What is SEO? Simple Step-by-Step Guide to Search Engine Optimization

Written by: Jason Bayless | May 11, 2018

You’ve probably heard the term SEO many times. It stands for “search engine optimization.” The objective is to get online traffic, directed to your website and/or mobile app, through the major search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing. It is also a more “natural” form of inducing traffic through specific techniques used to improve your site’s visibility.

Although, Google is really the main search engine that most sites care about since Google sets the standards for algorithms and relevant search results. To get a good flow of traffic, you must create high-quality, linkable, shareable, and searchable content that is not a replica of everything else already on the web or on mobile apps.

The fact is, search engines use robots and crawlers to scan the Internet. Furthermore, a large database indexes every site and mobile app. The crawlers then follow internal and external links.

In addition, crawlers will sort content by usability, and other factors relevant to searcher’s inquiries. When a user types a keyword in a search engine, there are over 200 factors that decide the best results.

And, improving your rankings on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP), can feel as if you’re aiming for a moving target. Well, you are since algorithms change consistently. It is crucial to keep up.

No to worry. Here, we will guide you through a simple step-by-step guide of search engine optimization to get you started.

  1. Benefits of utilizing SEO

what is seo

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If you want to get technical, a search engine is a class of programs used to return a list of URLs or mobile sites matching specified keywords. The Internet is vast, and, using a search engine helps users filter out any relative clutter. You just can’t scroll through every site searching for what you need. Instead, search engines sort through large databases of information for you.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is one of the more hotly debated topics in digital marketing. No one would complain about being at the top of Google’s search engine, of course. However, the exact methods for optimizing your website and the amount of resources it takes to get to the top has left some people questioning, whether or not, SEO is worth the investment

So, is SEO worth it? Yes, when used in the right way. SEO does require an investment. Unfortunately, many companies and people fail to implement proper SEO techniques. Often, they simply fail to understand the value of SEO and thus don’t take it seriously.

On the flip side, this creates an opportunity for those who take SEO seriously to move up in the search engine rankings (SER). Let’s look at some of the benefits of search engine optimization.

SEO always works when done right

SEO can be very effective when the proper techniques are used. Keyword optimization will make your website more relevant and easier for people to find. Ample amounts of compelling content will attract Google’s bots and thus viewers. However, the keyword here is “when done right.”

Every few years a “blackhat” method emerges that will allow websites to temporarily game Google. You might recall backlinking farms, for example. These methods are morally questionable, and just as importantly, Google always figures out what’s going on and punishes websites that used blackhat methods.

Skip the shady tactics and adhere to proper methods.

SEO can offer a compelling value proposition

Pay-per-click ads generally buy the quickest results and social media offers a great way to quickly build up a community and your brand. Still, SEO offers a solid ROI and over the long haul will often provide the bulk of your traffic. SEO should be considered as your foundation, the stable bedrock on which you ground your other efforts.

Once your website is well optimized and pulling in traffic, you won’t have to pay for individual clicks. You won’t be so dependent on the whims of social media platforms and their audiences either. SEO is dependable and reliable, especially if you stick to providing high-quality, compelling content.

SEO is vital for the customer journey

The vast majority of customers now conduct research on the products and services they are considering buying. Reviews, research articles, news, and all the rest offer excellent sources of information for would-be customers.

With SEO, you can influence the customer journey by making sure that your materials become part of the research process. In turn, this helps you control the message and flow of info. Not only with SEO generate results on its own, but it’ll also help reinforce your PPC, social media, and other methods.

Those who fall behind often stay behind

SEO is a constant process. Some website managers make the mistake of getting to the front page, but then put their SEO efforts on the back burner. Huge mistake because they may quickly find themselves supplanted by more proactive competitors.

SEO offers a competitive edge to those who use it, and, presents a threat to those who do not. Websites that rise to the top are gifted with more traffic, while sites that fall behind lose ground. Remember, your competitors are doing SEO. Maybe not all of them, but the most formidable ones are.

  1. Building trust

building trust

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Consumer trust is a big issue in today’s business world. Trust has always been important in business. Yet, today we see a fast-forward effect. As a huge amount of untrustworthy content is available in huge quantities online, the importance of trust has amplified. In general, people are more distrusting of content.

When they browse a website for the first time, they are instinctively looking out for trust indicators. How then, can you increase trust in your business through your website? Well, one important method is to build trust with your blog.

