What is SEO and how it works?

SEO Guide, the basics
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Organic search engine optimisation (SEO, predominantly via Google search results) is one of the more commonly used terms in the world of internet marketing. While you probably know that effective SEO will help your website rank higher in search engines, how many times have you wondered how the right combination of a few words can end up with you ranked first on Google search return.

Is it magic? No, and the truth of it is it’s really not that hard to understand or put into practice if you take the time to learn basic SEO guidelines of search engine optimisation.

If you are working to boost traffic to your site in order to increase your sales, the following SEO guide will take you through everything you need to know to do just that.

How SEO marketing really works for businesses

Lady reading our latest SEO guide to grow her business in Google search results.

SEO is more than a source of free traffic to your website. While this is one of its roles, it doesn’t really explain how SEO works. Its actual purpose is to direct the people who are looking for you, to you. For this to work, you have to match what people are trying to find to the content on your website.


Who wants yarn?

Jane creates and sells hand-knitted scarves. She has a blog that shows the process, while also discussing the various types of yarn she uses.

Now, there is not a lot of competition for keywords pertaining to yarn and Jane is constantly posting great content, so before she knows it, she has first page rankings for a variety of types of yarn.

Good for Jane, right? Wait, Jane actually has a problem on her hands.

When someone is searching for a type of yarn, it’s probably because they are a knitter themselves. So, they probably don’t want Jane’s scarves. While Jane may be getting plenty of traffic, it won’t convert because her visitor’s goals of learning about or purchasing yarn do not match her own goal of selling a scarf.


How SEO makes its impact

What can you learn here? Traffic isn’t the goal. The goal of SEO is to figure out what you want and then optimise keywords that will attract visitors who want the same thing.

Okay, that seems simple enough, but how do you determine what these keywords are. It’s going to take research.

Find the keywords that match your offer

Maybe we are obsessed, but our small team loves keyword research mostly because when understand its potential to increase business. Reaching keywords is a crucial part of identifying the right keywords. When researching, your goal is to discover keywords that:


  • Have a high volume of searches (In other words, people are looking for these keywords.)
  • Are relevant to the content on your site and the products or services you offer out


Keyword competition is Key

Have minimal competition (The smaller the amount of results there are, the better your chances of a higher ranking are.)

Keep in mind, there are plenty of tools available for finding the right keyword. Right now, Google’s Search-Based Keyword Research Tool is the most popular because it gives you results based on actual Google searches. Plus, if you are logged into a Google Ads account, you get a list of keyword suggestions that are customized to the account linked to the site.

If you’re willing to spend a few pounds, check out Keywords Everywhere keyword research tool, a nifty browser plugin that offers search volumes every time you punch a phrase into Google.


“The Long Tail”

Before we go any further, we have to discuss “The Long Tail”, a concept that helps decide how narrow or broad you want your keywords to be. Essentially, it describes a phenomenon where plenty of low traffic keywords in a group direct more traffic to you than a few high traffic keywords.

Here’s an example:

Amazon gets tons of visits daily from the keyword “DVD”, but they also get millions of visits for individual DVD titles, such as Kill Bill DVD or Finding Nemo DVD. On their own, these titles do not get anywhere near the traffic that a term like DVD does, but when they are put together, the volume is much more than a single keyword.

This is particularly true when creating content, such as videos, images or audio tapes that bots can’t read. To make it easier for them to understand and rank them for the appropriate keywords, you will need to describe them.

What does the long tail have to do with you? Well, when you combine them together, all of your long tail (unpopular) keywords should contribute to almost 80% of traffic. Of course, you can forget about the unpopular keywords ; you still have to factor them into your overall SEO marketing strategy.

Crafting content for your reader

Once you have the right keywords, move on to crafting your content. Keep in mind that search engine bots are automatically looking and “reading” over your site to determine what it’s about. Then, they decide which keywords each page should rank for. Fortunately, you can influence their selection by tactically optimising your content for specific keywords (together with proven off-page strategies like backlinks.)

However, here’s an important word of warning. Writing content specifically for search engine almost always ends up in boring content that doesn’t convert visitors into customers.

