Search Engine Optimization

Some on-page and off-page SEO techniques. Source: The Hoth 2019a.
Some on-page and off-page SEO techniques. Source: The Hoth 2019a.

Users online use search engines to find information or resources. If you're the owner of a website, you always want to bring more visitors to your site. If search engines give better visibility to your site in response to relevant search queries, this would translate to more visitors. But how do you tell search engines that your site is better than others? This is where Search Engine Optimization (SEO) plays an important part.

SEO is the process of applying a set of techniques so that search engines rank your site or page higher, without you paying them to do so. We could optimize on content, organization, design, performance, etc. To know what to optimize is not obvious and requires a good understanding of the many factors that search engines use to rank web pages.


  • What are some important factors that search engines use for ranking web pages?
    Ranking factors used by Google search engine. Source: Moz 2013.
    Ranking factors used by Google search engine. Source: Moz 2013.

    As of December 2018, it's recognized that Google uses more than 200 ranking factors. These can be categorized into domain related, site level or page level factors. For example, a keyword appearing in domain name can boost ranking. At site level, content uniqueness, content freshness, site trust rank, site architecture, use of HTTPS, and usability are some factors. At page level, use of keywords in title tag, content length, topic coverage, and loading speed are some factors.

    Search results that get more clicks may be ranked better in future. Bounce rate may be used to adjust ranking. Repeat visits to a page and higher dwell time (time spent on a page) may boost ranking. Likewise, pages with lots of comments may get a boost.

    Search engines may also apply algorithmic rules. For example, priority may be given to recently published pages due to freshness. For diversity, results may include different interpretations of the keyword. User's search history is used to give contextual results. Geo-targeted matches may be given priority for some queries.

  • If there's only one important SEO technique, what would it be?

    In the words of Google SEO Starter Guide 2017,

    Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other factors discussed here.

    Content comes first. It should be unique and of high quality. It should add value to those who visit your site. When it's backed by great design, we can achieve great user experience across devices. This means that aiming for higher search ranking is not the primary goal. The focus should be on content and user experience. Every other SEO technique should not stray from this focus.

    Apart from this, SEO is about keywords, links, relevance, reputation and trust.

  • What's the meaning of link building for SEO?
    Example structure of internal links. Source: Jessier 2018.
    Example structure of internal links. Source: Jessier 2018.

    Link building is the process of getting more links to your own webpages. Incoming links, also called backlinks, is an important SEO signal that leads to better ranking. Total number of links, number of linking root domains, number of links from separate C-class IPs are all important. Age and authority of pages or domains linking to your site are also important. The anchoring text used for a backlink is also relevant.

    The recommended approach is to earn backlinks rather than buy them. Earning backlinks is a slow process but this builds your site's reputation in a natural way for better long-term results. To earn backlinks, create unique high-quality content, promote your content, get positive reviews from influencers, and partner with relevant sites without resorting to link scheming.

    Internal link building is something on which you have greater control. Build internal links based on keyword research and information architecture of your site. Map each page to keywords and user intent. Use this to create an SEO wireframe to help you build internal links. Use navigation bars, menus and breadcrumbs to link to key pages.

  • How can I make use of social signals for better SEO?

    Social signals are basically user engagement on social media platforms. These include likes, shares, comments, and so on.

    Social signals are important for ranking in Bing search engine. Google Search has said that social signals don't directly influence ranking. However, research has shown good correlation between ranking and social signals. This is because social signals amplify other SEO factors that in turn affect ranking.

    It therefore makes sense to optimize your social presence to indirectly affect ranking. Your profile and branding should be consistent across platforms. Link your profiles to your site. Post regularly across platforms. Post per day about 15 tweets, 1 LinkedIn post, 1 Facebook post, and 2 Instagram posts. Use viral headlines and images in posts. Use hashtags, which are essentially keywords. Explicitly ask for shares. On your web pages, use social media plugins to make sharing easier. For best possible engagement, share only your best posts.

  • What should web designers keep in mind for better SEO?
    Interaction design can enable both SEO and UX. Source: Taylor 2013.
    Interaction design can enable both SEO and UX. Source: Taylor 2013.

    Designers should design for SEO rather than just user experience (UX). One approach is to make good use of interactions (such as mouseover or mouse click) and expandable elements. For example, page can load with a minimalistic view but via interactions give more information that's also crawlable.

    Image-based banners and call-to-action elements are not crawlable. Image's alt attribute is plain text and of limited length. Instead, go for crawlable text-based design using webfonts, HTML and CSS, along with schema markup.

    Design should be responsive. More than just fitting to different screen sizes, aim for consistent UX across devices. For example, have a fluid design that maintains proportions. Google's Mobile-Friendly Test can inform if your site's well designed for mobiles.

    Use header tags to organize content both for visitors and search engines. Using header tags in sidebars, header and footer is not a good SEO practice. Pop-ups and banners are penalized in mobile SEO. Due to voice interfaces, prioritize your design to be heard rather than seen.

  • What is meant by black hat SEO versus white hat SEO?
    Comparing black hat versus white hat SEO techniques. Source: Patel 2015.
    Comparing black hat versus white hat SEO techniques. Source: Patel 2015.

    White Hat SEO is when an SEO professional doesn't deviate from the rules defined by search engines. Getting results via white hat SEO takes time but they also last longer. Sites using only white hat SEO will not be penalized by search engines since they play by the rules.

    Black Hat SEO is when an SEO professional try to game the system to get better rankings. Search engine guidelines and rules are flouted. Black hat techniques may give quick results but there's a risk of getting penalized. However, we should point out that breaking search engine rules is not illegal.

    Buying links is a black hat technique. Automatically following someone who follows you on social media is another one. Cloaking is a black hat practice of showing one version of a web page to search crawlers and another version to normal visitors. Another one is keyword stuffing where irrelevant keywords are forced into a page.

    In practice, no site is 100% white hat. When white hat SEO professionals try to acquire links, they're crossing into "gray hat" territory.

  • Are there SEO techniques that I should avoid?

    Google has shared some techniques to avoid: automatically generated content, scraped content, pages with little original content, cloaking, sneaky redirects, hidden texts or links, doorway pages, using irrelevant keywords, abusing rich snippets markup, sending automated queries to Google, etc. Too many ads on a page lowers the ranking.

    Bing has shared a similar list to avoid: link buying or spamming, social media schemes, meta refresh redirects, duplicated content, keyword stuffing and misleading markup.

    Don't optimize on a single keyword since search engines focus on search intent. Don't design for just desktops. Make your design mobile friendly, fast, and responsive. Don't focus on quantity by duplicating or copying content; quality of your content is more important. Don't put important content in formats that most likely won't be crawled, such as, PDF files or images. Worse still, using noindex in meta tags or robots.txt file wrongly can tell crawlers to ignore your content.

    Finally, don't think that SEO is a one-time task. Keep adding new content to your site. If you change your site's structure, properly redirect old URLs. Stay updated on new SEO trends.

  • What are some common myths about SEO?

    Here are some SEO myths and clarifications of the same:

    • Boost your rankings overnight by hiring an SEO agency: improving rankings takes time.
    • Guest blogging is obsolete: avoid spamming blogs and publish quality content.
    • SEO is a one-time effort: it's a continuous process.
    • Link building is dangerous: grow links naturally without being manipulative.
    • CTR is no longer relevant: they still influence ranking but clicks from bots will be penalized.
    • Keywords and keyword research are dead: they're important but think in terms of context and search intent; keyword ratio is useless.
    • Keyword-optimized anchor text is bad: it's bad if it's overoptimized; hence aim for diversity (natural, brand, URL, generic).
    • Paid rankings will improve organic rankings: they're in fact treated separately.
    • XML sitemap improves rankings: it doesn't but search engines will index the site faster.
    • Meta tags are irrelevant: they don't affect rankings but they help search engines understand your site better.
    • H1 tags are important for rankings: not really but use them to organize your content and help users navigate more easily.
  • What are some tools that help with SEO?

    Google Search Console is an essential tool. Formerly called Google Webmaster Tools, it provides rankings and traffic reports for keywords and pages.

    For backlink analysis, AHREFs and Majestic are useful. With these, we get to know who's linking to our site or to sites of our competitors. With this information, we can plan for link building. Similar tools include Buzzsumo, FollowerWonk, and Little Bird.

    For keyword research, use Google's Keyword Planner, although this is useful only for paid search. For organic search, consider using Moz Keyword Explorer tool and SEMRush’s Keyword Magic Tool. Google Trends is also useful for competitive analysis on keywords.

    Since performance is an SEO factor, use Google PageSpeed Insights, Pingdom, or WebPageTest to know areas where performance can be improved. For local SEO, use Moz Local or Whitespark.

    SEO platforms bring together many tools for analyzing and optimizing our site. Moz, BrightEdge, Searchmetrics, Linkdex, and SEO PowerSuite are some examples.

    To know if SEO is giving better results, use Google Analytics.



The history of SEO is naturally tied to the history of search engines. What's probably the world's first search engine, Archie is released in 1990. The World Wide Web Wanderer, later called Wandex, is released in 1993 as one of the first web crawlers. By 1994, many search engines are operational including Alta Vista, Infoseek, Lycos, and Yahoo. Google itself is founded in 1998 but it started in 1996 with the name BackRub.


Danny Sullivan launches Search Engine Watch, a site for news on search industry and tips for better ranking.


For sponsored links and paid search, is launched. Advertisers bid on the site to rank higher than organic results. In fact, organic results were bad since search engines didn't succeed against black hat practices. The alternative was paid search or getting listed on popular directories such as Yahoo and DMOZ.


The first conference focused on search marketing, called Search Engine Strategies, takes place.


Google Toolbar becomes available within Internet Explorer browser. This allows SEO practitioners to see their PageRank score. Meanwhile, some folks start sharing SEO related information at a London pub. This later evolves into Pubcon, a regular search conference.


With Google leading the search market, it releases the Florida update. Sites that were earlier ranked higher due to keyword stuffing (a black hat practice), lose their ranking. The Florida update gives better ranking for quality content and authentic backlinks. This partly solves the problem created earlier by and Google's AdSense that content creators gamed to make a quick buck.


Google starts looking at local search intent and thus is born local SEO. This year is also when Google personalizes results based on search history and interests.


Google, Yahoo and MSN jointly create the nofollow attribute to combat spammy links and comments.


With Google's Panda update (delivered over many months), the search engine penalizes content farms created solely for driving search engine results. This affected sites having scraped and unoriginal content. Panda also penalized pages with high ad-to-content ratios.


With the Penguin update of Google Search, sites with overoptimized anchor text, or spammy hyperlinks are penalized.

Summary of Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird updates. Source: Jimdo 2017.
Summary of Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird updates. Source: Jimdo 2017.

With the Hummingbird update of Google Search, search is based on keywords but results are more about search intent. This update affects 90% of searches worldwide. Design for user intent among information (to know), location (to go), action (to do), or shopping (to buy). To help search engines figure out intent, let each page have a singular purpose.


In April, Google Search gets a mobile-friendly update named Mobilegeddon. In October, Google releases an AI-powered search named RankBrain. It's initially used to interpret 15% of searches that Google has never seen before. In later years, RankBrain plays a more central role in all of Google searches.