A demonstration of your expertise

A blog can be a very important aspect of your website because you can provide quality content for your customers to consume. The content should provide genuine help to your customers. What you write about is an opportunity to show your knowledge in your particular sphere.

The availability of this quality information will build trust with your audience. For example, a company who sells kitchens might want to blog about different design styles to inspire their customers. On the other hand, you could provide expert information about how to choose the perfect designer and so on.

People will naturally want to link to your site

Once you begin to provide quality helpful content you will find other websites will link back to your website. This can help improve your Google ranking, increase traffic to your site, and of course increase the authority you wield as a leader in your field. As quality backlinks to your website increases, so does your standing and the trust people will have in the content you provide .

Directly communicate with your customers
Blogs encourage people to engage with your content. They have the facility to leave comments and this enables people to share what you have written on their social media accounts. Over time, this builds a community and a conversation. Conversation is really helpful because it can turn potential customers into customers.

Then, you can convert one-time customers into loyal advocates of your services. Make sure to respond and engage with people when they do comment on your blog. Think of the comments as a recorded public conversation between a sales rep in your store and your customer.

By this we mean you can use the comments and your responses to build rapport. Every comment doesn’t have to be about direct selling. Rather, walking the walk and talking the talk. Use your blog to showcase how you do business. Plus, when people read the comments at any point in the future, there is a thread demonstrating how you respond, and relate to your audience.

Encourage people to return

When you post regularly and consistently you will find this encourages your customers to return. When they want to look for information pertaining to your niche they will start with your site. Creating engaging valuable content will help to keep your brand in the mind of your customers. This will generate more engagement and increase the chances of sales.

  1. The major Google algorithms

Google Panda and Penguin

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When Google Panda made its debut, the purpose was to target content farms that produced large amounts of low-quality content. Searchers started demanding better results. So, Panda essentially penalized sites–especially content farms–that did very little research in terms of their content.

The main purpose of the content farms was to increase rankings. Well, mass-produced content no longer works as a SEO strategy. And, Panda is now part of Google’s core algorithm.

Google Penguin was Google’s second major algorithm. This algorithm focuses on link quality. In the past, and sometimes today, sites would purchase low-quality links from low-quality directories or blog spam. The only time you need to worry about Penguin is if you have purchased low-quality links. This is why it’s important to work with a professional SEO agency to ensure you don’t get zinged by Penguin.

Then, there is Google Hummingbird, which was Google’s largest algorithm change since 2001. Hummingbird was different from Panda and Penguin because this algorithm was designed to bring about the best search results.

With the increase of conversational search, Hummingbird could comprehend search queries much better. Hummingbird also helps sites that produce high-quality content.

  1. Local SEO

Any business can take advantage of the benefits offered through local SEO. It’s fine to target a global audience, but you should also consider the benefits of marketing for a local audience. Not to mention, Google loves businesses who go local. According to Google, 50% of mobile users who performed a local search visited that business the same day.

This is probably why local SEO has grown significantly over the years. And, it’s especially fruitful for businesses with limited resources. Since Google likes local businesses, they have free tools you can use such as Webmaster Tools and Analytics to help increase Internet visibility.

Tie this in to Google’s mobile-first strategy. Since most searches are now performed on mobile devices, there is also the significance of proximity searches. If you’ve ever used Google Maps, then you know how helpful it is to search for restaurants, ATMs, and other businesses near your current location.

Proximity search is a growing trend, and wearable devices continue to offer more geographically-relevant results for searches. This is especially useful when moving to a new place, or, traveling. When you think of how millions of new sites are created every year, the major brands still dominate the search environment.

Competition keeps going up. To maintain visibility, it’s crucial to target a smaller and niche market. To do this, you must optimize your business with local SEO. Here are the elements to start with:

Local citation–claim your local business profile on the local directory and sites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp.

Local content–create content relevant to your city, neighborhood, or region.

Local reviews–encourage your customers and clients to leave reviews on sites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor.

  1. Mobile SEO

mobile search engine optimization

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As you’ve probably already noticed, everything is going mobile–especially web pages. And, Google is at the forefront of the mobile-first revolution. For many years, Google designed their search index around desktop versions of websites.

Well, many experts believe that Google’s mobile-first strategy will change their index so that mobile sites have prominence. Since mobile search has surpassed desktop search, this strategy makes sense. So, Google will treat mobile pages as the primary version and desktop versions as secondary.

What does this mean for you? Well, it means you must ensure that your site either has a mobile version or is optimized for mobile. You can use Google’s mobile friendly test to see where your pages could use an update.

