For beginners, here’s some simple info. Learn SEO essentials, what they mean, and how to get started with this 7-step SEO primer.
For many companies, their website can be their largest brand asset, which is why it needs to display authority, trust, and expertise.
Optimizing your website to meet customer needs and display these characteristics makes up the fundamental process of SEO.
However, before we dive into the nitty-gritty of SEO, I always recommend my clients perform a deep analysis of their client and consumer relationships.
My company does this in three ways:
Understanding and acting on this data will put you on the first step to performing a proper SEO campaign.
So without further ado, let’s define the process of SEO, what strategies to take, and how it can help your online presence.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of optimizing a website to capture as much organic website traffic as possible via search engines and convert that traffic into measurable business outcomes.
Simply put, SEO is the process of trying to direct people to your website anytime they type in a search query into a search engine.
For example, if you type into Google [what is content marketing], there are about a million websites that have purposefully optimized a piece of content for that keyword phrase so that you click on their website.
Once you click on that website, you will browse around, familiarize yourself with their brand, and sign yourself up for their newsletter.
Simple enough, but SEO also involves a lot of jargon and nuanced strategies that can be difficult to understand at first. To make things easier, I decided to define a few terms that I may throw around in this tutorial.
Keywords: Keywords are the words that users plug into a search engine whenever they seek out information over the web.
Organic traffic: Organic traffic is any traffic that comes to your site over a search engine search, excluding those who click on PPC links.
SERP: Search engine results page.
PPC: Pay-per-click advertising is an advertising strategy to rank products or landing pages above the normal Google SERP results. These links will say “ad” next to them.
User intent: The intent of the keyword search (e.g., is the user asking a question or looking to buy a product).
Meta tags: Snippets of text designed to describe a webpage to a search engine. For example, the title of the page is contained in an HTML title tag attribute.
Ranking factors: Any algorithmic factor designed to influence a page’s ranking in a search engine for a particular keyword search.
Crawling: The ability of search engines to find web pages on your site.
Indexation: The ability of search engines to include your web pages in its web index.
Technical SEO: The backend details of a website, including a web page’s speed and mobile rendering, which impacts its search rankings.
On-page SEO: A list of ranking factors, including meta tags and header tags, designed to help a page rank higher in search results.
Off-page SEO: A list of ranking factors, including link building and acquisition, designed to improve your website’s visibility and authority.
Link building: The manual process of building backlinks or hyperlinks to a website, which is a vital ranking factor for most search engines.
Algorithm updates: Any update to Google’s core algorithm (e.g., Penguin, Panda) that influences a broad range of search rankings.
Core Web Vitals: Technical SEO factors that Google finds important in determining a page’s potential user experience.
E-A-T: Expertise, Authority, Trust. A set of guidelines Google suggests to marketers to evaluate whether their content meets these criteria.
UX: User experience.
So the question becomes, why is SEO so important?
I’ve come across many developers, advertisers, and even high-level executives who either didn’t understand SEO or didn’t think it necessary. This is folly.
Done right, SEO is the gift that keeps on giving. I tell clients to think about it like compounding interest on investments.
The benefits of SEO include:
With these benefits in mind, the key to SEO now becomes understanding all of its little intricacies and learning how to do it the right way.
Unfortunately, everything I’m about to talk about is completely useless if your website has a substantial technical error preventing it from ranking highly.
I’ve seen countless companies create magnificent pieces of long-form content only to get hampered because of page speed or indexation issues.
Google values technical SEO because technical SEO is a major influence on user experience. For example, if your webpage loads slowly and users tend to bounce, then Google will adjust based on this information.
To reinforce this, Google unveiled its Core Web Vitals project in 2020. Without getting too much in the weeds, Core Web Vitals measures a website’s:
Core Web Vitals provides developers with baselines to reach to create a solid UX.
The Chrome UX report (Chrome Users only) allows you to test your website for these core vitals to see if changes are required.
In addition, I recommend focusing on the following factors to position your website as best as possible to rank in the SERPs.
Write down a list of problems you have with your website and work with a developer to resolve them before you begin publishing content or researching keywords.
For a more detailed breakdown of technical SEO factors, read Advanced Technical SEO: A Complete Guide.
Once you have your technical foundation foolproof, it’s time to get into the more granular aspects of SEO: discovering keywords.
Generally, we segment keywords into two categories we can use to build out of top-level navigation:
Your top-level navigation will include seed keywords related to broad-ranging topics, services, or product lines. For example, the top-level navigation of the Search Engine Journal website follows this format:
On the other hand, long-tail keywords will be used for informative evergreen blog posts or various forms of content that appeal directly to user intent.
Generally, many small businesses like to focus on long-tail keywords for more niche services because they have lower competition.
You might also consider building separate pillar pages around seed keywords on your website to help them rank higher in search engines. For example, having a broad topic page related to mobile SEO won’t rank as high as an evergreen post discussing mobile SEO.
Again, Search Engine Journal provides another great example of a pillar page using a seed keyword and supporting pages that discuss subtopics taken from long-tail keywords.
Next, we need to filter our keyword search for user intent.
There are generally two broad categories of user intent we can separate keywords into:
To develop commercial keywords for top-level service/product pages and individual product pages, I recommend using Google Ads’ free Keyword Planner.
To get started, type in a seed keyword related to your business.
Google’s Keyword Planner even provides additional ideas for long-tail searches up top, and you can separate keywords by competition and other factors.