The best thing to do is focus on potential visitors first. Make your content easy to read and interesting. Then, optimise for bots where you can, without sacrificing your content’s persuasiveness.

Use internal linking effectively to reduce bounce rate and keep readers on site. 

Here are a few things to pay particular attention to when it comes to quality content:

On page SEO

SEO for the pages on your site

Title tag (metadata)

Your first impression is key. Title tag is the headline text you see in search engine results. Opt for eye-catching title tags that make a visitor want to continue reading.

Fresh content

Even if your content doesn’t really age or become outdated, it is still important to add new content regularly. If this requires too much time, look at others options, such as adding a blog or Q and A section to your website.

Meta description tag

The “meta description tag” should be your primary concern. It’s the text that describes your page and content in search engine results. While it doesn’t have as much effect on your ranking, it does tell visitors what your site is about. This can be the deciding factor whether they click through.

Headline tags

In this case, heading tags are much like those in a book, but they have a specific order.

H1 starts the page as the main heading before moving to H2, H3, H4, and so on.

Typically, you should have one H1 tag on each page, while you can have as many of the others as you want. Just be certain your main H1 or H2 headings include keywords and are relevant to your site’s content and readership.

Schema mark up and rich snippets

Schema mark up continues to grow in importance. If you use WordPress there are some simple to install plugins that will create basic vocabulary.

Schema allows for rich snippet search results including images, star ratings, review snippets and product information. But more than that, good mark up supports SEO as Google create a simple database out of your business. It’s helpful when there’s an accompanying Google My Business listing where a business and its media pages are linked together.

We don’t use Schema plugins at COOLBISON. Our scripts are manually edited from templates. It lends to greater accuracy and improved results in search.

Search engine and user sitemaps

Sitemaps act as a roadmap for search engines by giving directions to the bots regarding the different pages of your site. This is done to make certain they find everything they are looking for. There are two types of sitemaps. It’s your responsibility to link to them to give visitors a quick guide to where to go.


HTML sitemap

HTML sitemaps: easy for people to read. If you have less than a couple of hundred pages, link each page to your HTML sitemap. If our website has thousands of pages, opt to link to those that are most important.


XML Sitemaps

XML sitemaps: coded especially for search engines to read, they contain every single page of your website. To make this easy, use a tool, such as XML Sitemap Creator, to automatically create one. After it has been created, submit it to Bing and Google Search Console, so the biggest search engines can go ahead and index your site.

URL Structure (Uniform Resource Locator)

Although URLs are an important part of SEO, they are easily forgotten about.

The URL is the first place a search bot goes to find out the topics of a page or post.

A messy URL is difficult for a search engine to look through. If this happens, the bots may not index your site. This means you can say goodbye to a high search engine ranking. To ensure your URL is search engine friendly, keep the falling tips in mind.

Use dashes instead of underscores (search engines aren’t fond of underscores).


  • Subdomains usually rank higher than subdirectories.
  • Do not use irrelevant and annoying characters, such as ! # ^ * =
  • Stick to letters and numbers

Domain naming

Domain names that include keywords may rank up higher than domains without any keywords. But keyword rich domain names will become less effective over time as Google opts for Brand names.

Branded domains also allow the opportunity to branch out into other niches.

Before you run out and start looking for an exact match domain, stop! There’s a downside. Exact match domains aren’t all that unique. This is why a number of companies opt to use made up words for their domain name. Then, they work to build a brand around it.

So, which one works better. There’s really no clear-cut answer.

We view keyword rich domains as old school SEO. Also, potential customers tend to trust brands a bit more.

Website structure (how content links together)

Internal links carry significant impact on your rankings and determine user experience. When cross-linking your website, use the following tips.

  • Links that are included within content usually carry more weight than links in a footer or sidebar.
  • Do not follow links that are low quality content.
  • Use keywords in the links to the pages you want to rank.
  • Track your inner anchor text ratios (it comes in handy if your website grows to hundreds or thousands of pages).
  • Consider building a silo structure which is proven to support a helpful user experience. 

You will run into some SEO’s that state you should not follow internal links, such as to a terms of service page or within a silo structure. There are pros and cons to dofollow vs nofollow that we are happy to discuss if you’d like to get in touch.

