What is SEO: Easy guide for non-techies

If you are trying to understand what is SEO but have no technical knowledge, this guide is exactly what you are looking for.

What is SEO? The short version.

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation and it involves a series of activities to make your company website and more in general your Brand, become trustworthy in Google‘s eyes (and other search engines such as Bing).

The more Google trusts you, the more you rank high on search results when someone searches for something that is related to your business. The higher you rank, the higher your traffic volume and sales will be.

Simple as that!

What is SEO? The longer version

This is not a full lesson about SEO but if you want to invest your online marketing budget wisely, you certainly need to understand some basic yet important notions. 

It will help you to know exactly what to expect from a Digital Marketing Agency and understand if the value that you get in return of your money is worth the effort.

Don’t worry, we are not going to look into deep, technical and boring stuff but rather something more practical and useful for you to understand the advantages of SEO, the less positive aspects and an overall understanding of the world’s most used Search Engine: Google.


SEO is a very extensive topic and it’s easy to get confused. Don’t keep your questions unanswered. Leave a comment below or Contact us.

How does Google work?

Google is what you can consider the modern “Yellow Pages”. An online directory that collects websites and their pages.

There are two ways to find websites on Google: 

  1. Brand Keywords: Search for the brand you are looking for (eg. Nike)
  2. Keywords or Key-Phrases: Search for specific words or sentences that are related to what you are looking for (eg. Sneakers)
When you run a search, Google uses a sophisticated system to provide you results while trying to understand what exactly you are looking for. 
The page showing these results is called SERP (Search Engine Results Page). Each SERP includes 10 results. Depending on the type of search other features may be offered. For example if you are looking for a shop Google would most likely show you a few shops near you and the map.
Statistically the higher your website appears, the more clicks and traffic you get. 
This means that if you are selling Sneakers and Google shows your website as first result when someone is searching for “Sneakers”, the user will more likely visit your website rather than clicking on websites that appear on lower positions.
serp example
SERP Example showing the keyword "SERP" in the search bar and the first results. Another feature that Google offers is the "People also ask" section which shows related searches with quick answers.

Are you on Google?

Before attempting to climb the rankings you need to add your website to Google’s database. This process is called Indexing.
Once your website has been indexed, the game is on and you will start competing with other companies, trying to be #1 in Google Search Results and drive more traffic to your website.
Indexing is generally the easiest part of the job and doesn’t really require any manual intervention, although submitting the website manually will move things faster and therefore recommended.

Tip for the curious: to check if your website is indexed on Google, type in the search box “site:yourdomain.com” and press enter. The results will show you all the pages of your website that are indexed on the search engine.

Not really necessary, but for those more eager to learn more about these search functions, Ahref – a data-driven marketing toolset – has published a blog article with more Google Search Operators

Google is not easy to satisfy

Google is without doubt a powerful marketing tool but it doesn’t make it easy. Legend has it that the Search Engine evaluates over 200 criteria to decide search result rankings. On top of that, it’s constantly evolving and often changing the rules of engagement.

These changes are known as Google Updates.

As Google has never officially revealed how the algorithm works, SEO specialists run regular tests in order to find some of the Ranking Factors. Thanks to these efforts, today we can use this knowledge to gain trust from Google and use it for your Marketing Strategy.

Some of the Ranking Factors are dynamic and based on the user itself: location, search history, intent or urgency.

There are technical aspects that are common for everyone such the loading time of a page or mobile friendliness which are benchmarks used to provide improved navigation experience to users.

Then there is what in SEO jargon is called Authority:your online reputation. Authority is measured by another series of criteria such us mentions of your brand on other trusted websites and reliability on facts that you state on your website. 

A very important variable factor is your competition. Not to be mistaken with your business competition.

In SEO, your competitors are those websites that are targeting the same keywords that you are, which don’t necessarily mean that they sell the same products or services.

For example the keyword “chocolate cake” could be targeted by a variety of different yet somehow related websites: recipes blogs, wholesale ingredients suppliers, local bakeries, etc..

The higher is the competition, the tougher will be the job.

Google is not easy to satisfy but don’t worry, there are clever ways to get the job done.

