What is SEO: A Complete Guide to Search Engine Optimization

Over the last few decades, the way businesses market their products and advertise their services has evolved rapidly. All thanks to the advent of the internet and its billion-plus users, brands have moved on from traditional marketing, and the attraction towards digital marketing has never been crazier before - presenting new job roles and career potentials. From content marketing to PPC, and social media marketing to SEO, every aspect plays an equally important role. SEO, however, has a lot of aspects from on-page to off-page and backlinking to interlinking. Well, let's start with the basics first.

You’ve most likely heard the term before but may not have asked the question: What is SEO? We’re going to try and answer it regardless.

What is SEO?

Search Engine Optimization or SEO is the practice of increasing organic traffic on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). It is also known as organic search or listings. If you want to rank number one for all the keywords, you need to apply SEO to increase your rank.

Suppose you started a blog for ice cream recipes, but your website doesn't rank high in the organic search results. There are several reasons why this can happen:

  • Your competitors have better content
  • You use weak keywords
  • You use poor link building practices
  • Your webpage load time is slow
  • Your website doesn't have a good user experience
  • Your website is de-indexed by mistake

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To rank high on the SERP, you need to understand how search engines work. In this article, you will learn about how Google ranks websites, the different types of SEO, and various SEO techniques you can use to improve your ranking.

What is Black Hat SEO?

Black hat SEO refers to the practices that violate the search engines' terms of service. It will likely increase a page's ranking in a search engine result page (SERP) for some time but can result in getting banned from search engines or affiliate sites since it's against the search engine's terms of service. Some of the black hat SEO techniques or practices include:

  • Keyword Stuffing
  • Link Manipulation
  • Creating articles, pages, or site landing pages with duplicate content

Word of caution: You might experience short-term success. The traffic to your site might increase rapidly, but Google penalties are getting more sophisticated each passing day and can have crushing aftereffects both on your traffic and ranking.

What is White Hat SEO?

White Hat SEO typically refers to SEO tactics that are in tandem and agreement with the terms and conditions of the search engines. And just like the name suggests, white hat SEO is the contrast of black hat SEO. A white hat SEO practice like:

  • Creating original quality content and services
  • Mobile-friendly website 
  • Use of clear and keyword-rich meta tags

It will improve your search rankings on a SERP, and also maintain the integrity of your website.

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Types of SEO

If you want to rank for a particular keyword on Google, you need to apply SEO. There are two strategies for this:

  • On-page SEO
  • Off-page SEO

On-page SEO

On-page SEO is the process of optimizing website elements. When you do this, there are certain factors that you need to take into account. All these elements are something that you can control as an end-user. The aspects of on-page SEO are:

Keyword Research

Before you do anything with your website, the first thing you need to do is understand what keywords you want to rank for. To do this, you need to do keyword research. In this process, you choose the primary and secondary keywords around which you build meta tags and content.

The primary components for keyword research are:

  • Search volume
  • Competition
  • Relevancy

You can also use keyword research tools like Google Keyword Planner and Ahrefs to search for keywords. Once you choose the keywords, you can go ahead and start optimizing your pages for those keywords.

Title Tag

The title tag is a header title element displaying the summary of your website's content on the search engine results page. It also influences click-through rates and is the most important factor of on-page SEO. Search engines display the first 50–60 characters of the title tag.

Title tag

Meta Description

A meta description is a brief description that summarizes the content of a webpage. They are also displayed on the search engine page results. In comparison to the title tag, a meta description gives users more understanding of what your webpage is about. Meta description also influences click-through rates.

Meta Description

URL Structure

URL stands for Uniform Resource Locator. The best practice is to use SEO-friendly URLs, as they help to understand what the webpage is about. The poor URL structure is a big issue in SEO, which may result in your website getting lower ranks.

URL Structure

Header Tags

Header tags help to identify the headings and subheadings of your content. The hierarchy of header tags goes from H1 to H6. H1 is the main heading of a page, the H2 tag is a subheading of H1, and so on. These tags help search engines to read and understand the content better.

Header Tags

Internal Link

Internal links are links that link web pages together on your website. They allow users to navigate through the website. They are also useful to spread link equity (value passed from one website to another site).

Internal Link

Keyword Usage

A search engine crawls a website using Natural Language Processing (NLP). NLP helps search engines look for content and keywords.

For example: If your website is about digital marketing and you have used only the keyword “digital marketing” in it, then the chances of you ranking high for this keyword is low. It is important to add related keywords such as types of digital marketing, skills in digital marketing, etc.

