SEO Basics: Your Starter Guide to Search Engine Success
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Imagine you’ve opened a charming little bookstore in the heart of town. You’ve carefully selected every book, crafted the perfect cozy ambiance with soft lighting and plush armchairs, and even have the local coffee shop supplying the perfect brew to your readers. There’s just one problem – no one knows you’re there. Your store is tucked away in an alley, overshadowed by the tall buildings. That’s what it’s like when you build a website without SEO. You could have the most engaging content or the best products, but without SEO, your site may never find its audience.

This is precisely why we’re going back to basics today. SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is your neon sign, your arrow pointing down the alley, your invitation to the world to come and see what you have to offer. 

As a company that helps small businesses create websites, we are well-versed in SEO.

It’s crucial for anyone who wants their website to be more visible and to attract more traffic organically. Whether you’re a blogger, a small business owner, or just starting to dabble in the digital world, understanding the fundamentals of SEO can be a game-changer for your online presence.

In this blog post, we will break down SEO fundamentals for beginners. We’ll explore how to make search engines fall in love with your site, how to choose the right keywords and the little tweaks you can make to ensure that your site not only gets found but also enjoyed by your intended audience. Ready to light up your online storefront? Let’s dive in.

What is SEO, and Why is it Important?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It’s a comprehensive strategy to increase a website’s visibility when people search for products or services related to your business in Google, Bing, and other search engines. The better visibility your pages have in search results, the more likely you are to garner attention and attract prospective and existing customers to your business.

But why does this matter? Consider this: nearly 53% of website traffic comes from organic search. Search ranking can have a massive impact on your business’s success online.

Website SEO traffic source statistics

How Do Search Engines Work?

Understanding the mechanics behind search engines is crucial for effective SEO. Let’s break it down:

  • Crawling: Search engines send out web crawlers to find new pages and record information about them. We often call these web crawlers “spiders” or “robots.”
  • Indexing: Once a page is found, search engines add it to their index, a massive database of all the content they’ve discovered and deem good enough to serve up to searchers.
  • Ranking: When a user types a query into a search engine, the engine sifts through its index to provide the most relevant and valuable information in the search results, typically known as the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).

The goal of SEO is to optimize your content so it’s attractive to search engines — making your site more visible by ranking higher than competitors when users search for specific keywords.

Actionable Steps:

  • Ensure your site is crawlable by search engines—use tools like Google Search Console to check for crawl errors.
  • Create high-quality content that answers users’ queries and includes keywords you want to rank for.
  • Keep track of changes in search engine algorithms to adjust your SEO strategies accordingly.

Identifying Your Target Keywords

The heart of SEO is understanding what your potential visitors are searching for and crafting your content to meet these needs. Keywords are the terms and phrases that people use in search engines. They can range from single words to complex phrases and are a critical component of your SEO strategy.

Here’s how you can identify the right keywords for your website:

  • Use Keyword Research Tools: Tools like Google Keyword Planner, SEMrush, or Ahrefs can help you discover keywords related to your business and see how much traffic they could bring to your site.
  • Analyze Search Volume and Competition: Look for keywords with decent search volume but not too much competition. It’s often more realistic to rank for long-tail keywords (specific, niche search phrases) than for the most competitive terms.
  • Understand the User Intent: Knowing the intent behind keywords (why people search for them) helps tailor your content to meet those needs. Are they looking to buy, learn, or find a specific website?

Understanding Keyword Intent

Keyword intent is about getting to the ‘why’ behind a search query. We can generally categorize it into four types:

  • Informational: The user is looking for information. Example: “How to tie a tie”
  • Navigational: The user is trying to get to a specific website or page. Example: “Facebook login”
  • Transactional: The user is ready to buy or engage in a transaction. Example: “Buy running shoes online”
  • Commercial: The user wants to purchase soon but is still in the decision-making process. Example: “Best coffee makers 2023”

By aligning your content with user intent, you increase the chances that your pages will be seen and clicked.

Actionable Steps:

  • Start with a list of basic keywords that best describe your products or services.
  • Expand this list using keyword research tools to find variations and long-tail keywords.
  • Organize the keywords by intent and use them to guide your content creation, ensuring that it meets your users’ needs.
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On-Page SEO

On-page SEO is about confirming that the individual pages on your website are appetizing to search engines. Here’s what a well-optimized page looks like:

  • Title Tags: These are the clickable headlines displayed on search engine results pages. They should be descriptive, relevant to the page’s content, and include your target keywords.
  • Meta Descriptions: Although not a ranking factor, these brief descriptions appear under your title in search results and can influence click-through rates. They should be compelling and use your target keywords effectively.
  • Header Tags (H1, H2, H3): Use these to structure your content. Your H1 is typically the title of your page or post and should include your primary keyword. Subheaders (H2s and H3s) can be used for subtopics and should incorporate keywords when appropriate.
  • User-Friendly URLs: Ensure your URLs are simple and descriptive. Include keywords and avoid lengthy or complicated strings of characters.
  • Alt Text for Images: Describe your images using alt text to improve accessibility and give search engines more content to index.

