What is SEO? The Beginner's Guide (2024)

Author: Tomáš Novák
9 minutes of reading
1. 3. 2022
Table of contents

What is SEO?

SEO stands for search engine optimization. It’s a long-term process of improving a website to increase its visibility in organic search results for relevant keywords when people search for products or services related to your business. 

Google search with organic and paid results

The way your site is optimized has a significant impact on its ability to rank. You can optimize it by on-page factors (factors you have control over and can change on your website) and off-page factors (anything done outside of your site). 

To better understand what SEO is and how it works, we recommend you to watch this short video from Search Engine Land:

This comprehensive SEO and search visibility guide covers everything you should know to outrank your competitors. 

Try Marketing Miner now: 

A short history of the Web

The World Wide Web (abbreviated as WWW) was born at CERN in Switzerland in 1990 with  only three technologies available:

  • HTML (HyperText Markup Language)
  • HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol)
  • URL (Uniform Resource Locator)

Later, on August 6, 1991, Tim Berners-Lee published the world's first website, which is still active today at this URL:

Over time, due to the increasing number of websites added to the Internet, a web directory was needed.

Web directory

A web directory is an online database of websites (with links) arranged into categories and subcategories to make browsing easier. You can often add site information like the following: 

  • website title 
  • website link 
  • short description 
  • contact details

​​The author of the oldest web directory, the World Wide Web Virtual Library (WWW Virtual Library), is Tim Berners-Lee.

If you wanted to list your site in the web directory, you had to add it manually and get the administrator's approval. Thanks to this complicated process, there weren’t many sites even listed in them and users couldn’t find as much information back then. 

As a result of these complications, there was a need to develop search engines that automatically crawl the web and store all data in a database. There are still many web directories today, such as Yell, Yelp, Central Index, and more. 

The history of search engines

In 1990, Bill Slawski named the first search engine Archie. It worked on the following principle: after entering a search query, Archie searched for the corresponding file name using regular expressions.

Three years later (in 1993), the Excite search engine was developed. This invention caused a revolution in the web directory world, as it refined search results by keywords found in the content. Shortly after that, main competitors Yahoo (1994) and Google (1997) entered the scene to improve and simplify indexing and data delivery.

How Google’s homepage looked on 17th December, 2001:

Google's homepage on 17th December 2001

Check out a detailed history of all search engines here:

Popular search engines

List of top search engines:

  • Google
  • Bing
  • Yahoo!
  • Yandex (Russia)
  • Baidu (China)
  • (Czech)
  • YouTube
  • Facebook
  • Amazon

We included search engines like YouTube, Facebook or Amazon in the list as we define search engines as programs in which you can search information onlineThe chart below made by Rand Fishkin illustrates the share of searches in individual search engines for the US market between 2015 and 2018.

Popular search engines

The most important SEO ranking factors

At the beginning of this article, we already mentioned that search engine optimization can be divided into two different categories: on-page SEO and off-page SEO. However, to have good search visibility, it is also necessary to pay attention to the other optimization areas, such as technical SEO, local SEO and user signals.

All these five SEO areas are interdependent and crucial to the success of every SEO campaign. If you overlook just one part, your chances of a good search visibility decrease.

Based on several articles and surveys, we have created this chart that contains the five most important parts of SEO, which we believe are necessary for good search visibility.

Types of SEO

SEO ranking factors

These five SEO areas altogether contain 200+ different factors that you can use to improve your search visibility. Let’s take a look at these SEO tactics in more detail to know what they include. 

Technical SEO

On-page SEO

  • Keyword optimization
  • Title and meta description
  • Headings (H1, H2,…)
  • Content relevance and authority
  • Internal links
  • User intent - informational, transactional or navigational
  • Images, videos, tables…

User signals

Off-page SEO

  • Backlinks 
  • Digital PR 
  • The power of the brand (authority)

Local SEO

  • Google Business profile optimization 
  • Reviews
  • NAP consistency and citations 
  • Local brand mentions

As we mentioned above, there are more than 200 SEO factors nowadays. In fact, Google changes its search algorithm around 500 to 600 times each year. In June 2021, Google launched the Core Web Vitals update. Core Web Vitals are a set of real-world metrics that Google uses to measure key aspects of user experience. 

If you want to know more about SEO ranking factors (although many of them are not confirmed by Google), we recommend you to read this article from Backlinko:

Understanding SEO ranking factors better will help you make decisions about which ones you want to prioritize in your SEO strategy.

Black hat SEO

We already listed some of the top-ranking factors that affect your SEO above. But have you heard about white hat and black hat SEO techniques? Black hat SEO refers to practices that go against search engine guidelines to increase a website’s rankings. 

