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  • Writer's pictureRhiannon Harradine

How Does SEO Work?

Updated: 4 days ago

SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) helps websites get found in organic search engine results. What does this mean? When someone searches for something in Google, Etsy, YouTube or any search engine, algorithms use various factors or signals to decide which listings or website pages appear and where. By nailing your SEO, you can help your small business website appear on the first page of Google Search results, without having to pay for ads. But how does SEO work? It's probably to main question I get asked as an SEO consultant. This article covers how search engine algorithms work and how you can use SEO to get your small business found online for free.

This article was originally published in October 2022. Last updated April 2024.

This Article Covers:

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation - so when you carry out SEO, you are optimising your website to rank higher in search engine results. Essentially, SEO is what helps your website appear in the search engine results, and the higher your website appears, the more likely people are to visit it.


An e-commerce brand sells their own brand of equestrian riding tights and base layers. They would probably want their website to appear in the search engine results when people search for “riding tights” and “equestrian base layers” for example.

Now, this is unlikely to happen unless SEO is carried out on the website. This is especially important in the more crowded areas of the equestrian market, such as rider wear, horse wear, feed and supplements, etc.

So How Does SEO Work?

SEO works in the first instance by telling the search engine which keywords to rank the website for. In the example above, you would want Google to know that the website contains relevant information for people who are searching for “riding tights” and “equestrian base layers”.

Different search engines work differently, and the ranking factors or signals they use will vary and evolve over time. For the purposes of this article, I am focusing on Google Search.

how does seo work
Understanding how SEO works can help you maximise the performance of your small business website so that it drives organic traffic, leads and enquiries.

The Google Search Algorithm

If you have explored social media marketing, then you will probably have heard of algorithms. Algorithms are what social media platforms and search engines use to decide which content to display to users.

Every time you Google something, the algorithm sifts through all the website pages that mention the keywords you have used, and chooses which ones to present to you. This all happens in a microsecond, every time you run a search query!

There are a number of factors (often known as ranking signals these days) the Google algorithm uses to determine how to rank website pages. There is much debate surrounding how many ranking signals there are, and how much weight each one carries.

The key thing to remember is that Google wants to serve helpful content to its users - so your aim when trying to SEO your website is to provide helpful content for people who are searching for your target keywords.

How Does SEO Work For Small Businesses?

Now you understand the technical process behind SEO, it's time to link that to your business. SEO can work very effectively for small businesses that want to get found online by their target audience when they are actively looking for information relevant to your products or services.

By information, I mean:

  • Answers to questions (e.g. "how does SEO work?")

  • Instructions (e.g. "how to tack up a horse")

  • Inspiration (e.g. "Cheltenham Festival outfit ideas")

  • Motivation (e.g. "2024 business plan" or "small business ideas")

  • Products or services (e.g. "equestrian base layer")

  • Local businesses (e.g. "plumber in Newbury")

By creating written content (website page copy and blog articles) that answers your target audience's search queries, you can help your small business get more visible online because Google's algorithm can see that your website offers helpful content.

SEO can also help small businesses on other ways, as well as search engine visibility:

The Customer Journey: Getting your website found online is relevant at all stages in the customer journey. Some people use Google to buy a product or service there and then (high intent / decision-stage). Others are simply looking for some self-help or free advice and aren't actively looking to buy something today (low intent / awareness stage). However, capturing people in the awareness stage gives you the opportunity to build credibility and interest, get them onto your email list and one day turn them into a paying customer. It is so important to bear this in mind when marketing your small business - often you cannot eat the fruit on the same day that you plant the seed!

Credibility & Trust: You can use blogs to build credibility as an expert in your field. You can do this by providing useful, reliable information, instructions or advice. This can help turn your website traffic into leads and sales as people will come to trust your business.

Education: You can use your website content to educate your audience. This could be by providing how-to guides (e.g. a blog on how to make a tweed skirt) or by providing stats, evidence and research to back up your product or service. You can also educate your target audience about the problem and your solution (e.g. why houseplants get pests and how to prevent them using your product).

Repurposing & Resharing: Your blogs aren't just there to sit around waiting for Google Search to find them! Repurpose them as social media posts, or share them with your social media and email audiences. By doing this, you're offering value to your audience and driving them to your website.

Detail: Snappy, short-form content is great, especially when you're trying to catch people's attention as they scroll through social media. However, you can only get across so much in a social media post. Some topics call for more detail, and your blog is the best place to do this!

