What is SEO and How Does it Work? Free Beginner’s Guide

what is seo and how does it work

Last Updated on April 17, 2021 by Serish | I Hated My Boss

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Still trying to figure out what the heck is SEO and how does it work?

Perhaps you can’t seem to find a simple, definitive answer.

Truth is, there isn’t one. SEO isn’t just a simple definition. Rather, it’s a process.

In fact, by you coming to this guide looking for answers to all of your SEO questions, actually does more for me.


Here’s the thing…

When you search for a keyword, you are shown almost a billion results in less than a second.

And out of that staggering number, you landed here.

The main objective of SEO is getting on top of search results and driving traffic to your website.

Since you’re still here reading, know that firstly, our SEO strategies are working.

Secondly, if you truly want to get the most out of this simplified guide, I highly suggest setting aside 11 minutes of your time to read this post.

No time to read now? Bookmark this page or Pin it here:

seo for beginners


What is SEO?

Cheers for taking your first big step towards learning about search engine optimization!

As you may already know, SEO stands for search engine optimization. In the digital world, this is the process of ranking high in the search results page of a search engine (i.e. Google, Yahoo, Bing).

Let’s translate this into English…

SEO is basically the process of customizing the content on your website, so when people search for that specific information on Google, Yahoo, or Bing, your website will be displayed as one of the top results on the search engine results page (SERP). 

But what’s the benefit of SEO, you may ask?

To get free and organic traffic to your website without paying for ads.

An SEO optimized web page is a “turn on” for Google.

Look at it this way– imagine yourself trying to impress your crush by finally taking a shower, slipping into that new outfit you just bought, and hair looking like you should be in a Head & Shoulder’s commercial (minus the dandruff).

But in the digital world, that crush is Google. Likewise, you optimize your web pages to look attractive, in the hopes that Google chooses your website to display as a top search result.

Let’s take a look at an example

To simplify things for the sake of this article, we will use Google as our search engine.

Say you’re visiting Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (I’m currently living here) and you want to find the best tacos in town.

You would head on over to Google.com and type: “best tacos near me”

In a split second, Google will give you the following results:

search engine optimization


As you can see from the image above, Google found 146 million results in one second.

The very first option is El Charro restaurant. Clearly, this website has practiced SEO because they were chosen by Google to rank #1 from millions of search results!

But wait…

What if your search result brought up McDonald’s instead?

Doesn’t make sense, right? (Imagine a Big Mac taco tho! Now that would be epic)

Therefore, the search result would be irrelevant and useless to you.

And this is a big NO for Google.

In fact, Google has this invisible point system that ranks your website and its content based on relevancy (more on this later).

Here are three factors involved when SEO is in question:

  1. Content
  2. Searcher
  3. Search engine

When you include SEO strategies and techniques in your posts, search engines will put your content at the top of search results when a searcher keys in your topic.


How does SEO work?

search engine optimization I Hated my boss

I’m going to try my best not to get too technical here, but understanding how SEO works is extremely important for any blog or online business to thrive; especially for its long-term success.

A search engine’s main objective is to provide relevant results to its users based on the keywords they enter.

And if you’re not implementing the SEO strategies in this guide, then you’re setting your website up for failure.

It’s almost as bad as going on vacation and leaving your wallet behind.


Moving along, here’s how it works:

The Process of SEO

Let’s break down the process of SEO in the following three stages:

  • Crawling
  • Indexing
  • Ranking

1. Crawling

When you search for something on Google, the words you enter in the search bar are referred to as keywords.

To deliver the best results relevant to your keyword search, search engines will send bots to “crawl” and check web pages that match the given queries. It also checks the quality of that page’s content.

Let’s simplify this…

In the SEO world, think of crawling as a spider scanning different websites in order to collect data on each page, image, page titles, keywords and other linked pages.

2. Indexing

Once the crawling is complete, the spider (or bots) will then store the collected web pages and add it to Google’s database, or index.

Best way to think of this process is how books are arranged in libraries according to their relevant categories (i.e. Fiction, Biography, Humor, etc).

Next, it looks in the index and searches for websites that nearly match the keywords.

Indexing is the most important step of this process. Without indexing, Google will not be able to “rank” your website.

3. Ranking

Finally, the search engine returns millions of results, but sorts them from the most relevant, down to the least relevant.

This step is referred to as ranking and it’s the workhorse of search engines.

For online businesses or blogs, these rankings indicate where on the search results page your website appears. It could appear on the first page or, the 100th page.

Though there are over 200 ranking signals, or factors, that Google uses to rank a website, it would be nearly impossible to hit all 200.

And we won’t cover all that today (or ever lol).

But as long as you try your best to hit the SEO points mentioned in this post, your blog will improve tremendously.

Now, search engine algorithms gauge your website based on a number of significant factors:

  • Age of the material
  • How many times your site appears in searches
  • User experience while browsing your site

Results from this evaluation display the most relevant data, based on the keywords inputted by the searcher.

