What is SEO? The 2022 Guide to Search Engine Optimization

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What is SEO? The 2022 Guide to Search Engine Optimization

Search engine optimization (SEO) refers to the process of improving your site’s organic traffic and ranking on search engines such as Google, Bing, and other search engines. 

This includes creating high-quality content in addition to monitoring your site’s technical health, amplifying your content to gain backlinks, maintaining your site’s local search presence, and more.

How Does SEO Work + Examples

SEO is both the art and the practice of convincing search engines to recommend your content to their users as the best, most authoritative, and most comprehensive solution to their problem.

Search engine bots “crawl” sites to create an index to collect information on web pages. You can think of the World Wide Web a bit like a spider web — the bots (or spiders in this example) travel from page to page by links.

Once the bots collect all this information, an index is created. Search engine algorithms then review the index based on hundreds of ranking factors to determine where pages should appear on the search engine results pages (SERPs) based on users’ queries.

Why is SEO important? Search engine optimization brings free traffic to your site. If you publish high-quality pages that answer a user’s query, they will appear at the top of the SERPs. This is an excellent place for searchers to become familiar with your website and business.

On-Page SEO 

On-page SEO is the practice of optimizing content and HTML source code to define what your webpage is about clearly.

As the name implies, on-page ranking signals (more on that later) are those that Google finds on your webpage. You control these signals directly, making them easier to adjust and optimize. 

Off-Page SEO

Off-page SEO, put simply, describes all of the optimization tactics that take place off of your owned web properties.

These off-page tactics help search engines and searchers to determine if your site is authoritative, relevant, and trustworthy. 

Here are a few examples off-page tactics that marketers frequently use: 

Off-page SEO can be an art form when done correctly. It takes a multi-faceted approach to influence how outside sources view your site and content. 

How to Learn SEO

You can take several paths to learn SEO for your business. If you’ve decided to tackle SEO in-house, the approach and learning style become particularly important. 

There are free academy courses that offer certifications, and Google itself provides training and certifications for Google Analytics, which is especially useful if you plan on tracking your site’s performance.

Some businesses can’t scale quickly or efficiently enough to learn and implement SEO in-house. In this case, hiring an agency to do your SEO can be one of the more stress-free ways to ensure your brand gets the visibility it deserves. 

Take a look at some tips via our Twitter for more details of breaking into the SEO field.

There are at least a few super effective ways to speed up your #SEO growth.
As an SEO geek, I’m absolutely passionate about everything SEO, I am sharing here with you a few tips on how you can take your SEO to the next level. @olgazarzeczna #SEOThread pic.twitter.com/Ixe96qseov

— Semrush (@semrush)

How Do Search Engines Work?

Search engines use relatively complex processes — or algorithms — to organize and rank content. They operate with slightly different protocols and formulas to get their ranking factors/signals. 

The long and short of it is, search engines take in digital content and organize this information into results pages. The ultimate goal is to make searchers happy with the results they find in the SERPs. 

How Does Google Work? 

As previously mentioned, several large search engines are available to users on the web. To make things simple, we’ll be discussing the most well-known search engine on the market: Google. 

Google works in three main stages:

Google Algorithm 

The Google search algorithm refers to Google’s internal process to rank content. It takes a wide range of factors into account when it makes its ranking decisions. 

Unfortunately, no one outside of Google’s internal circle has a crystal ball into all of its ranking factors. It’s understandable why Google would guard their magic formula so tightly. 

First, it’s a good business practice to keep other search engines from co-opting their algorithm. Second, if there was complete transparency into the algorithm, virtually anyone could manipulate it to rank spammy, inauthentic, or untrustworthy content. 

That said, key factors influence how Google views your content. Let’s get into those now. 

Key Ranking Factors

Google Penalties 

Google penalties are negative consequences or effects that impact the ranking of a website. These penalties can result from routine Google Algorithm updates, or websites can receive a penalty for using inappropriate SEO tactics. Here is a helpful guide to avoiding the mistakes that lead to these penalties.

It can be tricky to learn the ins and outs of the SERPs — take a look at the following thread on SEO myths so you can learn to spot bad SEO advice from a mile away.

There are quite a few common myths in the SEO industry that drive me absolutely nuts. These are a few that are like nails on the chalkboard to me. @MikeAtClicked #SEOThread pic.twitter.com/uU9q3J2OmH

— Semrush (@semrush)

As Bill Gates once said: “Content is king,” and that is still true. 

What does that mean for you in terms of search engine optimization? The better the content, the higher positions in SERP you will claim. But what differentiates poor content from great? We’ll get into that in this section, but before we do — let’s talk about some key focus areas of content. 

Meta Titles & Meta Descriptions 

These areas of a page determine, in many cases, what Google shows its users in the search results. 

An accurate meta title that describes clearly what the content of the page offers to the user is significant — it’s the reason they click on your result or not. 

Meta titles and meta descriptions are essentially sales copy that pulls the user in and help Google better understand the content and purpose of each page. Be sure to include the primary keyword within your meta description, as it’s helpful for both users and search engines.


