SEO decides where your website ranks on search engines – here’s how it works and how to improve your search ranking

  • Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of designing your web pages so that your website ranks higher on search engines like Google and Bing.
  • SEO has become an essential tool for businesses big and small, as they compete to have their websites shown to the widest audience possible.
  • If you want to improve your own website’s SEO, there are a number of easy — and free — steps you can take.

If you’re looking for the best slice of pizza in New York City, chances are that you’ll type “best pizza NYC” into Google.

The results that pop up may not be the “best” pizza places necessarily, but the businesses you see listed used the best tool they have to get your attention: Search engine optimization (SEO).

SEO is how publishers drive traffic to their websites. They do this by utilizing specific, targeted key terms and phrases (like “best pizza NYC”) that the average searcher is bound to type into a search engine whenever they have a query. The better their SEO is, the higher they rank on search engines like Google and Bing.

In the past decade, SEO has gone from a niche topic to the basis of an entire industry. Here’s what you should know about SEO works, and how to improve your own website’s SEO.

How SEO affects search engine rankings

Search engines like Google and Bing are website aggregators – this means that when you search for something using them, they give you hundreds of results related to what you typed in

Search engines gather these results by “crawling” the internet for content, then organizing it into what’s called a Search Index, or, a catalog of websites grouped together by key terms. This Search Index is what makes Google so fast – they’ve already made their own lists of the best results for whatever you searched, so they don’t need to round every website up at once.

But how does Google decide what comes first? This is where SEO comes in.

Google prioritizes websites that meet certain criteria. Some of these criteria include:

  • The website contains the keywords that you’ve searched for. So if you searched for “Best pizza NYC,” you’re going to get websites that use those words more often.
  • The website is popular. Websites that people visit, stay on, and share links from more will climb up the ranks faster.
  • The website has pictures. Google loves websites that are visually appealing, and will often place them above sites that only contain plain text.
  • The website has paid for their spot. As we’ll discuss below, some websites pay Google to earn a higher spot – these results are usually marked as advertisements.