What is SEO and How Does it Work?

Unlike keyword stuffing and clickbait copy, search engine optimization (SEO) has come a long way since its infancy. 

Your store’s content must match a potential visitor’s intent in order to rank first in a Google search result. It can be intimidating and time-consuming to optimize a site for SEO. The key is to understand how search engines work and how searchers use them, then incorporate that insight into your pages, and then apply some fully accessible backend tweaks.

You won’t need any SEO experience to optimize your Shopify store with this step-by-step guide.

What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

SEO stands for search engine optimization and is the practice of increasing the quality and quantity of traffic to your website through organic search engine results. 

Its purpose is to increase your website’s ranking in search engine results. If a website is ranked higher, it will be seen by more people.

  • Many different activities are involved in good SEO, including:
  • Identifying relevant keywords with high search traffic potential
  • Optimizing and creating high-quality, useful content for both users and search engines
  • Linking to high-quality sites with relevant content
  • Analyzing the results
  • SEO is now considered one of the most important marketing activities.

Why Is SEO Important?

1. Organic search is the main source of traffic

You might be losing out on traffic and revenue if your store doesn’t employ an SEO strategy. Wolfgang Digital estimates that online stores can expect 35% of their traffic to come from search engine results pages and 33% of their revenues to come from organic search traffic; this makes it the channel that can produce the most traffic and revenue.

2. The cost of paid advertising is rising, and SEO provides free traffic

When most of your sales are generated through channels like Facebook or Instagram, this can eat into your margins. Despite the fact that organic traffic takes time to generate, it ultimately becomes your best acquisition channel, making its costs sustainable. 

While increasing organic traffic via SEO may require time and effort, its compounded effect makes it the most cost effective way to get customers. Even though the return from SEO is not immediate, it should never be an afterthought.

3. You can get up to 30% more traffic by ranking first in search engines

The SEO world has a joke that if you want to hide a dead body on the second page, you should put it there. The reason is that being in first place gets more clicks relative to ranking in 11th place. There’s a good chance you can improve a page to bring more traffic even if you haven’t optimized it for search, even with the tiniest tweaks.

Differences between paid and organic search

In the beginning, it’s important to understand the difference between organic, natural search and paid search. These differences include:


On search engine results pages, paid search results appear at the top, while organic results appear beneath them.


Paid and organic search differ in terms of time as well. Paid search gives almost instant results, sometimes within minutes; organic search, on the other hand, takes months or years to deliver results. Thus, organic search has to be a medium-to-long-term strategy.


Paid search traffic, as the name implies, is paid traffic. The cost-per-click (CPC) model is used for pay-per-click (PPC). Each time someone clicks on your ad, you will be charged. Rather than relying on organic traffic to your website, you purchase traffic by paying Google to show your ad whenever someone searches for your keyword. Traffic from organic search is free, although resources and time are required.


With paid search, it is actually much easier to measure return on investment. It’s partly because Google Analytics gives you access to more keyword data. Pay-per-click ROI, however, can stagnate or decrease over time. ROI for organic search is difficult to measure, but it often improves over time. Organic search offers a great return on investment over the long run.

Share of traffic

Searchers click on paid results approximately 20% to 30% of the time, and they click on organic results roughly 70% to 80% of the time. The organic results receive the lion’s share of clicks.

Similarities between paid and organic search

Although there are differences between paid and organic search, there are also similarities:

  • Keyword research: Both paid and organic search engines require users to enter keywords. Therefore, you need to do keyword research for paid and organic search.
  • Landing pages: You must create landing pages for both types of search. You must link them to your website for SEO. For paid search, you can use the exact same landing page you use for organic search or you can create a new standalone page that sits apart from your website.
  • Traffic: Traffic generation is a major objective of both paid and organic search. Users’ intent is a major factor in both paid and organic search. If someone uses Google to ask a question or search for information, they are in a more active mindset, as a result they are more likely to act upon finding the information they seek.

The three pillars of SEO

Understanding how SEO is evolving will keep you on top of your game as a digital marketer. Your brand, website, or company needs to be found by searchers in order to succeed. SEO changes frequently, but its basic principles do not change. SEO can be broken down into three core components or pillars that you need to know and take action on regularly.

