It’s a common question with an uncommon answer. Search engine optimization (SEO) combines elements of marketing, writing, press relations, and web development into one digital discipline that drives between 15 and 50% of most business’ daily online traffic.

Unlike paid search, which you manage within the ad platform’s interface, SEO requires you to make changes on your web site. Those changes take time and resources, and the results may not be fully realized until months after they’re made. Still, the promise of the long-term improvement in revenue or leads that it can drive makes SEO management a necessity.

With SEO, knowing what to change, when, and how much is both an art and a science. It’s not, as some think, black magic, a one-and-done project, or a quick fix.

Once you understand the three pillars of SEO – technical, content, and authority – you’ll begin to see the logic behind it.

Technical SEO: Get Indexed

When search bots crawl your site, they load as much of the content in their internal browsers as they can to extract the text and links. The information is then sent to a data center to be indexed and processed more thoroughly. Then the bots follow the links to the next pieces of content and repeat the process.

This crawling and indexing process is the foundation upon which all SEO success rests. If search bots like Googlebot can’t crawl and index your site, there’s no way to rank organically, which means you will drive neither organic search leads nor revenue.

Technical SEO uses the knowledge of how and what search bots crawl to strategically prevent or allow crawling and indexation, depending on whether the content should rank in organic search or not. In other aspects of technical SEO, you work with developers to modify things like tagging, template design, page speed, and structured data.

Content and SEO: Be Relevant

After indexation, the SEO focus shifts to content. The relevance of the content and the experience customers have on the site both play an increasingly important role in how pages rank.

On the surface, it’s a matter of matching searchers’ queries to the content with the closest relevant intent. But that match isn’t made by simply finding the exact same keyword that was entered into the search box on a web page a specific number of times.

When it comes to on-page relevance, there is no specific number of repetitions of a keyword in your content that will do the trick. In fact, it’s possible (though less frequent) to rank well and not even use the keyword on the page, as long as all of the content is the most contextually relevant. Instead, modern search engines go far beyond simple matching – and understanding plurals, misspellings, and synonyms – to decipher the context and intent of each piece of content they index.

Authority and SEO: Be Valuable

The third aspect of SEO is the authority conveyed upon a page based on the quality of backlinks that point to it from other sites across the web. Search engines interpret the act of linking to another site as a vote of confidence. The page linked to must have value or the site wouldn’t have recommended it to visitors by linking to it.

The more high-quality sites that link to your pages, especially sites that are also topically relevant, the more likely your site is to rank well. The quantity of links is less important than the quality. Naturally, a large quantity of high-quality links is the best scenario of all.

Under no circumstances should you buy or sell links. Yes, there are people who do both, and maybe they even get away with it for a while. But the consequences are severe, including getting your site banned from search results. It’s just not worth the risk. Instead, focus on creating high-quality content that is relevant to the things people are interested in (and search for), and which will attract links naturally.

The three pillars of SEO – technical, content, and authority – form a logical framework for managing organic search. Over the next several weeks, I’ll dive deeper into each of the three pillars. Understanding each one and the role it plays will help demystify SEO, revealing it as a strategic element in your online presence and digital marketing mix.