A search engine's job is to understand, index, and rank your website's content based on search topic relevancy. Helping a search engine like Google, Brave, and DuckDuckGo accomplish this is referred to as SEO, or search engine optimization.
When a search engine comes across your website, a program known as a bot is deployed to scan and index all of the content and pages within. In order for these bots to do their job, search engines have established content etiquette standards known as optimization which ensures a search engine is able to catalog and serve your website's content depending on the search query.
If that sounds pretty straightforward, that's because it is! Where it starts to get a bit complicated are the etiquette rules (optimization), which include important features like page and URL structure, meta information, keyword topics, and website performance like speed and mobile experience. However, when I am approached by a client interested in creating a superior performing website design, one of the first things I am asked is if the website will include "SEO to show up on Google". Great website design, by extension, will already contain great SEO. What they are actually looking for is search engine ranking - the fruits of great website optimization.
Every little bit of SEO should be leveraged to help with higher search engine ranking — so it’s useful to understand another important catalyst that goes into making a website perform better in search, and that is the content itself. The way SEO has been sold over the years as a 1:1 results generator has been very misleading. The truth is, while optimization standards should and need to be followed to maximize search engine ranking, how the algorithms decide who shows up and where in search is anyone's guess. These are proprietary secrets in a state of flux. In other words, companies like Google tell us some of what plays a role in SEO, but not everything. Which makes sense, considering a search engine is only as useful as the content it serves and exposing all secrets can be counter intuitive to that objective.
For example, when the internet was in its infancy, how search bots crawled and indexed sites was primitive. Eventually they were exploited by savvy website owners in order to game the system and rank higher. They did this through various methods, but the most notorious was through keyword stuffing. You've likely stumbled across these (thankfully) relics of a bygone era. Something to the effect, "How do you change a flat tire in a car? If you've ever wondered how to change a flat tire in a care then read on to find out how to change a flat tire in a car!"
Content like this is miserable for us humans to read but great at attracting primitive search bots programmed to find keywords. The keyword stuffing exploit is partly responsible for the wasteland of terrible content that still exists today. But companies like Google noticed and put a stop to it. Now, powerful AI with machine learning are being programmed to serve human readable content, and not content written for primitive machines.
SEO is a culmination of many pieces but broadly speaking, a website design that ranks well in search engines begins with quality content designed for a specific audience.
Creating a website design with content that rewards the visitor is the name of the game. That's not to say keywords are irrelevant, only that they should be used subtly. After all, what is the point of increasing website traffic if that traffic doesn't stick around?