So, SEO is not just about getting found online by people who are going to buy from you today. It is also about nurturing the customer journey and creating a bank of content that you can use in many different ways.

How Do I Get On Page One of Google?

If you are trying to drive organic (free) traffic to your website from Google Search, being on the first page (ideally at the top) of the results pages for relevant search terms / keywords is key. The vast majority of clicks go to websites that appear on the first page, so being high up in the rankings does make a real difference.

But before I answer the question, it is important to understand that:

There is no single “Page One of Google” - Page one depends on an array of factors such as the search query, user location, user search history and more. Two people can Google exactly the same thing and be presented with different results.

So, the question we should be asking is: How Do I Get My Website to Rank Well for Relevant Keywords?

This is where an effective SEO campaign comes in. I go into more detail about how to create an SEO strategy in another article, so for now I will outline at the fundamentals you need to consider when it comes to SEO for your small business website.

Keywords: Your website needs to mention your keywords, so Google knows what your website is about. Keyword research and strategy is vital.

Relevance: Your website’s content needs to match the keywords you use. Google’s algorithm will learn very quickly if you are optimising for “riding boots” when you only sell base layers. Ultimately, this is counter-productive. Be very careful about optimising your website by using your competitors’ brand names. The algorithm will soon catch on and you could land yourself in trouble with those companies.

User-Friendliness: So, you have spent ages planning and implementing an amazing SEO strategy. People are discovering your website only to be met with outdated information, clunky checkouts and links that don’t work. User experience is really important to SEO for two main reasons. Firstly, Google’s algorithm can detect website issues such as broken links and slow load speed, and this will damage your SEO. Secondly, there is no point in getting people to visit your website if they then can’t buy, sign up or enquire.

User-friendliness and relevance are becoming more and more important when it comes to SEO. Google wants to give its users the best possible experience, and that means presenting them with the most useful and relevant websites.

Helpful Content: Google wants to provide its users with helpful, useful, valuable content. Make sure all of your website content provides value, answers the user's question and leaves them feeling satisfied.

Affordable SEO For Small Businesses

Since 2020, I have helped many small businesses get found online with SEO. My SEO consultancy services, products and self-study courses help small business owners increase their online visibility, credibility and sales without needing to rely on expensive paid ads, viral videos or agency outsourcing.

I offer a range of SEO consultancy services to UK small businesses, including 1:1 Power Hours, SEO Auditing and intensive SEO consultancy packages.

1:1 Power Hours | £99* per hour

Map out your next steps with my power hours! Held via Zoom, these super-focused SEO & content marketing consultancy sessions are there to point you in the right direction so you can take action with confidence. Whether you want to map out a blog plan, SEO strategy or simply get a dose of content inspiration, these power hours are for you.

Bookable online, or you can DM me on Instagram @purplehorsemarketing or drop me an email at - tell me where you want to go and I'll suggest how I can help you get there! Discover my Power Hours and book online today.

SEO Audits | £250 each*

If you are about to embark on an SEO campaign, you want to understand where you are now, and how to get to where you want to be! Sure, you can carry out basic website auditing yourself, but this doesn't give you a full understanding of how your website is performing or why. That's where my SEO audits come in. This one-off package gives you detailed insights into your website's current rankings and technical issues, as well as a bespoke report and actionable recommendations for how to transform your website into a visible marketing channel that works for your business. Plus, you'll get a free 1:1 Power Hour included with this package!

Bookable online, or you can DM me on Instagram @purplehorsemarketing or drop me an email at - tell me where you want to go and I'll suggest how I can help you get there! Discover my SEO Audits and book online today.

Monthly Ten Hour SEO Consultancy Package | £2,250 (or £750 PCM for 3 months)*

Are you looking for intensive SEO support, consultancy and accountability? My monthly SEO consultancy package is for UK businesses that want to invest in long-term visibility, credibility and conversions and are looking to make the most of what SEO and content marketing have to offer.

This package includes ten hours of support, calls and consultancy per month, for a minimum of three months. During this time, I can support your business with just about anything related to SEO and blogging, including SEO / blog strategy, reporting and insights, content creation and optimisation, blog templates, keyword research and more. Slots are strictly limited to 3 businesses at any one time.

Book a free 30 minute Discovery Call, DM me on Instagram @purplehorsemarketing or drop me an email at - tell me where you want to go and I'll suggest how I can help you get there!

*Prices are correct April 2024. Please visit the relevant service pages for up-to-date pricing.


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