  1. Amcodigital. 2017. "The History of SEO (Search Engine Optimization)." Amcodigital, November 04. Accessed 2019-07-13.
  2. Anderson, Shaun. 2018. "Google SEO Tutorial for Beginners." Hobo, January 29. Updated 19-02-20. Accessed 2019-07-10.
  3. Anderson, Keith. 2019. "How Social Signals Help SEO." SEO Hermit, July 09. Accessed 2019-07-10.
  4. Baker, Loren. 2017. "20 Years of SEO: A Brief History of Search Engine Optimization." Search Engine Journal, December 26. Accessed 2019-07-13.
  5. Bing. 2019. "Bing Webmaster Guidelines." Bing. Accessed 2019-07-10.
  6. Burgess, Caitlin. 2017. "SEO Checklist for Content Marketers: 21 Common Mistakes to Avoid." TopRank Marketing, February 07. Accessed 2019-07-10.
  7. Dean, Brian. 2018. "Google’s 200 Ranking Factors: The Complete List (2019)." Backlinko, December 28. Accessed 2019-07-10.
  8. Demers, Tom. 2015. "SEO Basics: Complete Beginner's Guide to Search Engine Optimization." Blog, WordStream, April 30. Updated 2019-05-08. Accessed 2019-07-10.
  9. Forbes Agency Council. 2018. "15 Common SEO Mistakes To Avoid." Forbes, October 17. Accessed 2019-07-10.
  10. Google Support. 2019. "Webmaster Guidelines." Google. Accessed 2019-07-10.
  11. Hall, Sharon Hurley. 2019. "Social Media and SEO: Do Social Shares Really Matter for Ranking?" OptinMonster, February 05. Accessed 2019-07-10.
  12. History Computer. 2019. "World Wide Web Wanderer." Acccessed 2019-07-13.
  13. Hollingsworth, Sam. 2018. "12 Completely Outdated SEO Practices You Should Avoid." Search Engine Journal, December 07. Accessed 2019-07-10.
  14. Jessier, Myriam. 2018. "Things Designers Should Know About SEO In 2018." Smashing Magazine, May 10. Accessed 2019-07-10.
  15. Jimdo. 2017. "Panda, Penguin Or Hummingbird, You Are Set Free." Jimdo, October 31. Accessed 2019-07-13.
  16. Jones, Ryan. 2017. "The End of DMOZ and the Evolution of SEO." Search Engine Journal, March 03. Accessed 2019-07-13.
  17. Moz. 2013. "What is SEO?" Moz. Accessed 2019-07-10.
  18. Niechai, Valerie. 2018. "SEO Myth Busting: 13 Biggest SEO Myths You Should Leave Behind." Link-Assistant, October 02. Accessed 2019-07-10.
  19. Optimizely. 2019. "Search Engine Optimization." Optimizely. Accessed 2019-07-10.
  20. Patel, Neil. 2015. "17 SEO Myths That You Should Never Follow." Blog, April 14. Updated 2019-02-15. Accessed 2019-07-10.
  21. Schachinger, Kristine. 2019. "SEO Tactics: Black Hats, White Hats, Gray Hats & ‘Asshats’." Search Engine Journal, June 18. Accessed 2019-07-10.
  22. Talreja, Abhishek. 2018. "An Absolutely Fascinating History of SEO." Digital Vidya, February 14. Accessed 2019-07-10.
  23. Taylor, Justin. 2013. "Designing for SEO." Blog, Moz, January 22. Accessed 2019-07-10.
  24. The Hoth. 2019a. "On-page vs. Off-page SEO." Via Plewa, Katarzyna on Pinterest. Accessed 2019-07-10.
  25. WordStream. 2019. "Learn the Basics of Quality Link Building for SEO." Accessed 2019-07-10.
  26. Zantal-Wiener, Amanda. 2016. "A Brief History of Search & SEO." Blog, HubSpot, October 26. Updated 2017-08-27. Accessed 2019-07-10.

Further Reading

  1. Lessem, David. 2016. "What is a Keyword? The Beginner’s Guide to SEO Basics." The Content Factory, April 27. Updated 2018-11-12. Accessed 2019-07-10.
  2. Dean, Brian. 2018. "Google’s 200 Ranking Factors: The Complete List (2019)." Backlinko, December 28. Accessed 2019-07-10.
  3. Anderson, Shaun. 2018. "Google SEO Tutorial for Beginners." Hobo, January 29. Updated 19-02-20. Accessed 2019-07-10.
  4. Spencer, Stephan. 2010. "36 SEO Myths That Won’t Die But Need To." Search Engine Land, April 15. Accessed 2019-07-10.
  5. Blue Corona. 2019. "Google’s Ranking Factors in 2019." Blue Corona, January 09. Accessed 2019-07-10.
  6. The Hoth. 2019b. "The Best SEO Tools." Accessed 2019-07-13.

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Devopedia. 2022. "Search Engine Optimization." Version 4, February 15. Accessed 2022-04-25.
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Last updated on
2022-02-15 11:53:58
  • Multimedia SEO
  • SEO Keywords
  • Content Marketing
  • Web Analytics
  • RankBrain
  • Semantic Search