quick search engine optimization basics

What is SEO? A Quick Guide for Beginners

When building a new website, it’s difficult to search anything related to page design or structure without stumbling across the term “SEO”. You may wonder “do I need SEO?” and “why is SEO important?”. Others who are already overwhelmed at the website building process may just ignore learning about it. Here, we explain what SEO means, why it’s important, and what basic steps you can do to kickstart your website’s SEO!

What Is SEO?

SEO stands for “Search Engine Optimization”. It is the practice of performing actions both on and off of your website that makes your website content look more favorable to search engines. This, in turn, will increase your rankings on search engines. The process of SEO focuses on rankings from traffic of organic origins- meaning someone who found your website in non-paid search results and clicked the link to go to your site.

Note: Ads are not a part of ranking factors for SEO. Beware of any company that claims to rank you higher by running ads. You may increase traffic to your site through ads, but search engines can easily detect that the user came to your site from their ad and not count it in the organic search rankings.

Search Engine Algorithms

Search engine rankings are calculated from algorithms, which are sets of instructions created by developers that take an input (your website page), run calculations on it, and output the results rankings for the user’s search intent (and other factors) and content topics/ search keywords. Search engine algorithms are kept secret, so no one outside of the group developing the algorithm truly knows what the algorithm uses as factors for rankings. However, the below are common patterns of factors that are accepted industry-wide as good practice.

On-page SEO

On-page Search Engine Optimization is the practice of structuring individual website pages in a way that shows relevancy to search engines for the user’s search terms. The text within headings, HTML structure, amount of content, user-friendliness of the page, uniqueness of content, relevance to user intent, and authority are all key factors in a proper on-page SEO strategy. All of these factors are within your control when you create a page.

Off-page SEO

Like it sounds, off-page SEO involves any SEO efforts that are not on your website. This includes practices such as the following:

  1. Adding a Google My Business listing

  2. Posting regularly in Google My Business

  3. Posting regularly and getting engagement on social media posts

  4. Users going to your site from social media posts

  5. Other websites or social media posts linking to your website

  6. Making and posting podcasts and videos

  7. Getting quality user reviews

Technical SEO

Technical SEO is the optimization of a website for crawling and indexing by search engines. It  is a form of on-page SEO, but became its own category because of the depth and importance of the topic. Technical SEO includes things such as proper structured data, site speed, url canonicalization, xml sitemaps, hreflang, etc.

Google’s Place in Searches

Google leads the marketplace for search engines. Seventy percent of internet users that are searching are performing a search on Google. Additionally, the first result of google gets 20% of all total clicks for a search topic.

Let’s look at the search term “best tires”. To keep things simple, this search term gets a total monthly search volume of 670,000. If 20% of all users click the first result, that’s 134,000 extra visitors to your site a month. Google sees that search term as potential revenue and calculates the average advertiser pays $1 per click- meaning Google now values your website page that is ranking first for that search term as worth $134,000 a month.

In the above example I am talking about one keyword, but any of your pages could rank for hundreds or thousands of keywords. It is important to understand that if you are not optimizing for all SEO factors, your site will either show up on page 100 of Google’s search results or not at all.

How to Get Started Optimizing for SEO

Research

To succeed with SEO, you will need to structure pages and create content related to what your potential customers search for. Unless you know your customers, you won’t be targeting the best keywords to draw users to your website. Keyword research tools like the Moz Keyword Explorer (free, but login required) or Google’s Keyword Planner (free, but credit card required for signup) will show volume metrics, difficulty rating, etc., for your keywords.

On-page and Technical SEO

Rarely is on-page SEO optimized when a website is created. A common practice is to get the structure of a webpage in place and change elements for SEO later. A better approach is to implement SEO into each page when you create it. If that’s not possible, then follow the tips below for a quick SEO kickstarter on your site:

  1. Ensure html structure of elements follows a logical pattern. For example, H3 tags should not be a main title and H1 tags should not be a subtitle.

  2. Add keywords into the H1 tag of your page.

  3. Sprinkle in keywords and related phrases from your keyword research as appropriate into subheaders and paragraph content without causing a bad user experience. (Known as keyword stuffing)

  4. Ensure images have keywords in the filename and alt tags.

  5. Do not duplicate pages- if you have duplicate pages, redo content on one of them to be at least half unique.

  6. Do not have two urls with the same name- search engines will not know which one should rank and will cause your pages to compete against each other for ranking.

Off-page SEO

Whether you serve a local area or nationwide, it’s a good idea to kickstart your off-page SEO efforts with creating a Google My Business listing. Fully fill out the required information and request a postcard sent to your address. If you are not a single physical location and service multiple areas, that’s ok- once you verify your business with the code provided in the post card, you can hide your address and set a service area for your business listing.

For further quick reading, here is an overview on how Google My Business can help with local searchers finding your business.

Next, google local business listings and begin filling out profiles for your business. Make sure to leave your website address in the listing so there is a link back to your website. Popular free local business listings are Yelp, Trip Advisor (depending on your industry), and Nextdoor.

Conclusion

All of the SEO efforts mentioned here are widely overlooked but are massively important when building your online presence. Now that you know what the basics of SEO for your site are, you can begin revising or building your website’s pages in a way that search engines will favor. Before long you will be ranking higher and surpassing competitors for search terms.

I hope you enjoyed this part of my quick tips series and it helps you on your SEO marketing journey. It’s important to remember that SEO takes time to accomplish (sometimes years for some keywords) and there are no shortcuts to achieving SEO results. Content needs to be regularly updated, and cannot be created once and forgotten about. If you do things properly and concentrate on providing value and a great user experience, your site will stand out.

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