What is SEO (Search Engine Optimization)?

September 27, 2022
6 min of reading
What is SEO (Search Engine Optimization)?
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SEO stands for “Search Engine Optimization”, which is nothing more than a set of best practices used in the development of a website to improve the user experience on the site and the positioning of pages in the organic search results of Google and other search engines.

A good SEO strategy is essential to improve the quality and quantity of organic traffic on your website, meaning the whole process of improving your website to increase its visibility when people search for your products or services online.

Resultados pagos e orgânicos na SERP do Google
SERP Organic (green) and Paid (red) results

What are Search Engines and how do they work?

Search Engines are, in fact, a series of algorithms whose main function is to crawl and index all the content spread across the internet.
Obviously, when we think of search engines, the first company that comes to mind is Google, but despite being the one that occupies the largest market share, it’s not the only one. Besides Google, others include Yahoo, Bing, DuckDuckGo, Baidu, Yandex, etc. These last two, are primarily used in markets where Google does not operate, such as China and Russia respectively.

Search engines crawl sites using bots (called crawlers or spiders), collecting information about those pages and placing them in an index (Google index, for example). This index works like a giant database where you can pull up a web page to help you find exactly what you’re looking for at that exact moment.

Then, algorithms analyse the pages in the index, taking into account a number of ranking factors, which even Google can’t say, to determine which pages should be displayed to answer the user’s query and in what order.

The crawler starts from a known page (sometimes the homepage itself) and follows internal links to other pages on that site, as well as external links to pages on other sites too (which is why internal and external links are so important for good web surfing). The content of these pages, with the context of the links it followed, helps the crawler to understand what each page is about and how it is semantically connected to all the other pages within the index.

When a user performs a search, search engines extract and display what it believes is the most accurate and useful list of results for that query. These results can include web pages, images, and videos, among others.

SEO professionals around the world use their knowledge of these factors and their practical experience to develop and implement marketing strategies that include a balance between the best practices suggested by search engines (both on-page and off-page), with concepts of usability, user experience (UX) and CRO.

The Search Engine Land website has created a Periodic Table of SEO Factors that organizes the major ranking factors into six main categories and weighs each one based on its overall importance to SEO. For example, content quality and keyword research are key content optimization factors, and crawlability and site speed are important architecture factors.

This SEO Periodic Table also includes a list of grey/black-hat techniques that go against SEO best practices because they are shortcuts or tricks that aim to somehow manipulate the algorithms to get you a satisfactory result as quickly as possible. These techniques may have guaranteed a good result back when search engines were not so sophisticated, and they may even continue to work now, or at least until you are caught by Google’s new update.

How important is SEO in your Marketing strategy?

SEO is a fundamental part of any digital marketing strategy because trillions of searches are made on the internet every year, sometimes with an intention to find more information about a certain subject, sometimes with commercial intentions of buying a product or service. Thus, organic traffic is one of the main sources of traffic for companies and serves as a complement to other traffic acquisition channels as well, such as Google Ads, Social Media, etc.

Basically, SEO is the foundation of any marketing ecosystem. Once companies understand what their users/customers are looking for, it becomes possible to implement promotions and marketing actions on their websites to meet this market demand.

White-hat and black-hat SEO, what are they?

“White-hat” refers to SEO techniques and strategies that follow the best practices suggested by search engines, with the main focus on providing more value to people and improving the usability of the site.

“Black-hat” refers to techniques and strategies that attempt in some way to circumvent search engines either through deliberately dirty practices or techniques that sacrifice the user experience of the site in some way. While these techniques may work for some time, they carry a very high risk of being penalised with each new algorithm update.

Search engines want content creators and website owners to succeed. Google even has a Best Practices Guide. While these guidelines may vary from search engine to search engine, the main principles remain the same: Don’t try to trick the search engines. Instead, offer users the best possible experience on your site.

Google Best Practices Guide

Basic principles:

  • Create pages that focus on users and not search engines.
  • Do not mislead your visitors.
  • Avoid tricks aimed at improving search engine positioning. A general rule of thumb I use is: “Does this make sense? Would I want to see this and have this experience on a website if I were visiting it?”
  • Think about what makes your website unique, valuable or engaging.

What to avoid:

  • Content that is generated automatically and of no value to whoever is reading it.
  • Link Farm: exchanging links in order to increase the authority of a site.
  • Duplicate Content: creating pages with little or no original content (i.e. copied from somewhere else)
  • Cloaking: showing different content on the page to visitors and different content to search engines.
  • Hidden text and links, usually accompanied by excessive keyword stuffing.
  • Doorway pages – pages created to rank well in specific searches (usually unrelated to the content of the site) to drive traffic to your site.

Focus on search intent

Instead of focusing on black-hat practices that violate these guidelines in an attempt to deceive search engines, focus on understanding and fulfilling the user’s search intent. When a person searches for something, they expect to receive the desired result. Whether it’s an answer to a question, concert tickets or a cat photo, that desired content is their “user intent.”

The job of the SEO professional is to quickly provide users with the content they want in the format they want it.

How and where to learn SEO?

SEO, como quase tudo no marketing digital, pode ser aprendido por conta própria e totalmente gratuito de forma online, ou por meio de cursos online ou presenciais.

SEO, like almost everything in digital marketing, can be learned on your own and completely free online, or through online or in-person courses.

For those who want to learn for free, there are several materials available. I intend to put together a complete SEO guide here on the blog to teach SEO for free, but I also recommend the following links below: