SEO Works! How? Step by Step! Plus Examples of SEO Projects

Many business people still wonder:

  • Does SEO work?
  • Others want to know how SEO works step by step!
  • Some of you just want to see examples of SEO that works.

These are valid questions. You are all welcome!

Yes, SEO works! I have witnessed it first hand on my own projects. 

Yet today I also want to share how SEO works in a step by step description.

I also will provide examples of SEO projects that worked well across the industry. 

Does SEO Work? Where?

There are not many companies yet that publish real search engine optimization case studies!

Even mere successful SEO campaign examples are rare for many reasons.

I described them already in one of my posts over at Search Engine Land:

Yes, it is much more likely to find so-called “SEO horror stories” on social media when looking for SEO success examples. 

  • Unlike other industries, SEO practitioners are rather keen to keep their “secret sauce” for themselves. They are afraid the competition might “steal” it.
  • In many other cases they are simply forbidden to share any details of actual projects unless they anonymize the data. The dreaded NDA is a bane of the SEO industry.
  • Sadly many SEO companies are attempting to trick the Google algorithm behind the scenes. Thus they do not disclose their unethical or low quality approach.

These are the three most important reasons why search engine optimizers hide where their SEO works.

They are scared to share the project details. 

Imagine that in architecture, design or even programming! 

People being afraid to show their work? In SEO it’s still normal.

What we usually get on social media are random screenshots from analytics tools.

Such graphs or descriptions do not allow any meaningful peer review. Why?

They are completely anonymized and thus meaningless! Also they’re useless for the uninitiated who don’t understand how SEO works yet.

When you are new to SEO you can’t know who the real experts are and who really know how SEO works.

Anybody can claim they are the “best Seo expert” [sic!] and optimize their online presence for that key phrase.

Thus SEO works only when you find a proper specialist!

Ideally it’s one who does not describe themselves as an expert but can somehow demonstrate prior knowledge.

I do it by writing this blog since 2007 and on many other search and marketing related blogs, including the likes of Search Engine Land as mentioned above.

SEO Works! How? Step by Step!

So how do you know where and how SEO works in a particular case? 

There is a checklist to find out. You need at least four steps.

Here they are in chronological order (first things first).

Step 1: Market and Keyword Research

You do proper market and keyword research upfront. Many businesses already have a keyword list they use to buy ads from Google. 

Some assume that they are enough or want to use the same keywords for SEO campaigns.

That’s not advisable though. Long term investment in organic reach can’t be compared to short term ad spend.

Every SEO project has to start with market and keyword research to find hidden and lucrative niches.

This way you can uncover opportunities for organic reach without being overwhelmed by the competition. Why?

Others have been doing SEO for decades or have whole teams of experts optimizing their online presence.

Step 2: Holistic Online Presence Audit and/or Optimization

By now the “web site” metaphor does not work well on the Internet anymore. You need an online presence all over the place, not just on one site.

So social media apps, communities, market places and many other venues require your recognizable engagement.

Last but not least Google simply prefers to display third party content on Google itself.

When Google can’t find you anywhere beyond a mere newly created website you won’t get assigned significant authority yet.

They have a whole quality rating guideline just to determine whether you are a recognized authority. It’s called E-E-A-T.

Low level SEOs just optimize like 20 years ago dividing their mostly technical efforts into “onpage” and “offpage” as if nothing has changed during the last two decades.

So what is content distribution e.g. then? Onpage or offpage? Both of course.

Be wary of those who ignore content and social SEO and mainly bombard you with hard to fathom technical acronyms.

Step 3: Content Creation and Optimization

You create valuable content that is useful for real people facing real life problems

Such content can also be used as a link magnet. Why? Really helpful content gets shared and thus linked by people voluntarily. 

Instead low level SEOs merely “build” links by inserting them manually into third party websites. Google frowns upon such short cuts.

A proper SEO will require you to create new content or at least to optimize and improve existing one so that it becomes helpful enough for real people.

Beware of SEOs who merely automate content creation using AI or other tools. They want to “get rich quick” by charging you a lot but providing almost no value.

Empty pages don’t rank but redundant fluff pages written by the same few tools everybody else uses are not going to rank for long if they do at all. 

Google is increasingly scrutinizing content as of 2023 to ensure it complies with its rising standards.

Fully automated content taken from other websites gets demoted by now.

Step 4: Socializing with Like-Minded Individuals

Many SEO projects happen in a vacuum. Why?

The underlying assumption is that SEO works with the right keywords and once the technical fundamentals are in place (they do when you use WordPress).

Then miraculously the content will draw enough traffic to get the ball rolling.

It only works for established websites with a large online presence and faithful audiences.

In reality most new websites do not have an audience yet.

Thus you have to reach out to those who already have one and tap into those audiences.

You have to find and convince like-minded individuals that you belong somehow.

The original reason for guest posting was attracting support and audiences from similar blogs to yours.

Now entry level SEOs assume that they just need mediocre “me too” content they post elsewhere and the link back to their site will do all the work.

That’s not how it works. Even with linkable assets or better ling magnets on your site you still have to get the word out about it so that people can share and link to it.

Sure once Google finds you and puts you on top some people will just share and link what they find.

You won’t rank overnight so that path is not instantly available.

Without social SEO as in socializing (not just social media) all your technical and content SEO efforts won’t seal the deal.

Don’t just rely on self promotion either. That’s obnoxious, especially if you send hundreds of automated messages to “influencers“. 

Once you do that you have ostracized your peers and potential allies! 

You may have just one attempt at contacting people in most cases! 

After that they will have categorized you as a spammer or a colleague depending on your approach!

SEO is Not that Simple Though

Of course I can’t cover all of SEO in one article here so that’s why you are advised to read my other posts. 

I’d start with how Google’s algorithm really works. It covers not just the official version of what Google and SEO tool vendors say.

Then you can check the post on how you can find your niche market and keywords for free by doing it yourself.

After that I’d suggest to come up with a SEO/content strategy or as I prefer to call it “approach”. 

Finally I’d invest time into social media management done right: as of now most business people still do it wrong.

Also make sure to find out how proper blogger outreach works.

It may help you get the right people to view your content. I even shared a template that worked for me many times.

When SEO Does Not Work: What Now?

There are also many reasons why your SEO might not work.

Of course skipping or getting one of the steps above wrong will prevent your SEO success.

Then there are many sneaky short cuts unethical SEOs use to trick Google into believing their sites are worth showing on top! 

Using such often idiotic ways to fool Google will get your site penalized in the worst case.

Such SEO only works in the short run if it does at all.

So what now? You have to check whether you blew it. 

Or maybe you just still have to wait? Yes, proper SEO takes time. 

It can take weeks but rather months and often years in competitive markets to catch up with your competition!

And I mean just your colleagues! You may never outrank Google itself, Amazon or Wikipedia!

Watching your Google Search Console metrics is always a good idea to find out where you stand!

SEO that Works – Examples in the Wild!

OK. You just want the example of where SEO works? Sorry for taking so long! Here they are!

Rise at Seven

Some often very detailed success stories get shared by the folks of Rise at Seven – a large SEO agency based both in the UK and US due to their success and expansion.

You can check out numerous of their case studies on their site.

My favorite one is about pets and their owners wearing the same jumpers. It was both hilarious, relatable. The success was also measurable by the numbers.

Most notably they treat SEO as also both content and social SEO.

They do not just engage in technical SEO adjustments below the hood.

They not only share the actual projects and numbers, they also tell us exactly what they did and how to make the SEO campaign work for them and their clients.


Another UK agency – Koozai – offers many case studies with client names, project descriptions and metrics. 

I’ve been a fan of Koozai ever since their early days. They have been very active on social media back then.

I do not have a favorite project there but there’s plenty of choice in case you want to check out for yourself.

SEO Companies vs Google Partners

There are a few other companies that share SEO success stories you can check out and verify for yourself.

Thus make sure when you find one to stick with that company. 

Do not just rely on those SEO businesses who claim to have a special relationship to Google as a “Google Partner”. 

Google Partners are not about SEO. They are about Google ads. 

The more ads you buy, the more eligible you become for that badge! 

I’m talking about many thousands worth of ad spend per month.

Make sure to work with those who show examples of how SEO works for them.

I will add more examples of how SEO works down the road. 

Want to get featured? Add yours in the comments or ping me on social media like LinkedIn or Mastodon.

Just make sure to add a proper case study with client name and website address to it.