I like filtering keywords by the “Top of page bid (high range)” to see which keywords advertisers have bid the highest on. This filter is also useful if you want to separate keywords by intent, with higher bids being commercial and lower bids informational.
Select a list of seed keywords – preferably with lower volumes – and export them to a CSV.
Next, we’re going to search for long-tail keywords with question phrases. Question phrases allow us to answer user questions directly, have lower search competition, and can be used to build out supporting pages for our pillars.
You can filter your keyword searches in Keyword Planner by incorporating “what,” “why,” “when,” and “how” into your search, or use a tool like Semrush that does the work for you.
I highly recommend a tool like Semrush or Ahrefs, which allow you to build out keyword lists and topic ideas using related long-tail keywords. You can even filter keywords by difficulty, volume, and intent.
In addition, tools like AnswerthePublic are great for finding additional question phrases.
Google Trends, Semrush, and Ahrefs also offer tools that allow you to view trending topics and keywords in your industry for new ideas.
Finally, peek at what your competitors are doing if you’re looking for a list of keywords or topics and don’t know where to start.
Tools like Semrush and Ahrefs show you who your biggest competitors online are and allow you to explore which keywords and pages are driving the highest traffic to a competitor’s domain.
Steal these keywords and content ideas to optimize your website based on which forms of content are ranking the highest for your competitors.
Once you compile a list of keywords in a spreadsheet, match your seed keywords to your top-nav URLs and use your long-tail keywords to build out topics for your content calendar.
Building a content marketing strategy from your keyword research will enable you to develop authority around topics and meet user intent across your sales funnel.
High-level content creation also helps you or your business become thought leaders in their respective fields.
For example, Neil Patel, Brian Dean, and several others have used content to promote their personal and professional brands to the top of our industry.
First, let’s look at factors influencing content rank, such as:
Generally, I like to build out pillar posts using evergreen tutorials (like this!) and then use long-tail keywords to create subtopics.
So, for example, each step of this tutorial could represent a subtopic, and my strategy could become more granular from there.
Next, we need to discuss writing content for each stage of your sales funnel. While informational content and blog posts are great for attracting traffic, you need to create strategies to convert web traffic into sales or subscriptions once they land on your website.
The typical sales funnel consists of at least three broad stages:
You’ll often find sales funnels on a customer relationship management (CRM) platform much more complex than this, but this should provide you with a basic overview of how you should approach your inbound marketing strategy using content marketing.
Once you start pumping out content and creating your service pages, you must ensure that your content is properly optimized for search engines.
I know we’ve discussed several ranking factors and technical SEO, but now it’s time to dive into on-page and SERP optimization factors.
On-page SEO essentials:
Perhaps one of Google’s most important off-page SEO strategies and ranking factors remains the ever-elusive link building, which is described next.
According to research, inbound links are still a powerful ranking factor, though the quality of links trumps their quantity.
There are literally dozens of link-building strategies to use, from HARO to guest blogging.
To start link-building, you must build a great piece of content. Then, once your link magnet is built, you’ll need to get eyeballs in front of it so people can start linking to it.
Thankfully, tools like Semrush have greatly simplified the process of manual reach out, allowing you to collect contact info for target websites and manage your manual outreach over email.
You can even plug in specific keywords or competitors to uncover sites for link-building opportunities.
If you don’t have a backlink tool, you can still manually reach out to people using site operators.
For example, you can find competitor links by using the following search: site:www.competitor.com -competitor.com
To find general trending topics to reach out to for links, do an “intitle” search.
To summarize, I wrote a list of essential link-building practices below:
Editor’s note: As a free alternative to tools like Semrush, you can mine Google Search Console data. For more information on how to do that, we recommend this resource.
While I’ve discussed some strategies to help your content rank high and acquire some backlinks manually, sometimes those strategies are not enough.
Unfortunately, SEO is notoriously competitive.
Instead, we need to also focus on various outreach strategies designed to drive eyeballs to our website.
Below are a few strategies I’ve outlined to help drive immediate traffic to your content and help it rank higher.
There are a dozen more strategies to help you promote content, especially if you’re trying to rank on specific mediums like TikTok, Substack, Twitter, or elsewhere.
Finally, SEO is not complete without consulting our analytics.
The most important analytics tools I recommend for any business are Google Analytics, Google Search Console, and a competitive research tool like Semrush.
First, I love using a tool like Semrush to see which content is ranking in that striking distance (position 11-20) on Google to either repurpose that existing content or create new content around that keyword and link back and forth between the two pages.
Your analytics will also tell you which pages drive the most traffic and which need greater promotion.
However, to get more granular, we need to look at Google Analytics to examine how people are engaging with our content.
I recommend setting up goals or conversion paths to track how many people are completing desired actions on your websites.
I also like using Google Analytics Behavior Flow to show me what path users take when they land on my website.
Use the key performance indicators (KPIs) that GA provides to make changes to your website where needed.
For me, the most important KPIs to keep in mind are:
In addition, Google Search Console is also a helpful tool that allows us to see how many impressions our pages generate and how many people click on our links.
Setting up KPIs and consulting your analytics monthly to find improvements can help you understand which strategies are working for your website and which ones need to be trashed.
Now that you understand SEO basics, you’ll learn more as you troubleshoot during a campaign.
Fortunately, many mistakes you make during the journey will not cost you lots of money like an advertisement, and any failed campaigns can always be repurposed later for better success.
Featured Image: Vadym Pastukh/Shutterstock
Ron Lieback is the author of “365 to Vision: Modern Writer’s Guide (How to Produce More Quality Writing in Less …
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