Keyword Usage

Keyword Usage


A sitemap is a way of organizing a website to help both users and search engines understand the structure of a website. There are two types of sitemaps:

  • HTML sitemaps: Designed for humans
  • XML sitemaps: Designed for crawlers

Now that you have a clear understanding of on-page SEO, let us discuss the off-page SEO section of the ‘What is SEO?’ article.

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Off-page SEO

Off-page SEO is another process of improving your rank on the search engine results page. It also helps to strengthen the credibility of your website and build a sense of domain authority and trustworthiness. Other benefits of off-page SEO are an increase in traffic, page rank, and brand awareness.

Link Building

Off-page SEO is mostly associated with link building. Link building is the process of acquiring hyperlinks from other websites to your site. This is also known as external link building. The key to link building is always content. From an on-page SEO perspective, having quality content allows you to optimize it for relevant keywords and rank. From an off-page SEO strategy, having high-quality content enables other sites to link back to your site.

Here are some strategies for link building:

  • High-quality content creation - Other sites will link back to yours if your content is original, well-structured, and reads well.
  • Off-site engagement - Spend a lot of time on other websites similar to yours. You can search for other sites that have relevant content. You can share your content with them they can share their content with you. You can also achieve off-site engagement through social media and collaborating with bloggers.

When learning ‘What is SEO’ there are also some do’s and don’ts as well which you should be aware of. The next section covers it.

Do's and Don'ts of SEO

Here are some important points to keep in mind for SEO.



Opt for white hat techniques (basically all of the points mentioned above).

Do not opt for black hat techniques.

For example, choosing a keyword arbitrarily and stuffing that keyword into the content.

Try to get backlinks from relevant sites that have high-quality content.

Avoid backlinks from irrelevant sites.

Use keywords in your title tags, and have a unique title tag for multiple web pages.

Do not duplicate the same title tags on multiple web pages.

Write engaging content for a better user experience.

Do not plagiarize content.

Do keyword research. Understand the volume and competition for all the keywords.

Avoid keyword stuffing. Google will be able to pick up on this.

Build internal links to your website naturally.

Avoid building sitewide backlinks.

It takes time to rank your content so be patient and wait for a while.

Don't stress out and start using black hat techniques.

Make your website responsive and user-friendly across multiple devices.

Don't ignore mobile devices while making your website for the desktop. Most users today start their search process on their mobiles


Before we continue this ‘What is SEO?’ article, it’s worth addressing something many people get confused — the difference between SEO vs SEM. Both are critical components of any successful digital marketing campaign, and SEO is actually a subset of SEM. The main difference, which we go into much more detail here, is that SEM employs paid search engine advertising to target specific demographics.

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How Does Google Rank Websites?

Websites are ranked primarily based upon the competition between your web pages and other web pages for a particular keyword. The web pages which follow the best practices outrank every other web page in the competition and rank on top for those keywords.

Search engines like Google follow three basic steps to rank a website. They are:

  1. Crawling

    Search engines have spiders or bots which scans a website copies the entire website's content, and stores it in the search engine's index.
  2. Indexing

    Indexing is the method of adding web pages into Google search results. If your website is not in a search engine's index, no one will be able to find your website.
  3. Ranking

    When you type something in Google, the most relevant websites (from the index) will appear in the search results. These results are based on multiple factors like user location, language, experience, etc.

There are a lot of factors that go into ranking - relevancy being a critical aspect. For example, if you type Simplilearn, the web pages for Simplilearn shows up organically because they are relevant to that keyword. However, you also need to make sure that the page load time is fast for the end-user. Google also takes into account other factors like how long someone stays on a website and the bounce rate (leaving the site after viewing only one page).

Language and location also play a vital role in ranking. For example, if you search in India, the results are going to be different than the results in the United States. This is because Google has different bots crawling different pages at different times and that Google's index is being updated continuously. However, it's not syncing in real-time.

To elaborate, if you search “cafes” while in San Francisco you're going to see different results. Now if you search for “cafes” while in Mumbai you're going to see different results.

To sum it up, the most important factors for Google ranking are relevancy, user experience, language, and location.


To ensure that your website stands out in the sea of millions of others move past the what is SEO stage and get moving on your SEO strategy. Simplilearn's  Digital Marketing Post Graduate Program will help you turn into an industry-ready SEO professional from day one. You will be able to master the many facets of SEO, including the process of organically driving traffic to your websites with keyword management and research, on-page and off-page optimization, link building, URL building, SEO analytics, and more and you'll acquire extensive project experience to prepare you for managing inbound marketing initiatives.

About the Author

Medono ZhasaMedono Zhasa

Medo specializes in writing for the digital space to garner social media attention and increase search visibility. A writer by day and reader by night, Medo has a second life writing Lord of the Rings fan theories and making cat videos for people of the Internet to relish on.

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