Broken down, search engine optimization (SEO) is a process of tasks designed to help increase the organic rankings of a website for particular terms in the search engines. The ultimate goal of these processes is to increase both the quantity and quality of traffic coming to your site.

For starters, the term organic rankings is any area of the search results that isn’t paid for. When you perform a search in Google, you can often find several listings labeled “Ad”. These are your paid listings. Everywhere else, more or less, is the organic listings. Showing up in these areas provides free traffic. By free traffic, that means you do not have to pay Google for this listing. You may pay an online marketing agency for these rankings, though.

There are many factors that go into getting your site to rank higher for specific search terms. At a basic level, these include on-site optimization, usage, and off-site linking. Of course there are many other factors that are involved in SEO, but these are a great starting point.

On-site optimization is the process of sculpting the pages of your site to target specific keywords. This is often accomplished through the meta data of the page. Having your keyword in your page title is important, but you also want to include a variation of your keyword in your meta description. On top of that, you want to include your keyword a few times sprinkled throughout the content of your page while utilizing heading tags. You do need to be careful, though, as over-optimization can cause your site to fall to a penalty. Most of this should be taken care of during your website design; however, it can all be added later if necessary

Site usage is another key statistic used to determine a site’s ranking. Site usage includes factors such as click-through rate (CTR), bounce rate, and dwell time. Your site’s CTR is a basic equation of how many times your site is clicked on compared to how many times it shows up in the search results. The higher your CTR, the better your site may rank. With a high CTR, you want to have a low bounce rate. If a person spends little time on your site before going back to the page he or she came from, that will increase your bounce rate. A high bounce rate is detrimental to your rankings. Last, dwell time is related to both CTR and bounce rate. Dwell time is simply how long a user spends on your site. Having great content or a video can increase your dwell time which in turn can increase your ranking.

Finally, off-site linking is important to your organic rankings. Any time a site links to your site, it’s like your site is getting a recommendation from the other site. The more recommendations you receive, the better. Of course, receiving a recommendation from the Wall Street Journal holds more power than a recommendation from Joe Smith’s blog. There is a definite advantage to having high-authority sites link to your site. Google will see these recommendations and rank your site accordingly.

On-site optimization, usage, and off-site linking aren’t the only aspects of SEO that you need to understand, but it’s a great start to figuring out why sites rank higher than others.