’s algorithm assesses how easy your page is to use? Because if there are multiple high quality results in its index then priority should be assigned to those pages, which are more user-friendly.
  5. Lastly, context and settings: The last step is basically about personalization. Google prioritizes search results based on various criteria, e.g. your geographical location, or your previous searches.
The process of generating results by Google

And then, we get the final SERP for our search.

What are the basics of SEO?

In order to gain achieve positions on a search results page we need to do the following:

  1. First and foremost, we need to signal the relevancy of our content to Google. Furthermore, we need to ensure that our content is easy to read, provides a good experience to the user, contains the most important keywords & related expressions, and – most importantly – it helps users solve their problems. This is the task of On-Page SEO.
  2. We have to ensure that our most important pages are easy to crawl & index. If we want to rank for a keyword then our content asset (page) must be indexed by Google. Furthermore, users must be able to navigate on our website easily & securely. This is the task of Technical SEO.
  3. We must acquire as many relevant & quality referring links as possible. Google’s RankBrain uses this signal to assess the authoritativeness of our page. If a third-party website links to our site then it’s a quite strong signal that the webmaster of that site considers our site useful & relevant. Managing this task – building backlinks and keeping our backlink profile healthy – belongs to Off-Page SEO.

These are the 3 “traditional” pillars of SEO: On-Page SEO, Technical SEO, and Off-Page SEO.

Three pillars of SEO

A modified approach with 4 pillars

Let me show you a slightly modified version of these pillars. I think it better grasps of what SEO is about – but again: take it with a grain of salt as it’s my personal opinion:

  1. Content: the “asset” that can indeed help users solve their problems. Or in other words: the VALUE our website provides and the reason our users come to our site. Content is not just about written copy, but everything that enriches the content for the user: videos, audios, images, tables, infographics, etc. These pieces of content together provide value to the user.
  2. On-page / On-site SEO: the optimization of those main elements that signals Google the most what our content is about. Content as a whole is a “bunch” that consists of various other pieces of content (see previous point). We must shape it for Google, for example by great meta elements, by applying a proper hierarchy with headings, or by using proper alt texts to better tell Google about the meaning of our images.
  3. Technikai SEO: the optimization of those technical elements, which make our website easy to navigate, crawl, and index. These elements are typically not visible to the users, but they are to Google. 
  4. Link profile: this pillar consists of the aforementioned Off-Page SEO plus internal linking. External links provide the so-called ‘link juice’, which is forwarded by internal links to the most important pages.

This 4-pillar approach is open for debate, of course – for instance, internal linking could belong to technical SEO, too, but according to some other SEOs, it could belong to On-Site SEO instead.

Another alternative approach

Lastly, let me show you another 3-pillar approach based on a bit of different logic. This division is made by Search Engine Journal’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO.

  1. Authority: how trustable your website from a topical perspective?
  2. Relevance: how relevant is your page from a topical perspective? Using the analogy of SEJ: “will users swipe right on your page?” In other words: is there a match between your users’ search intent & your website’s relevancy?
  3. Experience: does your website provide a great user experience? Is it easy & frictionless to navigate? Does it help solve the users’ problem?

I must emphasize that these are just the basics. There is way more depth to SEO, not to mention that it became more and more sophisticated in the last couple of years. And the new Generative Search Experience is yet ahead!

However, the aim of this article was to give you a proper introduction about the very basics of search engine optimization in order to understand it better. You can’t do SEO effectively if you are not aware of the underlying logic of a search engine.

What is the purpose of Search Engine Optimization?

During an SEO project our main goal is to rank for the most important keywords in the topmost positions (at least on the first SERP, but preferably within the top 3). Furthermore, we must bear in mind the various special SERP features on a search engine results page (e.g. local pack).

A lot of times we must be present in these SERP features in order to rank effectively. 

Based on the aforementioned process we can achieve this if Google deems our site the most A) relevant, B) authoritative, and C) easy-to-use. Furthermore, and this is the most important, we must ensure that our content matches the underlying search intent behind a query.

Therefore, the explicit aim of SEO is to make it as search engine-friendly, as possible. However,

Google’s ranking algorithm basically mimics the users’ behavior – and there are an even bigger and bigger overlap between these two “sets” 

Meaning, that today we have to create content not for the search engine, but for our users. We must be driven by the goal of helping our customers. The quicker and more comfortable we do this, the better. If we know our target group in-and-out, so if we know

  • their pain points
  • the problems, which they are seeking solutions for
  • in what format do they require content (e.g. more images instead of textual content)

And satisfy these needs, then (indirectly) our SEO will be good as well, at the end of the day. Or in other words: we will generate high traffic and have top positions on the SERPs. Not to mention the other additional benefits: higher brand awareness, brand loyalty, and higher average shopping cart value.

After all, how could you do marketing effectively if you don’t know your consumers?

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