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What Actually Is SEO and How Does It Really Work?


Most business owners I speak to have heard of SEO, but many don’t exactly know what it is (only that someone sold it to them once, took their money and they got nothing in return).

In this post I’m going to explain what it is, how it’s supposed to work and what it is meant to achieve.


What Is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation and basically means optimising your website so that Google sees it as the most relevant option for a certain keyword or keywords, which it will then show in the #1 position in the search results.

Google has an algorithm which determines this, and has been getting more and more complex as time goes on. The reason for this is that Google doesn’t want people to manipulate which results it shows, but obviously it’s quite profitable if you can figure it out, so there is a whole industry based around doing exactly that, and it’s a constant back and forth between the two:

Google sets the rules, SEOs figure it out, Google does an update (which usually slashes a bunch of rankings and invalidates the old techniques), SEOs figure out the new way to do it and on and on it goes.

By this point we are a few decades into the game and it’s a little bit complex, but I will cover some of the basics in this post.


How Does SEO Work?

Google looks at certain criteria on the website to decide how relevant it is to a particular search keyword, as well as the quality of the content on the website and whether it matches the search intent of the user (this is a big one lately). It then compares it against all the other websites it is aware of on the same topic, and lists them out from what it deems as the most relevant (#1 position) to the least relevant for a searcher’s keyword.

These days a big portion of what Google looks at is all on the website, which include things like your H1 headline, your meta title, internal links between pages and the length and quality of the content on each page. In the past backlinks (other websites which link to your website) played a major role, but these days they are less relevant then they used to be.

It also takes into account some other factors such as social media, if your website or brand name is mentioned somewhere even without an actual link, how long people spend on your website, how new your content is, how often new content gets posted, your monthly traffic, how many other keywords you rank for and several other factors. Google doesn’t specifically tell you what they look for, so all this is what SEOs have figured out through experience and testing.


So How Do You Get Your Website to #1?

Basically, you need to make your website more relevant than all the others for the keyword you want to be #1 for.

Now, that’s easier said than done, it’s a process that can take months, sometimes years in a competitive industry, because not only are you dealing with competition who are probably better than you and have been doing it for longer, but you also have to wait for Google to crawl your website, index it, and actually show it, to see if what you did was good enough before you can improve further.

So what do you do if you are just starting out with law firm SEO?

A little secret is to not focus on the main keywords (like “Lawyer”) and instead find what are called “Long tail keywords” in the SEO world, which have less searches but less competition, and rank for a bunch of those.

An example of a long tail keyword would be “family mediation lawyer in Auckland”. This keyword won’t have as many searches as “Lawyer”, but it will be easier to rank for.

Over time, you will build up a list of these “smaller” keywords that you rank for, you’ll be getting some traffic, and your website will start to creep up for the main keywords as well. That’s how you can be competitive despite being smaller and just starting out.


What Happens When You Are #1

When you finally get to page 1 after months and months of work, what you’ll notice is a huge increase in your traffic, and as a result a lot more leads or sales. The reason for this is that 95% of people never go to page 2, so all the traffic that never saw your website before will suddenly be clicking on it.

It’s basically like running Google Ads with an unlimited budget, except you don’t have to pay for it, and that the conversion rate of organic results is usually quite a bit higher than you get through ads.

So basically, once you get to #1, it’s an enormous win in every regard. This is why so many businesses invest tens of thousands of dollars into SEO, because when it’s done right, it’s extremely rewarding.