The title the user sees when they land on your page is a critical signal to Google. Like the meta title, it needs to be unambiguous and include the terms the user searched for. Again, this is an important signal to Google and is reassuring for the user.

Writing Style 

Keep your writing simple, straightforward, and focused. Keep sentences short, break the content into logical chunks, and stay on topic. This helps readers get right to the solution to their problem. Organize your content so that the value it provides is easy to identify, understand, and engage with.

Rich Content

Include rich content such as audio, video, and illustrative images whenever possible. Keep in mind, though, that Google cannot understand the content of images or videos. 

So, when you do include these richer formats, accompany them with the appropriate meta tags to help Google and those with visual impairments understand what the content is about. You could also include a written version to make it easier for users who prefer written content. 

Outbound links — or links to external sites — lead to sources that confirm the accuracy of your content and validate your credibility and the author’s credibility. 

Identify the author explicitly where appropriate. If they are authoritative, this will bring credibility to the content.

But keep in mind that your content does not live in isolation. It is vital to see each piece of content as part of an overall, coherent content strategy. As soon as you do that, you are thinking in terms of content marketing.

Types of Content

Different types of content are appropriate for different stages in the funnel and different users. A good content strategy will contain a mix of various formats, including: 

Pro Tip: If you post your videos to YouTube, then you benefit from greater brand visibility and referrals on that platform. YouTube is the second most visited website on the planet.

3 Tips for Creating Better SEO Content 

Now that you know the basics, look into the following Twitter thread on content strategy tips.

👋 everyone, Lindsey Bailin here, let’s chat Content strategy! Content strategy is more than copying your competitors to fill in content gaps. Plan your content around KPIs and include other disciplines so you can reach your goals.🧵 @lindsbail #SEOthread pic.twitter.com/W9BkRpajOU

— Semrush (@semrush)

Technical SEO

Technical SEO is all about the quality of the infrastructure that delivers your content. Good technical SEO helps ensure that Google will readily find your content (when you want it to) and correctly assess and index the information it finds. 

What Are the Top Priorities for Technical SEO? 

3 Tips for Better Technical SEO 

Curious about technical SEO in practice? Take a look at this Twitter thread with the CEO and co-founder of Schema App.

Hi! I’m Martha, the CEO and co-founder of Schema App. We do structured data 365 days a year and have seen some amazing results with structured data. I want to share some of those AHA’s with you, so you can stand out in search and measure the ROI! @marthavanberkel #SEOthread pic.twitter.com/esccNJCJXo

— Semrush (@semrush)

Website Architecture

Website architecture refers to how web pages are grouped and organized. Great website architecture considers the user’s experience first and foremost. If a website is easy to navigate and has solid architecture, users are more likely to spend more time with and engage with that it. 

When considering the user experience of a website, it is essential to help visitors get to where they are trying to go in as few clicks as possible. It should also be easy for them to navigate from point A to point B and back to point A again. Excellent structure also makes it easier for Google to crawl and index sites. 

3 Tips for an Organized Website Architecture 

Authority and Trust

Google looks at authority and trust in several ways. Two common acronyms associated with these measurements are E-A-T. and YMYL (Your Money or Your Life). Let’s take a look at both. 


Google uses the acronym E-A-T — Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness, referring to overall credibility. They judge credibility or E-A-T at three levels — the page, the author, and the website. Furthermore, they are looking to see if the content is credible in the solution it aims to provide. 

E-A-T is essential to Google; their guidelines use the words “expert,” “authority,” and “trust” (or variants) over 200 times.

Let’s look briefly at each component of E-A-T.

Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) Pages

YMYL, or your money or your life, is a fundamental concept for quality raters. As Google explains in guidelines, this term describes pages or topics that “could potentially impact a person’s future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety.”

For that reason, it’s crucial that the pages displaying YMYL topics be authoritative and trustworthy. Here is a list of such topics:

Google claims to have “very high Page Quality standards” for such pages because low-quality YMYL content can directly affect readers’ well-being.

Using both E-A-T and YMYL when crafting your web content can help you achieve better ranking results. Ultimately, you’ll want to provide readers with the best option for content so that they continue to return to your site when they have other related queries and problems. 

3 Tips for Building Authority and Trust

Link building is the practice of getting other sites to link to your website via hyperlinks. It is one of the most important aspects of SEO, as backlinks are essentially votes of trust or authority from other sites. 

The higher the amount of high-quality referring domains, the more reliable your website appears to Google.

Obtaining backlinks is also a great way to boost your page in the SERPs (provided these backlinks are coming from reputable websites).

It’s best practice to have internal inbound links as well — i.e., links from your website pointing to other pages on your website. This helps Google navigate your site and signals that the pages you are pointing to are important.

In 2012, Google released a core algorithm update called Penguin to help eliminate “link cheating” (meaning to prevent sites with spammy link profiles from ranking high).

In 2017, they announced that the process of identifying, and then ignoring, these spammy links is now running in real-time. This means that backlinks from low-quality sites will be ignored and will not help to rank.

So focus on quality, not quantity, when link building.

A good way to start building a backlink profile is to create content that will naturally earn links. Some ways to do so are:

However, the process isn’t always so simple — actively running a link-building campaign can help that process. We have a complete guide to link building the right way. 

Link building consists of identifying people with the capacity to link to your content (website owners, journalists, bloggers, etc.), pointing them to your content, and encouraging them to link to it from a relevant page on their site. Sounds simple, right?

While it may be straightforward, it’s also time-consuming. Here are the basic steps one would take to begin a link-building campaign: 

Read this Twitter thread for some tips on link building in practice.

Hi 👋, I’m Jeremy Moser, Co-founder & CEO at @userp_io where we do SEO, PR, and link building for companies like monday(.)com, ActiveCampaign, Freshworks, and many more. @jmoserr #SEOThread pic.twitter.com/g0aYt91mpX

— Semrush (@semrush)

Local SEO

Local SEO refers to a set of tactics used to optimize a business’s online presence for local-specific search queries. For instance, if you’ve ever looked up “car dealers near me” on google, you were performing a location-specific search query. 

Location-specific queries yield results with (typically) three parts: 

Google Business Profile

Google Business Profile or GBP (formerly Google My Business) is a Google solution that provides high-visibility branding to businesses in the SERPs. It also offers businesses a knowledge panel (which can signal trustworthiness). 

Prospective customers can use your GBP to contact you through a growing number of methods. Leveraging your GBP page is a great way to increase your local SEO efforts. 

GBP ranks content on three main factors: 

3 Tips for Improving Your Local SEO

Here are some further tips for succeeding in the local SERPs.

I’m @mbealin, Founder & Principal at @searchlabagency, a Local SEO and PPC agency. My team and I spend a lot of time looking at local search results and there’s one thing I believe everyone in Local SEO should be focused on. #SEOthread pic.twitter.com/9ufH93fCeM

— Semrush (@semrush)

Social Media

It might come as a surprise, but — yes — using social media is a part of best SEO practices. Social media doesn’t directly impact rankings, but it is a crucial off-page SEO tactic that helps businesses gain exposure, amplifies content for possible backlinks, and helps establish brand awareness in your industry.

For example, some businesses use social profiles like Instagram to showcase their employee work culture and answer customers’ questions about products (or address concerns) quickly and personally. 

These platforms, when used correctly, can be great for brand reputation management and organic shares. Again, it’s not going to impact your website ranking directly, but the exposure could lead to backlink opportunities, which in turn do help boost your site ranking in the SERPs.

Pro Tip: Social media is vital to your marketing efforts beyond SEO, so having a well-thought-out social media strategy is an essential aspect of your digital marketing strategy. Social media activity helps build your reputation, brand awareness, and audience. Over time, it is a great channel for maintaining contact with your existing audience, expanding your reach, and distributing the content you create.

3 Tips for Leverage Social Media in SEO

Learn more about how to avoid striking out in social in the thread below.

If you’re an e-comm SEO, you know that product reviews are everywhere and are being pulled into search results more than ever. Bolded words, colorful star ratings – a well-written review can go a long way. Quick thread ↓ for driving well-written reviews. #SEOThread @type_SEO pic.twitter.com/FutuJcgdnD

— Semrush (@semrush)


How Fast Does SEO Work? 

Search engine optimization is a long-term strategy. For your strategy to bear fruit, you must implement a holistic SEO strategy, including both on- and off-page optimization.

Some of your efforts will pay off in the short term after implementation. Typical examples are changing meta titles and headings or improving the content on a few pages. 

Other efforts, such as implementing Schema markup on pages, creating a substantial volume of informative content, building authoritative links, or attracting positive reviews, take time and pay off in the long term. 

How Do I Rank #1 in Google? 

No single thing will revolutionize the performance of your SEO strategy. All the elements described above work together, and it is the combination of all the signals Google reads that will make the needle move for you. 

Your best bet is to base your content strategy on the right keywords, create consistent content, optimize for local and technical SEO, and pivot strategy as necessary based on performance.

What Is SEO for a Business?

Implementing SEO for a business can be done in one of several ways. Some businesses opt to go with external resources. These outside resources can be agencies, marketing specialists, or freelance SEO strategists. Additionally, businesses can purchase SEO-focused content through the Content Marketplace. 

Some businesses prefer to handle SEO in-house. Companies that decide to do so will need to have experts on staff to produce the content and the content amplification they need to make their SEO strategy work. 

What Are Some Examples of SEO?

A holistic SEO strategy involves tons of competitive research, content creation, and content amplification — in addition to the technical elements of optimizing a website. Great SEO can include: 

If you’re looking for some helpful tips and trends that show just how versatile SEO can be, check out this article on the latest in SEO. 


If you feel overwhelmed by the amount of information out there on SEO, don’t be! We have paths forward for professionals at every level of SEO experience. SEO is an art and a practice that takes time to learn, and things are constantly changing in the world of search engines. 

All it takes to learn SEO is a curious mindset and a passion for helping searchers find the information they need.

Want to read more about SEO? Check out these ten advanced techniques for SEO. 

Want to watch some compelling content on SEO? Take a look at our webinar series on creating a winning SEO strategy.

Want to see how your SEO skills measure up? Take one of our free SEO certifications through the Semrush Academy.

This content was originally published here.