When checking for the reliability of the information on websites, search engines look for the ones that most searchers seem to value.

If other prominent websites connect to a page based on the same topic, that page has a greater chance to rank higher because it will be considered trustworthy and authoritative on the subject matter.

Think of it this way: When you search for something specific online, wouldn’t you want relevant results to load?

It would totally suck if your search resulted in unrelated and irrelevant content (unless of course, it’s a Big Mac taco).

Therefore, as a content creator, we must curate relevant, valuable and expert content that our readers will benefit from.


Why is SEO important?

The goal of SEO is essentially for people, who are searching for your content, to find your web page easily.

And by mastering SEO, your website will gain free, organic traffic without relying on referrals or paid marketing.

Did you know that,

  • more than 4.5 million articles are published every day?
  • most online activities start with search engines?
  • the top 5 search results get the lion’s share of all the visits?

Just looking at the stats, it’s a pretty big feat to show up on the first page of Google or other search engines for that matter.

By the way, have you heard the joke about hiding a dead body on Google’s second page?

That’s because not a lot of people bother looking at the second page. Most users tend to click the search bar again with a more definitive search string.

Unlike before, marketing your brand online is essential if you want to boost your presence in today’s highly competitive market.

Truth is, SEO has leveled the playing field for online businesses.

This is why more companies are taking advantage of free online advertising, or organic searches.

An SEO optimized website can give you an edge over the competition, driving more traffic and potentially more sales for your business for months and years to come.

While many companies have already started implementing SEO for their websites, it’s never too late for startups to get a shot and be top-ranked.

SEO for Online Businesses

A business that wants to come up to the top of search results quickly, needs to buy at least $1,000,000 worth of ads yearly, to get about 50,000 hits daily.

It’s worth it if you’ll earn fifty times more.

However, it’s still a gamble, and let’s be honest…

Who the heck has a million dollars to spare for advertising?! — It’s the big names in the industry!

(It sure as hell ain’t me)

But if you want to be wise and spend the dollars on more practical investments, you must employ a solid SEO strategy to gain that organic traffic, without the hefty cost attached.

What is Organic Traffic?

Unlike paid traffic, organic traffic is the number of site visits that come from search results of search engines, and not through referral links (from another website) or paid ads.

This also excludes traffic from social media sources. For example, majority of my website traffic comes from Pinterest, but I am working to diversify my traffic source and focus more on SEO.

And though SEO takes time, it’s totally worth it for the long-term success of your blog or online business.

Remember, the SEO industry works around organic traffic searches to improve the organic ranking of a website.

On the other hand, non-organic visitors, such as automated machines, help increase the traffic faster.

But since they aren’t real humans, they can’t be converted into buyers. Once you have a high number of organic traffic, your conversion rate increases as well.

Consumers nowadays are living in the digital world, and the web is a vital part of their shopping experience.

Before making any purchases, they search online for product specifications, average prices, and customer reviews.

Companies who don’t have an online presence, will not have the leverage in the online market and will miss out on the opportunity to showcase their brand.

Best SEO Practices

One of the best-kept secrets of search engines are the search and rank algorithms.

While one can easily find hints about these on the web, it doesn’t hide the fact that it’s a mammoth job for SEO enthusiasts to tweak their strategies and optimize their websites according to these algorithms.

Regardless of the search algorithm, below are the tried and true SEO practices you must focus on.

  • Always post authoritative content
  • Create lengthy and quality articles
  • Build content around LSI keywords

Authoritative Content

Among the countless articles on the web, users prefer to read pieces made by experts. Search engines value user experiences.

If your content is relevant, you’ll have better chances to rank higher in search results.

But what are some of the components of authoritative content?

1. Create fresh and unique content

Your content needs to bring something fresh and unique to the table.

If writing about a cliché topic, take on a different route, and look at it from a different perspective.

It needs to stand out if you want the post bookmarked and shared.

2. Reputation

Your reputation, as well as your content, are always under search engine’s scrutiny.

Search engines will not promote a website that has inaccurate materials, and if the owner is not an expert in the field.

For instance, a website about personal finances must have an owner that is not on the brink of bankruptcy.

Likewise, a family-friendly site should not have contents that are violent or pornographic.

3. Be an expert in your field

The content needs to be written by a pro.

An article written by an expert in the field is a gold mine for searchers.

However, if you have a general idea for a blog post but it requires a little more data, don’t ditch it yet.

Extensive research goes a long way.

Be creative in drafting new content, and make sure you understand the topic quite well.

Oftentimes, low-quality content won’t show in searches. Thus, they aren’t worth the effort.

4. Ask readers to leave comments 

Allow user interaction to boost engagement.

Websites should not always be about the content, but also how users interact with what they’ve read.

An example would be comments in a blog article.

Therefore, ask your audience to leave a comment or ask them questions towards the end of your post.


Quality Articles

Currently, 2,000 words is the magic number for SEO articles. As per recent studies, content of this length explains the topic in full and provides enough data for readers.

However, lengthy posts that contain too much fluff will miss the mark.

