A Beginner’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization

By Madison Taylor
October 24, 2019
fun patterned letters spelling SEO

When you hear the term “Search Engine Optimization,” it can be intimidating. Well, it is and it isn’t. On the one hand, SEO can be a pretty complex web to navigate, and it’s only getting more complicated as the internet evolves. On the other hand, there are some basic concepts to get you started that are super easy to grasp.

If you’re going to succeed in today’s modern, connected world, you’ll need to add some SEO to your marketing strategy. To get you started, we’ve put together a quick guide to Search Engine Optimization for beginners that should take some of the mystery out of the magical world of SEO.

What is Search Engine Optimization?

Search Engine Optimization, or SEO for short, is a technique utilized by a company or individual to help promote their website’s presence on various search engines found on the Internet, in addition to improving it for the visitors who land on their site.

If used correctly, good SEO can bring a large number of potential customers to your site with minimal effort. Plus, it will make your site more useful to the people who visit, which will increase your web traffic even more and keep them coming back.

It’s also worth noting that organic traffic is usually some of the most effective at converting visitors into customers, and it’s also far less expensive than paid search results if done correctly. Simply put, boosting your organic traffic is well worth the effort.

Are Keywords Still Useful?

Yes and no. In the old days of the web, search engines were pretty basic. If you searched for “data backup,” the search engine would look for pages that contained the words “data backup.” That led to companies cramming their websites full of the phrase “data backup” over and over, sometimes even using white font on a white background or other tricks in a strategy called “keyword stuffing.”

That doesn’t work any more. Google can tell the difference between a string of keywords and a legible paragraph. It knows synonyms and alternate ways of phrasing. And when you search “data backup,” it’s using your search history, the device you’re using, and a thousand other factors to inform what you’re doing.

The modern answer is that keywords are still useful, but only if they’re contained in useful content. If you create content that people want to read, click on, linger on, share with their friends, or convert from, Google can tell and they’ll boost your rankings. In short: write good content and you’ll be rewarded.

On-Page and Technical SEO

One of the biggest improvements in search over the last 10 years or so is that search engines are much better at considering the way that real people actually think and speak. Real people ask questions in the form of full sentences, and they don’t always know the right words for what they’re looking for.

What that means is that SEO isn’t just about targeting the computers that run the search engines — it’s about targeting the humans that enter the search terms in the first place.

Meta tags and meta descriptions are a part of the code on your page, separate from the visible title. They’re a great place to add extra keywords that might make the title unwieldy — like expanding acronyms. They also inform the way your content looks in search results, which is an important way to get people to click on your page.

They’re not as important as they used to be from a technical point of view, but they’re still one of several things that Google examines when determining your page’s relevance.

Another example of technical SEO is user-friendly URLs. Some URLs are chock full of various categories and tags that serve a purpose to the browser, but make them a nightmare to look at or share. Google Images URLs can easily be 300 characters long!

Finally, remember your internal links! Linking to other content that you’ve created is a good way to lend authority to your new content and drive more traffic to your older pages. Make sure to check for broken links, though — search engines can tell.

Content and SEO

The old mentality was that content was for people and SEO was for computers. Luckily, that’s not true anymore! Search engines have gotten a lot better at reading content, determining if it’s well-constructed, and deciding whether it will be useful to searchers. Content and SEO will have to go hand in hand.

Focus on creating original, useful, informative content. Don’t fall into the trap of just writing about whatever’s popular — sure, you might bring in traffic, but it won’t be from people that are actually interested in your product. Worse, Google will fault you for not sticking to a narrow scope of information.

It’s far better to become an expert at one specific thing than to dip your toes into any topic you can think of. Optimize your content for the topics and search terms that your customers want to know about and Google will start to rank you higher for those specific topics.

Keyword Research

We mentioned earlier that the actual quantity of keywords on your page isn’t much help anymore when it comes to attracting search engines, but that doesn’t mean you can ignore keywords.

Start with Google Autocomplete — the feature that guesses what you’re typing as you type it. If you run a data backup service, type “data backup” into Google and see what comes up. When we tried it, the top suggestions were:

  • Data backup for Mac
  • Data backup software
  • Data backup services
  • Data backup and recovery
  • Data backup solutions
  • Data backup plan

Already, you’ve got yourself several options for new blog posts. You could write about the best data backup options for Mac (assuming your software works for Macs, of course), how to back up and recover your data, and the benefits of a monthly backup plan versus on-site backups.

From there, click on a specific result and scroll to the bottom to look at the “related searches.” This offers a slightly broader look at related topics: data backup for small businesses, backup strategy best practices, the 3-2-1 backup strategy, and so on. Not everything you find will be relevant, but it’s a good start.

Another good source is to see what questions other people are asking. Go to Reddit or Quora — both sites where questions and answers are voted on — and see what the most popular questions in your area are.

Finally, use a keyword research tool. Some of these require that you pay for their software, but there are also tools like AnswerThePublic that can generate hundreds of suggested keywords based on Google’s Autocomplete feature to help get you started. When we tried that out, it also suggested:

  • Can you backup data from a disabled iPhone?
  • How data backup works
  • Where is backup data stored?
  • Which data should I back up?
  • Why data backup is important

…and hundreds more. There’s no shortage of sources to help you find topics that are timely, useful, and relevant to what your business does. Professional tools like KWFinder or Mangools will offer you more in-depth data, like how keywords are trending, how easy it is to optimize for them, and how your competitors compare to you on certain keywords, so you should be able to generate content indefinitely!

Link Building

When Google introduced PageRank in the 1990s, backlinks were one of the most important metrics for how your page performed — the more people linking to you, the better your ranking.

Pretty quickly, people found ways to exploit this. They would set up networks of sites that only existed to link to each other, or they’d post a comment with their URL in the comment sections of much more popular pages, piggybacking on their popularity.

Now, Google uses extremely complex algorithms to take into account how many pages are backlinking to yours, who those pages are, whether that link is relevant to your viewers, how many people are following it, and so on.

There are also HTML tags that will affect the usefulness of a backlink. “No-follow” links are supposed to tell Google to ignore them, but that behavior has changed recently so that they’re more like suggestions. “UGC” (user-generated content) and “sponsored” backlinks also tell Google more about the context of the link.

Taking SEO to the Next Level

We could write thousands more words about various SEO techniques and strategies — and we have! But in the meantime, these tips should be enough to help you get your content marketing strategy up and running.

When you’re ready to step up your game, give us a call. We make a point of keeping up to date on the latest and greatest developments in the world of SEO, and we can help you achieve the same level of success.