What is SEO? How Does it Impact A Website Ranking?

February 17, 2018
Posted in Marketing, SEO
February 17, 2018 Carol Forden

A misunderstood medium within digital marketing is SEO.

Often you will hear of a so-called ‘SEO professionals’ who present SEO as some magical set of tricks that will instantly shoot you to the top of Google.

There is nothing mystical about SEO, and it is not something you can achieve instantly, it takes time, effort and hard work.

Simply stated, SEO is a set of standards practices followed in a set format to drive search engine rankings. Below is a deeper dive into how a search engine operates, what SEO is, how it works and what are the most critical aspects.

What is a search engine?

Before diving into search engine optimization lets explain what search engines are and how they work.

A search engine is a system of software that searches sources of information on the internet that provides users with a list of the websites it determines are the most relevant to their search query.

What is search engine optimization (SEO)?

SEO is a discipline of practices that ensure your website appears in search engine results for keywords and semantic phrases relevant to your website’s offering.  The goal is SEO is to increase the quantity and quality of traffic through organic search engine results.

Google aims to rank an authoritative and high-quality website higher than low-quality sites.  The best way to picture SEO is to imagine a quality control inspector for websites and then improving the quality of a given website.

Why is search engine optimization important?

Today, 93% of online experiences begin with a search engine.  That means optimizing for search engines is a must.  Everybody wants more traffic to their website, so how do you do accomplish this?

To get a good quality traffic flow from search engines, you need to appear on the first page of the results.

The last time you went to the page 2 of Google, was? Thought so.

The odds are that you’ll change your search terms if you’re not getting the search results that you were looking for before you go to the second page. 75% of users never scroll past the first page of search results.

SEO - second page of Google

Data shows that the top four or five results get almost all the clicks. Thus, if your website isn’t among the first few search results on page one, it’s not likely to be seen at all.

The higher your website ranks for a keyword phrase, the higher it will appear when people Google it the phrase, and this leads to more clicks to your website. This is why it’s essential to optimize your site for search engines.

Today, search engine results are incredibly competitive. Minimal niche products and markets can obtain page 1 rankings with minimal effort, for the rest of us, its putting in the hard work and effort to reserve your spot on the first page of Google.

an image showing the click ratio in % of the first search engine results on Google

How do you rank your business website on Google?

A search engine goal is to ensure that the results shown are high quality and what you are searching for and answer your search intent.

To evaluate a website’s relevancy search engines use sophisticated ranking algorithms (AI). Google employs more than 200 ranking signals to assess a website’s quality.

These ranking signals are grouped into two main groups – on-page and off-page SEO ranking factors.

what is seo - a diagram showing the main on-page and off-page SEO signals

On-page signals are the factors on your website that influence the search engine rankings.

You have direct control over these. For example, the content on your website, the HTML source code, your site’s architecture, among many other items. On-page SEO is optimizing your website for these factors.

In contrast, off-page factors refer to the external signals that you have little to minimal control over. This includes backlinks (websites linking to yours), social signals, guest blogging and brand name mentions.

Off-page SEO is the practice of optimizing for these signals.

Bear in mind; not all signals are equal. Some signals carry far more weight and significance than others.

A good SEP practitioner will focus on these ranking factors that will make the most significant impact.

It’s not about getting everything right, but about focusing your efforts on where it has the most significant impact.

Below is an illustration of how a group of experts ranked different factor clusters regarding importance:

a pie chart showing how much the different ranking factors in google matter according to the SEO experts

What are the most important ranking factors, according to the experts?

Using the best industry studies, Search Engine Land shortlisted eight of the most important ranking factors you should be your focus.  Below are the top 3 that will have the biggest and most dramatic impact on search ranking:


Last year in a Q&A with Google, Andrey Lipattsev, Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google, confirmed that backlinks and content are still the most important ranking factors.

This aligns with previous research that has proven the importance of backlinks. From the image below, it’s evident that there is a clear correlation between the number of backlinks and the ranking position in Google search results.

The backlinks quality indicates that Google cares more about are the number of backlinks, backlink authority (authoritative websites, e.g., edu) and link diversity.

a chart showing the importance of backlinks in SEO on site rankings
Image source: Backlinko

2. Content and Quality of Content

The 2nd most important ranking factor is the content and quality of the content on your website.

What signals do search engines looking for to evaluate content quality?

Keywords usage and density were strong relevancy signals. This included a keyword, or close variations of it used in the title tag, meta descriptions, headings ( in H1), body of the text and alt text of images; today Google’s AI is so powerful you can rank without specifying a keyword.

Content length impacts rankings. Search engines consider that long-form content (content that is over 1,000 words) that give in-depth research driven answers to the searcher’s query. Google’s explains this here on their official webmasters’ blog:

Users turn to Google to answer a quick question, but research suggests that up to 10% of users’ daily information needs involve learning about a broad topic. That’s why we’ve introducing new search results to help users find in-depth articles.

Today, the average word count of a Google first page result is 1,890+ words, according to a study by Backlinko. However, not every article has to be 2,000 words in length; content length should be dependent on the topic and purpose of the webpage.

a chart showing the importance of content legth for SEO and its impact on site rankings
Image source: Backlinko

The Google algorithm (AI) looks at the readability and comprehensiveness of the content.  You should always be always writing for humans and not search engines and write how you would talk.

3. Technical SEO

Technical SEO has to do with your website’s performance and the search engine requirements to ensure your website is crawled, indexed and ranked for search queries. There are several critical technical factors to consider when optimizing a website:

As Google confirmed they are rolling out mobile-first index where the ranking system will look at the mobile version of a page’s content to evaluate its relevance to the user.

Therefore, it is imperative that you implement a responsive mobile version of your website.

Google has confirmed that page speed is a critical ranking factor.

Not only for SEO but also for user experience. Slow page load time results in high bounce rate and low conversion rates. Today, we are in the age of instant gratification; people hate slow websites.  40% of people abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load.

charts showing how a website's load speed affects site abandonment rate


With more than 200 signals that influence search engine rankings, our advice is to focus on the most critical and weighted signals, rather than try to win at them all. This approach will utilize the available resource for SEO as efficiently as possible.

The goal is to create a site that offers an exceptional user experience, produce 10x content that is engaging, educational and helpful to the reader.  If you can do this, rest assured that you’ll see your website traffic increase through organic traffic.


If you are interested in updating your content marketing strategy by implementing a multiple channel strategy driven with good SEO practices, contact us, to talk about how Outsell Digital can help.