That said, it’s essential for your articles to be rich with relevant data, so they’ll genuinely be appreciated by your audience.

It will also rank higher on search enginge results page (SERPs).

Pro Tip: Notice how often the word relevant is mentioned in SEO marketing. It’s THAT important!

LSI Keywords

LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing), are words and phrases that searchers use to look for a topic. These are used by search engine algorithms to correlate articles with the query.

I know- the word sounds super technical and fancy, but the meaning is really simple…

In simpler words, they are related words to a main keyword. For instance, if you search for the word “apple,” how does Google determine if you’re referring to the company or the fruit?

Some LSI keyword examples for apple the fruit are as follow:

  • apple pie, Granny Smith apple, apple benefits

Here are some LSI examples for the company, Apple:

  • iPhone, MacBook, iPad, iTunes.

Check out another example:

If you have a blog about “How To Start A Blog,” here are some LSI keywords you could use:

  • how to launch a blog, how to create a blog, make money blogging

Instead of using these keywords to target ranking, it’s better to build content around them.

A material that can answer most of the questions will do better in searches, compared to content that’s focused solely on high keyword density.


The Hats of SEO

i hated my boss white hat SEO

In Western films during the 1920s, characters wearing the white hat was typically the hero. On the other hand, the black hat wearer was the villain.

It’s the same with SEO tactics.

Let’s get to know them better below.

White Hat SEO

This SEO strategy uses techniques that adhere to search engine guidelines. Because search algorithms update regularly, especially Google’s, this method has a low risk of failing.

However, its stricter guidelines, though more organic, require more time and effort before you can claim the top spot.

Nonetheless, you’ll reap long-term SEO benefits.


  • Relevant content
  • Related links
  • Unique but quality content
  • Good grammar/spelling
  • Effective keyword use

Black Hat SEO

This strategy goes against the standard guidelines. Even if not abiding by the rules, results from this technique are quick, most of the times you will reap results overnight.

However, using this exposes you to the risk of getting demoted or even banned from search results (and it’s NOT worth it!).

There are a lot of cases where company websites are de-indexed, or penalized, and went bankrupt. So take extra caution and I highly suggest you do not take this route.


  • Keyword stuffing
  • Unrelated keywords
  • Unrelated links
  • Comments spamming
  • Duplicate content

Mobile SEO

Google announced that mobile searches had surpassed that from desktops. The search engine giant has started mobile-first indexing, which means that mobile websites are first searched and is the reference point for determining rankings.

Further, if a website does not have a mobile-friendly version, the rankings might get affected.

Before getting started with mobile SEO, it’s best to check where your site is right now.

Google has a free mobile-friendly testing tool, wherein you type in your site’s URL, and it will tell you instantly whether it’s mobile-friendly or not.

Additionally, you can further optimize your website by implementing the following tips.

Decrease Page Load Times

Mobile page speed is the average loading time of your site. If it takes more than 3 seconds, visitors will bounce, or leave. A high bounce rate will lower your ranking in search results.

Here are some fixes to common loading issues in mobile devices:

  • Cache pages
  • Compress images that are more suitable for mobile viewing
  • Minify of programming codes- remove unnecessary characters

Responsive and Seamless Site

The design elements of your website must be resized depending on the user’s device. For example, a full-page desktop view should be different from a mobile or a tablet view.

But, having a great browsing experience should not stop there. The site should be consistent across all devices, and a switch from one device to another should be seamless and should not confuse the users.

Relevant Content

Like regular SEO, having relevant content aimed at your target audience is vital. However, desktop and mobile search behaviors are different.

For example, mobile searches include location-specific searches.

It’s best to check SEO keywords, both on mobile and desktop, to further optimize searches.

The Future of Mobile SEO

Voice technology revolution is near, and it’s the next big thing for mobile SEO. In actuality, almost half of smartphone users are already using mobile voice searches.

Before it rolls out, you can start optimizing your site for voice searches by improving your content to answer queries in natural language.


To Conclude: What is SEO and How Does it Work?

Now that you know what SEO is and the countless ways it can benefit your blog or business, it’s time to work on making adjustments to your website to propel it to the top of any search engine.

Many variables can affect your ranking, but one thing remains static: your content needs to be meaningful and beneficial to the target audience. And most importantly- relevant.

SEO takes time, and there’s no single strategy to make it to the top overnight.

However, following the above SEO practices through quality content that is aimed at helping your site visitors, is the key to building a successful blog or online business that continuously attracts organic page views in the long run.

Are you currently using any SEO strategies for your online business or blog? I’d love to hear from you, so drop me a line in the comments below!  (Yes, I do reply!)

seo simplified for beginners i hated my boss

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  1. Jacey

    Oh my gosh! Super simple. I loved the examples, as well. This article was SEO made easy. Thanks for sharing!

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      Serish | I Hated My Boss

      Thanks so much Jacey! I’m glad you found this guide helpful. I recently created an SEO checklist. You may download it for free by scrolling to the top of this article.

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