In addition, Google may also favor mobile-exclusive functionality such as Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMPs), and similar pages. This is significant to keep in mind as you continue to build your online and mobile presence. You want to ensure your growth strategy is also mobile-first.

  1. Keyword research

The reason you have made, or will make a website is to engage, inform and attract your potential customers. You can have some faith in producing quality content and the fact this will be enough to catch the eye of the Google algorithms.

Yet, it is foolish to entirely leave your online visibility to serendipity. There is too much at stake. You risk spending your days languishing in the ever-expanding internet slush pile with little or no traffic finding its way to you. Here is where keywords come in and why keywords are important.

Keywords are one of the ways Google understands the content you have put on your site. And most importantly the way customers will navigate their way to you. Taking time to consider the keywords you use in your content can make the difference between customers and no customers.

As people use Google search, they have an end-point in mind. They might be looking for a service, general information or more specific information.

As the owner of a website, you need to think about what you want to sell through your site. You also need to consider the information you will provide which is relevant to your customers. For example, you might be a local restaurant wanting to provide information about your menus and opening times.

You might want to make booking a table easy for your customers. If you are a restaurant located in New York, it won’t help you to attract traffic searching for a restaurant in San Francisco. This applies even if the keywords “restaurant in San Francisco” have more traffic than “restaurant in New York.” The point is, you will not be offering what the people using the given keyword are seeking.

When thinking about keywords you need to bear in mind the people behind the words. Consider what they want and what you propose to offer them? Ask yourself, how am I serving my customers? Which words embody what we do?

Then, you can begin to identify the keywords which will help the two of you find each other online.

Putting in some time to write a plan in a considered structured way is important. Doing this can help you turn around, what often seems to the uninitiated, like an impossible and endless task.

Now you understand why keywords are important you can put aside time to better plan a new site, or to optimize your existing site. These days there are many useful free online tools which can help you write a D.I.Y keyword plan. For example, Google keyword research tool or Wordtracker.

Don’t forget, optimizing your site should be a continually ongoing process, not a one-time job. Plan, produce content, observe the results, then revise.

When it comes to marketing your business online there is no doubt of the importance of keywords. A good keyword plan can be a key driver towards the success of your venture. In a sea of generalist online advice, how can the average Joe approach keyword research without blowing the bank? Next, we will demystify and simplify how to do keyword research.

Primary keywords

The first keywords you need to plan we call seed keywords. These should be the words which are the most obvious and specifically related to your business. To give you an idea, an online store selling handmade jewelry might include the following seed keywords:

  • Handmade jewelry
  • Original jewelry
  • Shop jewelry
  • Silver jewelry
  • Your brand name

You need to think about the services you offer and how best to describe them in ways people will use as search terms. You should aim to make a list of around 8-10 seed keywords which are directly relevant to your business.

Secondary keywords

Once you have your seed keywords think about each one as a “topic” in its own right. You can then start to throw out ideas for other generally related keywords which are less specific. These would aim to cover relevant traffic searching for specifics you offer. Let’s stick with the example of an online store selling handmade jewelry. Some secondary keywords could be:

  • Silver necklace
  • Artisan products
  • Amethyst stone bracelet
  • Birthday Gift Jewelry

You get the idea.

Try to come up with as many as possible, and then at a later point in the process, you can refine your selection.

Take your keywords for a spin

Once you have your list of seed and secondary keywords why not try them out on Google. Put them into Google search and see what comes up. At this point, you should be seeing your competitors and results relevant to the content you will prepare around the keywords you have identified.

You may want to add or adjust your list at this point. You might generate more ideas for keywords using this method, as you see the prompts Google throws up when you write.

Consider the value of each keyword

Now you come to the point where you can consider the actual value of the keywords you plan to use. Try Google Keyword Planner to see what the traffic volume is for your selected keywords. Consider also the ROI of the words you have selected.

For instance, if you are selling jewelry you want to be tapping into the traffic searching for products, with the intent to buy. You could target people looking for a special gift for an occasion, or young people planning their prom night. Don’t be afraid to experiment and to be creative. The world is your oyster!

Refine, revise, repeat

Use the information you find to refine and prune your list. You should aim to finish with a nice balance of higher, medium and lower “long tail” traffic volume keywords. You can reject the keywords which are SO competitive you have a very small chance of ranking, as well as those keywords which have SO little traffic there is no value in targeting them.

Aim for a final list which covers a broad spectrum as well as traffic which will offer you actual monetary value.