Image SEO

Image optimisation offers a bunch of SEO benefits:

  • Helps search engines understand image content through alt text and filenames
  • Alt text helps the visually impaired understand what the content of an image is. Use descriptive alt texts and even the odd keyword
  • Images rank in search engines too and can be a great source of traffic to certain niches. 
  • Exif data is the latest SEO tactic to getting images ranking and supporting overall SEO. 
  • Image compression may help improve load performance scores and is something worth thinking about, especially if your site is image heavy i.e. wedding photography.
  • Images can be added in a variety of formats such as SVG, JPG and PNG
  • Load images to the right sizes to avoid bloating 

Links to your site

Most people consider links to your site (links can be classed as votes) as the most important aspect of SEO. After all, your web page ranking will increase as more websites link to your website.

Why are links so valuable? Well, it’s simple. It’s pretty easy for someone to do research and create new content or alter their existing content, but it’s really hard to convince other websites to link to yours. Search engines see it this way. The more legitimate, non-spammy, trustworthy sites that are linked to you, the more authority they assume you have on the topic.

Here are a few tips:

  • Links within content are more effective than those in a footer or sidebar.
  • Go with links from related sites instead of those from sites that are irrelevant.
  • Anchor text is crucial in link building. Use too much keyword rich anchor text, and you’ll probably struggle to rank well. Use branded anchor text, generic, such as ‘find out more’ or ‘click here’.
  • The odd keyword rich anchor text is fine, but avoid using it too much, i.e. 1 in 12.


Obviously, there are several things to stay away from too. They include:

Site wide links…they can hurt more than they help.
Reciprocal links (well, of course I’ll link to you, if you link to me) are usually ineffective.

Links from irrelevant or spammy sites are ineffective.

Now, if you want to legitimately increase the number of links you have, here are several options.

Forums: Usually, forums let you create a signature that includes a link back to your own website. Provided these links aren’t no-followed, they will help your rankings.

The top 100: If your goal is to rank for a certain keyword, your best links will come from sites that are in the top 100 search results for that keyword. Some links are sure to be for your competition that won’t link to you. However, others will not be competition. Email them that is short and sweet, asking them to link back to you.

Directories and citation links: The web has plenty of directories, so take the time to submit your site to those that are relevant to your content.

Dead links: With billions of links on the web, many of them will eventually die out. While a website may simply cease to exist, there are sure to be other sites that are still linking to that website. Email these sites and let them know about the dead link. There is a good chance they will swap out the dead link for one that goes to your site, provided your content is similar. Financial offers also work well!

Social media: Being active on social media doesn’t simply drive up traffic to your site. The visibility will also increase the odds of your site getting linked to. Referral traffic is tracked by search engines and may be classed a ranking factor.

Our final thoughts

Putting the advice above into action will definitely increase your traffic coming from search engines. However, it will take time. Keep in mind that search engines have billions of websites to crawl, so it does take time to update their records.

Also, be aware that everything that works for one site won’t necessarily work for your own site. It will take time to determine what is going to work most effectively for your website. Just don’t be tempted to look into shady shortcuts to speed things up. Before it’s all said and done, you’ll get caught, and the punishment won’t be worth it.

So, what’s the best way to increase your traffic? Simply following the SEO guide above.

1. Determine what everyone is looking for.
2. Design a site that gives this to them.
3. Search engine optimise, so people can find you.

This is really all search engines want you to do. Their goal is to provide the best website for any search topic. If you can create that website and promote it, search engines will find you. Just keep everything discussed above in mind. Yes, it is going to take plenty of time, work, and effort on your part, but in the end, it will be worth it.

Get help with your business website

When it comes to Google SEO, we are experts.

COOLBISON offers one of our industry’s best opportunities to get a thorough technical assessment of your website that includes keywords and timelines to getting your site up onto page 1 of Google search results.

Fill out our Discovery form, and we’ll do some work, with compliments.


“The technical audit was excellent, easy to understand, and I really felt like you were carrying it out live, in real time”

George Fleming, Hartsfield Financial Planning

Effective Google search engine optimisation guide.