  • Technical Optimization: Technical optimization refers to activities performed on your site that improve SEO but are not relevant to content. These activities usually occur in the background.
  • On-Page Optimization: In On-Page Optimization, you ensure that your site’s content is relevant and provides a great user experience. The process includes targeting the right keywords within your content and can be accomplished with a content management system. WordPress, Wix, Drupal, Joomla, Magento, Shopify, and Expression Engine are examples of content management systems.
  • Off-Page Optimization: Off-Page Optimization entails activities outside of your site that enhance its search engine ranking. Backlinks contribute greatly to the reputation of a site, which is largely driven by them.

How do search engines work?

A person uses a search engine when they have a question and want to find the answer on the internet. The algorithms of search engines look for clues to give users the exact results they are seeking. 

For any given keyword, search engines determine which web pages to rank based on algorithms. Search engines work in three stages: crawling, which is the discovery stage, indexing, which is the filing stage, and ranking, which is the retrieval stage.

Step 1: Crawling

Crawling is the first step. To find new pages, search engines send web crawlers out to look for them. This type of web crawler is sometimes called a spider or robot. Their objective is to discover new web pages, and to periodically check the content of those they have already visited to see if it has changed or been updated.

Whenever a search engine crawls a web page, it follows links it has already found. Because of this, a search engine crawling your homepage might follow the link to your blog post when searching for another link to follow.

Step 2: Indexing

Indexing is the second step. Search engines index content after it has been crawled, and then decide whether to use it. A crawled web page will be added to an index by a search engine if it is deemed worthy. It is this index that is used in the final ranking process. A web page or piece of content that is indexed is filed and stored in a database from where it can be retrieved later. Web pages that offer valuable and unique content are typically indexed. Web pages may not be included in the index if:

  • Content on it is considered duplicate
  • Content on it is considered low-quality or spammy
  • The thing couldn’t be crawled
  • The page or domain lacks inbound links

Step 3: Ranking

Ranking is really the third step, and it is the most important. Indexing and crawling are both required before ranking can occur. After a search engine crawls and indexes your site, you can rank it.

SEO relies on over 200 ranking signals that fit under three pillars: technical optimization, on-page optimization, and off-page optimization. Search engines use signals such as:

  • Keyword presence in title tag – Whether or not a keyword or synonym appears on the page and in the title tag
  • Loading speed of web page – The loading time and mobile-friendliness of the web page
  • Website reputation – A website or web page’s reputation for the topic being searched for

Ordering and ranking results

The Google Hummingbird algorithm determines how search engine results are ordered and ranked.

There is also a sub-algorithm in Google’s search engine called RankBrain that uses machine learning:

  • RankBrain connects a word or phrase to similar search queries when it sees a word or phrase it doesn’t know.
  • Google is thus able to provide better search engine results – even when searching for unusual terms – by converting keywords into known topics and concepts.
  • RankBrain rewards websites that deliver the results that the users expect, not those that are the best keyword-optimized.

How to get the most out of RankBrain

The best way to optimize your website for search engines is to improve user experience and satisfaction while using the RankBrain ranking factor to your advantage.

You can accomplish this in three ways:

  • Use medium-tail keywords (keywords with two to three words).
  • Optimize page titles and descriptions to increase the likelihood of your listing being clicked when someone searches. Click-through rate refers to the number of people who see you on Google and then visit your site.
  • Create content that increases dwell time (the time visitors stay on the page) and reduces bounce rate (the percentage of visitors that leave after viewing just one page).

Google’s three top ranking factors are:

  • Links
  • Content
  • RankBrain

Learn more about Google’s ranking factors.

Setting SEO objectives

A SEO strategy cannot be successful without setting SEO objectives. In order to achieve your overall business goals, you should set SEO objectives; this is because:

  • By doing so, they encourage buy-in from key stakeholders.
  • You can formulate your SEO strategy with their help.
  • They ensure that goals are achieved.

What should you measure?

In the long run, measuring your objectives can help you make progress with SEO. Setting them may feel like a laborious task. How should you measure them?

Measure the following:

  • Keywords
  • Traffic
  • Market share
  • Brand awareness
  • Lead generation
  • Reputation
  • E-commerce

Objectives for different types of businesses

If your business is informational or transactional, your objectives will vary.

You should set your business objectives around tracking sales and lead conversions if your business is transactional and e-commerce-focused. On the other hand, lead generation is more important if your site is not an ecommerce site.

If you operate an informational business, your objectives might be centered around brand awareness or website traffic.

Last but not least, SEO is never done even when your strategy has been fully implemented. SEO requires changing tactics midstream, playing the long game, and waiting for the final results. A solid SEO foundation in place – coupled with some patience – should lead to a better user experience for your customers and more conversions for your business.

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