Understanding Search Engine Optimization

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Search engine optimisation refers to the optimization of a website (SEO) for better ranking in search engine result pages (SERPs).

Essentially, SEO is the process by which a website is made indexable, crawlable, and rank-able in search engines without spending advertising budget. It is the foundation of assuring customers can find your organization and its products/services.   

Keyword Research

SEO understanding begins with realizing what your prospects are searching on the internet. It’s not practical to rank a website for a term that’s not searched. For example, a webpage ranked for “steam engine” will not get visitors searching for “renewable energy”.

The skill of identify the “keywords” your prospects are searching for can be approached in several ways, however, through marketing automation, there are several tools to support you in measuring the search volume of a specific term.

Search volume in and of itself is not the only criterion for selecting a keyword. Another criticaL factor that should influence keyword selection is the competition around that keyword. Highly competitive keywords are difficult to rank for and there may be better strategic options in what is known as the long tail (see also Zipf’s Law).  

Free software like Google Keyword Planner and Google Trends can be used effectively for keyword research before producing content for a website. Initially, a raw list of keywords is generated. Then, the most relevant keywords are picked using search volume and competition criteria leading to a set of keywords which are complimentary to the offering and can be built upon toward successful future page and domain ranking.

Types of Search Engine Optimisation

There are essentially three types of SEO:

  • On-page SEO
  • Off-page SEO
  • Technical SEO

On-page SEO

On-page SEO refers to the optimisation of a website’s content, whether it be articles, user-interface, code, design, and linking structure.

A major portion of on-page SEO is keyword research and producing high-quality, valuable content on those keywords. Keywords are naturally used in the title tag, meta description, body content, URL structure, image alt tags, and subheadings of an article.

Moreover, internal linking between similar webpages on a website helps to establish relevancy by transferring what some term in SEO slang “link juice”. Further factors that contribute to on-page SEO are page speed loading times and mobile-friendliness.

Off-page SEO

Everything a marketer does outside the website to improve its search engine rank is called off-page SEO. It includes backlinking, social sharing, blog commenting and anything else likely to generate inbound traffic to the website. Backlinking is when an established website owner puts your website’s link on their website. Approaching influencers relevant to your niche and asking them for a link back to your website is a proven backlinking technique and a critical strategy as you seek to develop the page and domain ranking of the organisation’s website

Technical SEO

People use search engines for research. Search engines list websites corresponding to the search terms a user enters in the search box. Technical SEO is about helping search engines to index and crawl your website, making it more easy to access for the general public.

Registering a website and submitting its XML sitemap to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools are the important initial steps in supporting this more technical SEO process.


This was a brief introduction to search engine optimisation. If you want to get a deeper insight into how search engine optimization works, the following resources will be helpful.

  • Here is a free SEO training course by HubSpot.
  • And, Dave Chaffey has discussed SEO ranking factors here.


  • Chaffey, D. and Ellis-Chadwick, E. (2016) Digital marketing: strategy, implementation, and practice. 6th ed. New York: Pearson.
  • Chaffey, D. and Smith, P. R. (2017) Digital marketing excellence: Planning, optimizing and integrating online marketing. 5th ed. London: Routledge.
  • Ryan, D. (2020) Understanding digital marketing: marketing strategies for engaging the digital generation. Kogan Page Publishers.


  • Berman and Katona (2013) The role of search engine optimization in search marketing, Marketing Science, 32(4), 644-651.
  • MOZ (2020) The beginner’s guide to SEO: rankings and traffic through search engine optimization. Available from: https://moz.com/beginners-guide-to-seo [Accessed 10 February 2021].
  • Search Engine Land (2020) What is SEO/search engine optimization. Available from: https://searchengineland.com/guide/what-is-seo [Accessed 10 February 2021].
  • Zineddine (2016) Search engines crawling process optimization: a webserver approach, Internet Research, 26(1), 311-331.

Published by Dr John Bustard

I am currently a Lecturer in Digital Transformation within Ulster University Business School, specifically within the school's largest department: Management, Leadership and Marketing. Previously, as a researcher, lecturer and doctoral candidate I focused on digital events and delivered classes to MSc & BSc level. My duties have included coordinating and guest lecturing on Marketing Communications, Enterprise & New Venture Creation, e-Business Strategy, Research Methods. My particular passion is through exploring Digital Marketing approaches which enhance student awareness and appreciation of the impact of digital and an enquiring mind to understand future technology applications. *All views are my own*

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