Tip for the curious: Brian Dean – founder of Backlinko.com and one of the most recognized SEO Experts in the world – has put together a list of Google Ranking Factors. Some are 100% proven while others are still being discussed.

SEO Activities & Content

SEO is made by two main categories of activities:

  • On Page: SEO activities done directly on the website (eg. technical activities such as improving the loading time of the website or  publishing content about specific topics & keywords).
  • Off Page: SEO activities done outside of the website (eg. obtain links to your website from other trusted & relevant websites)

Although the list of both On Page & Off Page activities is quite longer, it is safe to say that all of them are carried on to empower your Content.

A quick look into "Content"

In Marketing, Content is all kind of text, videos or images material meant for a certain target audience – a selected group of potential buyers that share common interests – and with a specific purpose.  

For example, this article about what is SEO, has an educational purpose meant for business owners or CEOs with limited technical knowledge and keen to explore different digital marketing opportunities.

Publishing and optimizing Content on your website is part of On Page SEO. Content can also be published on external sites such as Guest Posts or Social platforms. These are considered Off Page activities.

Relevance is the key!

If you are not going to spend the next few years to learn and specialize in SEO but rather let someone handle this for you, what you need to know is that Google’s objective is to ensure that the offered results are exactly what the user is looking for, making the main key “Relevance“.

It might sound pretty obvious yet this is often the cause of unsuccessful SEO strategies. 

Any piece of content should be relevant to your business and built specifically for your target audience.

For example, in your website you would want to offer content related to your products or services and the problems they solve. A company that produces sport shoes would gain value from content that is about sport, shoe production, comfort or performance.

As you can see, these are all topics strictly related to the product. Publishing cooking recipes for example, would not be relevant for someone looking to buy a new pair of shoes.

The same applies if other websites are mentioning yours through a link. In SEO these links are called “Backlinks” and the activity performed to generate backlinks is called “Link-building“.

While there are certain exceptions – eg. generic news websites or online magazines with solid Authority and Trust – you want to have backlinks from websites that publish content about topics strictly relevant to your business.

Another huge mistake that many get caught into, is to purchase backlinks from irrelevant websites. This practice not only would not drive quality traffic but in many cases is harmful and can easily land a penalization from Google.

The “Perfect Target”

In a strictly cynical way, your ultimate marketing goal is to hit your target and sell.

With Search Engine Optimization, you follow the “Keyword” to find your “Target“. 

Regardless of your business industry, the principle is simple. Potential buyers search on Google about a product or a service that can solve a problem, by typing in a specific word or phrase (that’s the “Keyword”) and move forward in the buyer’s journey, by visiting one of the websites provided in the SERP.

A good SEO Strategy aims to intercept the target audience during the awareness stage by offering content that helps a prospect in understanding better the problem and solutions.

Drive Quality Traffic... and it's Organic!

In simple words, with SEO your objective is to produce content that ranks high for relevant keywords and attract users that are showing interest in your products or services by looking for them on Google, even before they get to know you.

That also means that you drive high quality traffic to your website, basically you attract people that are more likely to buy from you. If it was the contrary case, why would they look in the first place? 

On top of that, we are talking about Organic Traffic (website visitors from non-paid sources) and not paid advertisement.

Select the right Keywords and aim high

How often do you search on Google and go to page 2 or 3 before clicking on a website? Statistically the top 5 results get a bit more than 75% of the overall traffic. The top 3 alone about 50%. That means that if a specific keyword has 1000 monthly searches, this first 3 websites are likely sharing 500 visitors each month. These statistics tell us one thing only: aim high to get more organic traffic.

Tip for the curious: Backlinko.com has analyzed 5 Million Google Search results to learn how traffic is shared among the top 10 results and other interesting facts.

CTR (Click Through Rate): the number of clicks that you receive divided by the number of times your website appears on search results. Source: backlinko.com

On the other hand, when choosing the Keywords to focus on we need to keep in mind the relevance, what the target audience is looking for,  as well as the difficulty to rank for that specific keyword. If you run a small/medium business, chances are that you have competitors that have already been focusing on SEO for a while or can allocate bigger marketing budgets to target important keywords.

Selecting keywords with strategy is extremely important to ensure your budget is not wasted.

