What Is Organic SEO and How to Get Started

Alexis Frankel

Dec 27, 202311 min read
Contributors: Zach Paruch and Tushar Pol
organic seo mascot, a man with a tomato


What Is Organic SEO?

Organic SEO, simply referred to as SEO, is the practice of growing a website’s traffic from search engines’ unpaid search results.

Unpaid search results are earned listings rather than paid for.

Paid and organic search results on SERP

The goal is to have your webpages appear higher in the unpaid search results for terms related to your business.

For example, a “lending company” would want its website to rank high for searches like “small business loans” and “personal loans.”

By ranking well for these relevant searches, that company would drive more organic traffic from people specifically looking for what they offer. 

This leads to potential new business and revenue.

Why Is Organic SEO Important?

Organic SEO is critical for long-term online growth. It helps you earn high rankings in search engines without paying for ads. This allows your products and services to be discovered by your ideal customers.

There are three key reasons why organic SEO matters:

Creates Brand Awareness

Ranking highly in organic search results greatly increases brand visibility and awareness.

When search engine users search keywords related to your business, your website showing up builds familiarity with your brand.

Even if they don’t click initially, this repetition of seeing you rank highly across different terms plants your brand name in consumers’ minds. 

So wherever they are in the buying journey, they’ll remember your brand and consider your products or services.

This brand recall is immensely valuable.

Offers Inexpensive Lead Generation

Organic SEO is an efficient and cost-effective way to generate leads.

Unlike paid search ads which require ongoing promotion budgets, organic rankings are a form of compounding returns on your initial SEO investment.

The costs are primarily internal labor. And once you start ranking, your website continues to attract traffic and leads for months or years. With minimal additional expense.

This makes organic SEO a smart, affordable driver of lead generation.

Provides Sustainable Growth

Organic SEO leads to sustainable growth for a business over the long-term.

Unlike paid ads which stop driving traffic once the spending stops, organic search delivers ongoing results.

By investing upfront in organic SEO, you fuel continuous discovery in search engines. 

Even with minimal ongoing efforts, search rankings tend to persist for extended periods of time.

This means the traffic, leads, and sales generated from SEO keep compounding month after month.

Therefore, organic SEO should be viewed as a core growth channel for your business.

How Does Organic SEO Work?

Organic SEO works by optimizing a website to rank higher in search engines’ unpaid results pages. The goal is to get more visibility when people search for relevant topics related to your business.

There are three main components of organic SEO:

  • On-page SEO: This is all about making sure your website’s pages are high-quality and that they target specific keywords your audience is searching for. It also includes optimizing title tags, headings, and meta descriptions to both include keywords and draw attention.
  • Off-page SEO: This part takes place outside your website. It’s mainly about building links from other sites to yours, known as backlinks.
  • Technical SEO: This ensures your site runs smoothly and is easy for search engines to crawl (discover and understand what it’s all about) and index (store in its database to show in search results). 

Together, these components improve your website’s ranking in search results. 

How to Optimize Your Website for Organic SEO

Let’s actually see how to optimize your website step by step.

Leverage On-Page SEO

On-page SEO refers to optimizations made directly on a webpage to improve its rankings. This mainly involves using the right keywords on your webpage.

That’s where keyword research comes in.

Do Keyword Research

Keyword research is the process of uncovering what words or phrases people type into search engines when looking for your products or services.

You need to know this because if you don’t use the keywords that people are searching, they might never find your website in organic search results.

It’s an essential first step before creating new pages or optimizing existing pages for SEO

A powerful tool like Semrush’s Keyword Magic Tool can help you conduct this research process. 

Simply open the tool, enter your seed keyword (a broad keyword that’s related to your business), and hit “Search.”

For example, if you’re in the mortgage and lending space, that seed keyword could be “loans.”

"loans" entered into the Keyword Magic Tool search bar

The tool will then show thousands—in this case, hundreds of thousands—of keyword ideas within seconds.

Keyword Magic Tool results for "loans"

You’ll see metrics for each suggestion like:

  • Search volume: The estimated average number of monthly searches for a term. High volume suggests higher potential search traffic.
  • Keyword difficulty: How hard it will be to rank for a term. A higher number indicates more effort needed to rank.

