Search engine optimization, or SEO for short, is the process of acquiring traffic from the organic listings on search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo by creating website content and using specific keywords within said content to match relevant search queries. Organic listings are the first 10 results you see on the left of the results page that have a white background. The listings with colored background means they are sponsored, or paid ads. Searchers generally trust organic listings more, because these websites aren't paying to be placed there. They're relevant in the eyes of the search engines to the query.
If you want your website to appear on that first page of results for any particular search, you must have that search query (or keyword) located in various places of your website. You must also have links coming into your site from other relevant websites.
Let's look at a hypothetical example. I own a boutique cookbook store. I sell are cookbooks that contain recipes for all the various types of cuisine around the world. I have a brick and mortar shop, but I also have a website. In fact, it's an e-commerce website, meaning I can sell my cookbooks online. To optimize my website for the search engines, I'm going to make sure that I have a unique page for each and every cookbook I sell.
For my French cookbook by Juila Child, I'll need to make sure I create one product page specifically for this cookbook. It shouldn't share a page with a Chinese food cookbook, because that's irrelevant (to a certain extent). Then I add phrase "French cookbook by Julia Child" in the page title, meta description, page URL, h1 heading, and the body content of the page. If you want to know more information about each of those items, I suggest searching for them!
I may also create a blog post about my newest French cookbook by Juila Child that I just got in earlier this week and provide some teasers about some of the awesome recipes to incentivize people to read, and then purchase the book online, or in my store. That's more "content marketing" than "SEO", but the concepts still hold true. This technique works at getting me more inbound links as well because another book store in another city may see my article and link back to it, which would get me a relevant link. The link wouldn't hold as much weight if it were coming from a custom guitar manufacturer website. See the difference?
If you want people to find you in the search engines for various queries, you need to have those queries all over your site. I don't mean just go on your website and start stuffing them wherever you can, because you can actually get penalized for doing that. Instead, find relevant places to add the keywords and you'll start getting the hang of it. There are a lot more intricate aspects of search engine optimization, but the basics are really creating unique content on a page by page basis that contains your keywords or phrases that your target audience searches for in the search engines.
Do you have any other basic tips to provide search engine optimization novices with? Let's hear them in the comments!