Once you have your final list, don’t think your keywords have to be set in stone. Implement your keywords, give some time to measure the effect, then revise and repeat the process.

  1. Understand your audience

What do you really know about your audience? Not much? Does it even matter? You have a solid product/ or service. Maybe you have customers already. You might think the important thing is to bang your own drum then the people who fit will come to you.

You see yourself heading off into the sunset like the pied piper with a crowd of eager customers at your heels. While, there is some truth in developing your voice, and then the appropriate people will find you. There is a chicken and egg scenario at play here.

When you don’t know anything about the people who are already using your services, how can you plan a strategy to attract more of the same? Or, how can you break into new audiences, and groups of people to become your customers of tomorrow? Better yet, how can you make sure you continue to deliver what they have come to you for? You cannot.

Do not underestimate the importance of getting to know your audience.

When you begin to understand your audience, you can use this understanding to your benefit. You can re-enforce the things you have got right for them. You can make sure the ball doesn’t get dropped when it comes to your successes (in their eyes). You can develop an informed plan for your future growth.

How then can we better understand our audience?

There are different ways you can approach collecting data about your audience. You can do it in a D.I.Y way, or if you have resources they can be well spent on collecting and analyzing data in a more expert way.

The D.I.Y approach

If you have few resources to invest in your business, you can still collect data about your audience. Simply talk to your customers and ask them questions at different points along your delivery chain.

For instance, after they have made an appointment or booked the person calling could ask them a few key questions before closing the call. Or you could send out a short survey to collect information once people have received your product. This kind of feedback can be very revealing.

The expert approach

If you have the resources, you can use someone to analyze your company in detail. They can also help you set up systems to collect data from your customers or even people who didn’t buy up.

What should you research?

Important factors to research:

The age group of your customers

Their interests, what conversations are they involved with?

What kind of language do they use? Formal? Casual?

  • What do they need help with?
  • What do they do with their time?
  • What can they afford?
  • Why will they use your product/ service? What are their pain points?
  • Does your product solve a problem for them?

What about your competitors

  • What are they doing?
  • How do you differ?
  • What do you do better/ worse than them?
  • How can you stand out?

Once you genuinely start to understand your audience, you can understand what you are doing right or wrong for them. Then, you can use this vital data to inform your strategic decisions and product development. Before you know it, you will be heading off into the sunset, a pied piper with a crowd of avid customers at your heels.

  1. On-site SEO elements

title tags

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In order to specify the title of a webpage, you need a title tag. This is an HTML element, which is displayed on search engine results pages. It is the clickable headline for each result, and naturally important for SEO and/or sharing. So, the title tag always needs to be accurate in describing your content.

Internal links connect one page to another page within the same domain. They can be used to help users navigate your site or to improve ranking power through link equity. You see, it is important for search engines to see content to list the content in their indexes.

They also need to access a crawlable link structure. Spiders can then more-easily crawl through a website. If this seems like a lot to take in, a professional SEO agency can help.

In terms of content, header tags (h1) and subheadings (h2-h6) separate the headings from your content. You must use the tags as a top-down hierarchy where h1 is the most important, and h6 is the least important. To optimize for SEO, every page should have at least an h1 tag. They also improve readability and can offer relevance for keywords.

Google has unequivocally stated Meta Descriptions and Meta tags do not get taken into account when your page is being ranked. Therefore, we don’t have to worry about them, right? Wrong. Meta descriptions remain a critical tool to use when building your website and it is a missed opportunity to neglect them. Keep reading, and we will de-mystify them once and for all.

What is a Meta description you might ask?

description tags

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You insert a Meta description in the head section of your website. The purpose of the text used is to succinctly and attractively describe what the page is about. Think of it a little bit like a bio or tagline for the page itself.

The code should be in the <head> section and look like this:

<meta name=”description” content=”A succinct and attractive description of this page’s content.”/>

How long should a Meta description be?

Meta descriptions used to have a maximum of 160 characters. The good news is Google has now expanded the maximum to 320 characters. This means you have more room for creativity.

Why are Meta descriptions important right now?

While we know they do not affect the rank of your site, they remain an important tool to use. When you see a website listed on Google search, underneath you will see a short snippet of copy which gives you more details about the content of the page. For the most part, what you see there is the meta description.

Now, this is not always 100% the case because sometimes Google will use a snippet of copy from the page itself. However, they will usually only choose their own snippet when they are highlighting the presence of the keyword the searcher used. This means the meta description is a good opportunity to write some catchy attractive copy about the page in question.