If your website is new, it’s smart to focus on keywords that have lower keyword difficulty scores. 

Targeting less difficult keywords in the beginning stages gives you a better chance of ranking and gaining initial traction.

Once you build backlinks over time (which are extremely important for ranking), you can graduate to more competitive keywords.

With a list of target keywords in hand, you can now shift your focus to optimizing your actual page content.

Improve the Quality of Your Webpage’s Content

Improving the quality of a webpage’s content is essential for boosting its rankings in search engines.

If your content is not well-written, accurate, and useful for your audience, you will have a hard time ranking.

There are a few key things you can do to improve your content quality: 

First, give users what they want (aka align with the search intent).

For example, if your keyword is “get payday loan,” it’s clear that your audience is seeking quick financial assistance.

And your webpage should include either a form or a contact number to help apply for a loan.

But your audience might also be interested in knowing how payday loans work, eligibility criteria, interest rates, and repayment terms.

So your webpage must include that information as well.

By doing so you will improve your chances of ranking higher.

Secondly, improve readability.

This means organizing your page in a logical, hierarchical structure with useful headings and clear transitions between topics.

This makes your page content more readable while also helping search engines better understand the structure of your pages.

And lastly, invest in a visually appealing design and incorporate multimedia like images, charts, or videos to complement your text.

This makes your webpage more engaging for visitors. 

In addition, make sure your content is accurate. (This is very basic.)

All this will lead to better rankings in search results.

Further reading: What Is Quality Content & How to Create It

Integrate Keywords Strategically

Now that you’ve created a high-quality webpage, it’s time to give the final touch by integrating keywords. 

This step is extremely important. 


If you don’t incorporate keywords naturally in your page’s title tag, URL slug, headers, and the actual content, search engines can struggle to make the “content-query” connection.

A site mockup showing how to use keyword in the URL slug, heading, subheading and content section

They may fail to understand relevancy for searches even if the page offers valuable information.

As a result, they may not rank your page very well.

Further reading: On-Page SEO Checklist: The Complete Task List for 2024

Improve Off-Page SEO

Off-page SEO is mainly about getting other websites to link to your site (i.e., building backlinks).

These backlinks act as votes of confidence in the eyes of search engines. (They signal that your site is a valuable resource.)

And the more backlinks (votes) you get, especially from reputable websites in your industry, the better you’ll rank.

That’s why building backlinks is so crucial.

There are lots of strategies for building links. Here are some to get started with.

Broken link building involves finding non-working links on websites within your niche and requesting linkers to link to your site instead.

Here’s an example of a broken (non-working) link:

broken (non-working) link

Now, imagine you have a website focused on personal finance.

You could use tools like Semrush’s Backlink Analytics to scan through some big players in your space and identify broken pages on their sites that have backlinks.

For example, let’s say we scan bankrate.com (a major player in the finance space) in the tool.

"bankrate.com" entered into the Backlink Analytics search bar

We’ll see their top pages that are now defunct. As well as the number of sites that are linking to each one.

Indexed pages report in Backlink Analytics tool

With that intel in hand, we can begin outreach to those sites linking in to offer them replacement content options from our own personal finance site to link to instead.

Of course, you either need to have existing content that’s a suitable match or be willing to create new, high-quality content that can serve as a suitable replacement.

By giving them an easy fix to their broken link problem, you stand a good chance of them agreeing to link to you. 

And just like that, you’ll earn backlinks.

Further reading: Broken Link Building: What It Is & How to Do It Right

Unlinked Brand Mentions

Unlinked brand mentions are when someone mentions your brand name (or product/services) without linking back to your site.

These represent missed opportunities from a link building perspective.

Even though the sites already know you and possibly like your brand, they fail to provide a clickable attribution link to your site.

But most would be willing to update their copy with a link since they already named you in their content.

And this could be an easy backlink for you.

Tools like Semrush’s Brand Monitoring can identify such opportunities.

After you set up tracking for your brand name and associated terms, the tool surfaces pages referencing you without a working link.

Mentions tab for Duolingo in Brand Monitoring app

For each unlinked mention you want to turn into a link, you’ll craft an outreach email politely asking the website owner to consider making your brand name clickable.