Here are some of the most commonly used Black hat SEO techniques:

  • Keyword stuffing 
  • Cloaking
  • Automatically generated content
  • Paid links 
  • Structured data abuse 
  • Sneaky redirects
  • Invisible text and hidden links

Read the Google webmaster guidelines, section Specific guidelines, to know what SEO techniques you need to avoid. 

Always keep in mind to optimize your site for humans, not for search engines. Giving more importance to user optimization (UX) will automatically lead to optimization for the search engines too. Factors like average time on page, page views etc. are also considered by search engines when ranking sites.

Avoid using any shady tricks on your website, search engines are clever to recognize them and they may end up banning you from search results completely. 

What used to work before (such as keyword spamming) may no longer work today. We strongly recommend you to keep up with SEO news to outrank your competitors.

Vertical search

SEO is not just about optimizing a website for full-text search. An interesting source of visits can also be from different verticals:

  • Image search - Google Images (most popular)
  • Video search - Google Videos (most popular)
  • App Search - Google Play (most popular)
  • Local search - search in maps or ‘near me’ searches, entering a combination of keyword + location

Local search, commonly known as local SEO, often refers to Google Business profile optimization. However, it can also be pretty complex and we decided to cover this topic in a separate article. 

SEO objectives

SEO is a key part of digital marketing through which you can achieve various goals. SEO itself does not have a uniform aim as every website and business all vary and focus on different goals. 

Although they may have different SEO objectives, the main thing in most cases is to increase their search visibility (not only on the part of the site but also in various extensions in search results). Remember that it is not just a matter of increasing your search visibility in Google, but also in other search engines (YouTube, Google Play, App store…).

SEO objectives that matter the most:

  • Increasing organic traffic
  • Converting website visits into qualified leads
  • Raising brand awareness
  • Reputation management
  • Customer retention
  • ... and more

Keep in mind that SEO is a long-term process, and the results may not be visible right away. In the long run, it is an excellent advantage in your marketing mix in terms of bringing quality traffic to the web. However, if you need to get traffic to your site quickly, we recommend using PPC advertising.

Who is an SEO specialist?

SEO specialist (or SEO consultant) is a marketing professional who uses keyword research and website analysis to improve its ranking. However, today's SEO specialist is no longer just an SEO expert but also knows other areas that are closely related to SEO. They often understand the following disciplines: 

  • UX
  • Coding (technical SEO)
  • Content marketing
  • PPC
  • Branding

SEO overlap with other digital marketing channels

Successful SEO has evolved into a multi-discipline approach. As we mentioned above, it is extremely helpful when the SEO specialist is also experienced in other marketing areas as they often have to work hand-in-hand with team members from different marketing channels.

For example, when collaborating with PPC specialists, they often exchange information about search queries from advertising systems and vice versa. 

SEO is also closely connected with user experience (UX), which can significantly affect how much time a person spends on a page, whether they find the answer to a search query on the web, and whether they also perform a conversion. 

Technical website aspects (e.g. loading speed, URL structure, indexability ...) affect how the search engine crawls it and processes data without any problems.

Google also pays close attention to user signals that can affect your site rankings: 

User signals include:

  • Bounce rate (Engagement rate)
  • Click-through rate (CTR)
  • Dwell time (time spent on the web before the searcher returns to SERP)
  • Core Web Vitals

What is the importance of SEO in digital marketing?

SEO is an important part of inbound marketing. Together they form a subset of online marketing. Take a look at the image below to understand how they can work together to fuel your digital marketing strategy. 

Importance of SEO in digital marketing

Inbound marketing attracts customers naturally by creating valuable content through unpaid channels. It includes tactics such as SEO, but it can also contain social media, email marketing, word of mouth, and much more. It is all about bringing customers to you rather than actively reaching out to them. 

So why is SEO part of inbound marketing, you ask? SEO is a part of this strategy because you don’t try to actively persuade people to buy your products or services through advertising channels, e.g. display ads in places where they would not expect it. With inbound marketing, you naturally engage with people on a human level through channels they prefer. It’s all about serving the right information to the right person at the right time. 

If you want to rank high for multiple keywords, you will have to invest quite a lot of time in your SEO efforts, whether it's content creation, acquiring backlinks, or leaving it to other SEO specialists who will do it all for you.

To get maximum benefits out of your SEO efforts and get to the top of search results, you have to work at achieving steady progress. But remember, all your hard work will pay off and you will get a return on that investment! 

How to optimize your website

In this article, we have primarily brought you closer to SEO and its history. And for more information about how to optimize your website, we have prepared comprehensive guides where we explain everything step by step. 

Free SEO resources for beginners

The world of SEO is complex but we believe that after reading this short introduction, you will gain some knowledge that you can apply to your website to increase its ranking. 

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