You have an additional opportunity to grab the attention of people seeing your site on Google search. You can improve your click-through-rate (CTR) using this tool and your CTR does affect your ranking. If your CTR improves your ranking can too.

The key to writing a good meta descriptions is?

Bear in mind when you are writing your description it is important to priorities accurately describing the content. If you only aim to capture people with click bait, then upon clicking, they find the content is not what they thought, your bounce rate will go up. Google may penalize you for doing this.

Focus on writing accurate, succinct and attractive copy which will bring people to your site. Don’t use the same meta description for your entire site. You should tailor each description to each individual page.

Don’t forget Google may override your meta description, but this won’t happen in every situation and in every search you show up on. Think of Meta descriptions as an opportunity to catch the attention of potential site visitors. A tool to improve your click-through-rate.

  1. The importance of good content

Developing, and creating, high-quality content is easier said than done. How can you find meaningful things to post that your followers–and Google–will love? It all starts with the right topic.

You don’t want to just pick any random topic though. You need something unique and relevant to your audience. It should also be the type of content that people want to reference, meaning, you should know what you’re talking about.

If you don’t know much about the topic, then hire a writer who does. Once you have a topic, and content down, you need a catchy headline. With an attention span of about eight seconds, you need something to catch your audience’s attention.

This isn’t about click-bait though, as click-bait can induce a form of buyer’s remorse. It’s more about creating a smart, and catchy headline that will deliver on its promise.

Then, make sure you provide well-researched data that is also organized and formatted clearly. Offer some intriguing facts about your topic to keep your readers interested as they go through it. Make your post visually appealing, and scannable, with headers, bolded fonts, bullet points, and short paragraphs. And, make sure you write like an authority on the subject.

No one wants to read subject matter from the view of a newbie. Also, add a call to action at the end of all your content–this can be a call to check out a related product or for the reader to leave a comment. If you have your reader’s attention, then you should utilize it.

The good news is your content types can vary from infographics, to How-to’s, to lists, to white papers, to long-form articles, to videos, and more. Mix it up. As long as you follow the above tips, then your content will attract a following and Google’s blessing.

  1. Measure your efforts

When it comes to SEO, it’s critical to work smarter rather than harder. This is true of your objectives, as well. One way to do so is by following the S.M.A.R.T methodology, which stands for: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. If you think of all those words, you can generally infer how they relate to your SEO strategy. For instance, time-based is important because you can’t wait forever to reach your goals–the bills will keep coming and wait for no one.

You also want to be specific by asking what, who, where, which, and why. Answers to those questions will give you a focused strategy. Then, your goals must be measurable. You can use Google Analytics, but even better would be to hire a professional SEO agency.

And, your goals should be attainable. There is nothing that deters productivity and motivation more than trying to hit unattainable targets. If you have an SEO strategy that has not worked, it’s never too late to give it a S.M.A.R.T revision.

  1. The benefits of hiring a professional SEO agency

Improving your rankings on the search engines can feel like the equivalent of a full-time job. And, you still have other responsibilities to manage on top of that. Yet, if you’re not on the first page for your selected keywords, then you won’t get the type of traffic your site needs. As a result, it’s crucial to hire a professional SEO agency.

For starters, you won’t have to deal with newbie mistakes–the types of errors that could get your site penalized by Google. A professional SEO agency will analyze your site, and keywords, then execute specific actions to get your site at the top of the rankings. They will also analyze your competition, and, share suggestions around the type of content you need on your site.

Plus, imagine the time you’ll save when you work with a professional. You can then use that time to focus on other areas of your business. Another element to consider is how often Google changes its search algorithms–sometimes, it’s several times per day. It’s just a lot for a novice to manage. On the other hand, a professional SEO agency is in the business of tracking any changes to Google’s algorithms.

If you’re worried about your budget and costs, consider this: you could spend an absurd amount of money cleaning up your mistakes if you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s similar to throwing money away. The best SEO companies can help you avoid expensive and time-consuming mistakes.

When you are ready to share your site with the world, the last thing you need is a reduction in traffic because you used your keywords too many times or you unknowingly participated in black hat tactics. Yet, if your professional SEO consultant gets your site on Google’s first page–you will realize the worth of your investment in real traffic and real conversions.

In conclusion

If you want your target audience to find you, then SEO is critical. It is even more crucial to land first page rankings, which can be achieved with the assistance of a professional SEO agency. The major benefits of SEO are obvious. What are you waiting for?