Need help? Read our email outreach guide and get started.

Linkable Assets

Linkable assets are a special type of content that naturally attracts links from other sites.

Some examples are: 

  • Free tools
  • In-depth guides
  • Interesting datasets
  • Interactive calculators

These content types attract backlinks because of the value and the usefulness they provide to users.

That’s why many websites naturally link to them.

Take this mortgage calculator from Bankrate as an example:

Bankrate's mortgage calculator

It has over 350,000 backlinks from 1900 unique domains, according to our Domain Overview tool.

Domain Overview results for "https://www-bankrate.com/mortgages/mortgage-calculator/" site

If you’re in the same space as Bankrate, creating calculators like this could be an effective strategy to earn backlinks.

Manage Technical SEO

Technical SEO focuses on the technical aspects of your website, such as site speed, mobile-friendliness, and crawling and indexing.

It’s crucial for organic SEO. 

Otherwise, your website’s visibility in search engines would be significantly hampered.

But how to get a feel for how well your website performs in terms of technical SEO?

A full technical audit can help.

To get started: 

  • Open Semrush’s Site Audit tool (It’s free!)
  • Enter your website URL
  • And click “Start Audit.”
Site Audit tool search bar

The tool will prompt you to complete the setup process.

Once you do that, the audit will initiate. Wait until the tool fully scans your website and generates a comprehensive report, like this:

Site Audit's overview dashboard

From here, look at the “Site Health” score. It gives you a quick overview of your website’s overall technical SEO performance

A high score indicates that your website is generally in good health from a technical SEO standpoint.

If your score is low, it’s because your site has a lot of technical SEO issues.

You can see all of them by going to the “Issues” tab.

"Issues" report in Site Audit tool

For each identified issue, the tool offers advice on how to fix it.

Our advice is to fix as many issues as you can. This will give you the best chance of ranking well.

Should You Do Organic SEO Yourself or Hire a Professional?

Do-it-yourself SEO (DIY SEO) is a viable option for those who have the time and expertise to execute organic SEO strategies themselves.

If that’s not you, hiring a professional SEO expert or agency is your best choice.

Having worked with diverse websites and industries, professionals bring a depth of knowledge and experience.

They are your reliable partner who can work with you to achieve your SEO goals and grow your online presence. 

Track Your Organic SEO Progress

Whether you DIY or delegate, you need to track whether your investment is paying off.

A good way to measure this is with Google Search Console.

Google Search Console is a free tool from Google that tells how well your website is performing in Google Search.

Specially, it provides data on:

  • Clicks: How many people click on your site from search results
  • Impressions: How often your site appears in search results
  • Average position: What is the average position of your site in search results 
  • Queries: Which search queries show your site
  • Click-through rate (CTR): How often people click through to your site for those queries

And lots of other valuable information.

Performance on search results graph in GSC

(If you’ve not yet activated GSC for your site, it’s high time you should. Read our article on Search Console and get started.)

It’s an important tool for anyone engaged in SEO, whether you’re doing it yourself or working with a professional.

Overall, you want to see your clicks increase. An upward trend in clicks suggests that your SEO strategies are effectively improving your rankings and generating more traffic.

But this won’t happen from day one.

How Long Does It Take for Organic SEO to Work?

Google’s Maile Ohye estimates your site should start ranking for keywords after four months when you hire an SEO specialist. 

But every site is different. There isn’t a set answer for how long it will take for your SEO efforts to show any kind of results. 

The short answer: 

Don’t expect to earn first place overnight. SEO is a long game—but worth it in the end. 

Make sure your organic search engine optimization strategy is holistic (on-page, off-page, and technical). And track your growth over time.

Begin Your Organic SEO Journey

If you follow the advice shared in this guide, your website will begin its climb to the top of Google search results.

In your journey to No. 1 Google rankings, SEO tools can come in (really) handy.

Semrush offers a suite of SEO tools to help you with on-page, off-page, and technical optimizations.

They offer immense value. Use them if you’re serious about SEO.

All the tools are available with a free Semrush account. (No credit card needed.)

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Alexis is a marketer, writer, and hamster owner. She thinks everyone should have easy access to digital marketing resources they understand.
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