Get linked by other trusted websites

One of the main Off Page SEO work is Link-building: acquiring links from other relevant and trusted websites. The more relevant and quality websites link to yours, the more Google will tend to trust and reward you with higher positions on search results. The linking website itself will be a source of traffic.

Link-building is also one of the toughest part of the game. It’s not easy to get links from high authority websites and sometimes these are obtained through monetary compensation or other similar methods.

Unless you already have a solid and trustworthy brand or you published a piece of content so good that could become viral among the industry followers, rarely other websites would recommend yours by linking it.

On this article I have included a few links out of my choice because I believe that these resources are excellent and might be useful for those that intend to learn more about what is SEO. 

There are a few different ways to obtain links, the other side of the medal is that it could take a long time before you collect enough quality backlinks and therefore build your authority.

Long term investment with great potential

A significant difference between SEO and PPC (Pay per Click advertisement), is that once you have indexed a page, that will remain there on the web forever, unless you delete it, while paid advertisement for example will no longer produce traffic once you stop the campaign. 

Naturally only publishing a page will not suffice, even if the content is made really well, you will still need to engage in SEO activities such as link-building, an initial investment will be required at the beginning followed by occasional additional work..

SEO results in terms of traffic are generally not immediate as with paid advertisement yet less expensive on the long run.

Beware: Google doesn't like cheaters

In the years SEO Specialists developed different techniques to rank high however some of these are not always transparent and clean activities but rather sneaky ways designed to deceive the search engine and therefore users. 

These can be called “Black Hat SEO” activities and Google has become better and better in spotting cheaters and penalize them, sometimes by even banning completely the websites. 

Always choose”White Hat SEO” clean techniques and you will not have troubles with Google.

How much does SEO cost?

You are probably not going to like it but the answer is: “it depends”. A proper SEO action plan depends on a series of aspects: business, competition, status on Google, etc..

It’s rather a topic for a separate article but to get an idea, there are two main types of “packages”: Project Based or Monthly Retainer Based.

Project-Based contracts are usually made to complete activities that are basically done once (eg. basic On-Page SEO or Content creation). For example you might want to target a new Keyword that is relevant for your product or service and you decide to hire someone to write a series of articles on the topic.

It’s basic work as is it’s extremely rare that you can rank high by just publishing some content and without doing any Off Page SEO like link-building but it’s where you start from.

If you hire someone on a Monthly Retainer, the SEO Specialists will do a more “all-inclusive” job, from fixing all your website issues, find Link-building opportunities, monitor KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) such as Keyword Position and more.

For example he would do the Keyword & Topic research, arrange content creation, publish, Index on Google… Pretty much a 360° solution.

Important Warning!

As a doctor needs to understand the condition of a patient to propose a therapy, SEO Specialists need to understand your website’s situation to propose a strategy.

Beware of miracle promises by providers that have not even looked at your website. It may make more damage than good and cost you the double to fix!

Where to start from? SEO Audit

Understanding what you need in terms of SEO is where you start.

To really understand how much you need to invest in SEO, you have to set objectives and to do that, you need to know what you actually have to do to achieve your and for that the first step is a SEO Audit.

This is an extract from Neil Patel’s article: The Definitive Guide to Running an SEO Website Audit:

“You can think of an SEO Audit as an evaluation of a website that grades the site for its ability to appear in search engine results pages (SERPs)… Think of it as a report card for your site’s Googleability…”

Once you have obtained an Audit, the SEO Specialist will be able to identify the critical areas for improvement, an overview of your competition and suggest a course of action.

Is SEO worth give it a try?

Definitely! Not just giving it a try. SEO should be absolutely part of your Marketing Strategy to establish a solid online presence.

If you do a quick Google search, you will find plenty of Case Studies of how SEO helped Small & Medium Businesses to increase traffic and sales. 

Ready to find new potential customers on Google? Let’s started with the SEO Audit! 

What do you think?

It’s not easy to explain what is SEO in a single article, especially while keeping technicalities by the essence. It’s such a big topic and very technical. Hopefully this read gave you a good basic understanding of SEO for businesses.  

Now it’s your turn… What do you think? Leave a comment!

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