Content is King: Creating SEO-Friendly Content

High-quality content ultimately drives SEO by engaging users and encouraging them to share and link back to your pages. Here’s how to create content that pleases both search engines and humans:

  • Value and Relevance: Your content should be informative, address the user’s search intent, and provide real value.
  • Keyword Integration: Naturally incorporate keywords into your content. Overstuffing is a no-no — it’s not only jarring to the reader but also frowned upon by search engines.
  • Engaging and Readable: Break up text with headings, bullet points, and images to create a more visually appealing page. Keep paragraphs short, and mix your sentence lengths to engage the reader.
  • Freshness: Regularly update your content to keep it current and relevant. This can also encourage search engines to re-crawl your pages more often.

Actionable Steps:

  • Use SiteScores to audit your existing pages for on-page SEO factors like title tags, meta descriptions, and content quality.
  • Update your most important pages, implementing the on-page SEO best practices outlined above.
  • Plan a content calendar that addresses various user intents and incorporates the keywords you’ve researched.

Off-Page SEO

Off-page SEO refers to the actions taken outside of your website to impact your rankings within search engine results pages (SERPs). It’s predominantly about building the reputation and authority of your website through links from other sites — these are known as backlinks.

  • Why Backlinks Matter: Search engines view backlinks as votes of confidence. The more high-quality links you have pointing to your site, the more trustworthy it appears, which can significantly improve your rankings.
  • Quality Over Quantity: It’s better to have fewer high-quality backlinks than many low-quality ones. Links from authoritative, well-respected sites are much more impactful than those from spammy, irrelevant sites.

Strategies for Acquiring Quality Backlinks

Gaining backlinks requires effort and a strategic approach. Here are some proven strategies:

  • Content Creation: Produce high-quality, shareable content that naturally attracts links.
  • Guest Blogging: Write articles for other reputable websites in your industry. This can help you tap into their audience and gain valuable backlinks.
  • Broken Link Building: Find broken links on other sites that you can replace with content from your site.
  • Local SEO: Ensure your business is listed in local directories and on review sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor, which can provide valuable backlinks and local visibility.

Other Off-Page SEO Tactics

Backlinks are just one off-page SEO tactic. Here are a few others:

  • Social Media Marketing: While social shares may not directly influence rankings, social media can increase your content’s visibility, leading to more links and traffic.
  • Influencer Outreach: Partner with influencers to expose your content to a broader audience, which can result in more backlinks.
  • Online Reputation Management: Engage with your audience online, encourage reviews, and maintain a positive brand presence.

Actionable Steps:

  • Audit your current backlink profile using tools like Moz’s Link Explorer or Ahrefs to understand where you stand.
  • Reach out to industry influencers or bloggers for guest posting opportunities.
  • Create a link-worthy piece of content, such as an original research report or an insightful infographic, and share it with relevant online communities.

Technical SEO

Technical SEO might not be as visible as the content on your website, but it’s just as important. This behind-the-scenes aspect of SEO makes sure that your site is structured in a way that search engines can easily access, crawl, and index your content.

  • Site Structure and Navigation: A clear structure helps search engines understand your site’s hierarchy, leading to better crawling.
  • Mobile-Friendly Design: With most searches now performed on mobile devices, having a mobile-responsive design is crucial.
  • Page Speed: Speed is a ranking factor. Faster loading times improve user experience and can help your rankings.
  • Secure Sockets Layer (SSL): An SSL certificate (resulting in HTTPS rather than HTTP) is vital for site security and is considered a ranking signal by Google.

Tools and Best Practices for Technical SEO

There are several tools and techniques that can help you improve your website’s technical SEO:

  • Use of Robots.txt: This file tells search engines which pages on your site they should not crawl.
  • XML Sitemaps: This file helps search engines find and index your pages.
  • Structured Data: Using schema markup can help search engines display rich snippets in search results, like star ratings for reviews.
  • 404 Error Management: Regularly check for and fix broken links within your site.
  • Canonical Tags: These help prevent issues with duplicate content.

Actionable Steps:

  • Conduct a technical SEO audit to identify and fix any issues that could impede search engines from indexing your site effectively.
  • Make sure your website is mobile-friendly by using a responsive design.
  • Optimize your site’s loading speed using tools like Google PageSpeed Insights.
  • Implement SSL to secure your site if you haven’t already.
  • Regularly update your XML sitemap and submit it to search engines.

Conclusion: Integrating SEO into Your Digital Strategy

As we wrap up our journey through the world of SEO, it’s clear that mastering SEO fundamentals is not just about tweaking your website. It’s an approach that encompasses various aspects of your online presence. Here’s a quick recap of what we’ve learned:

  • Keyword Research: The starting point for any SEO strategy, identifying the right keywords is crucial for targeting your content effectively.
  • On-Page SEO: This is all about making your content easily understandable and attractive to search engines and users alike.
  • Off-Page SEO: Building your website’s reputation through quality backlinks and other tactics is critical to your site’s perceived trustworthiness and authority.
  • Technical SEO: The foundation of your site must be solid for search engines to access and index your content correctly.

SEO is an ongoing process. Search engines constantly update their algorithms, so what works today may not work tomorrow. It’s essential to stay informed and adapt your strategies accordingly.

Final Thoughts and Next Steps:

  • Start by addressing the most critical SEO elements, such as technical SEO issues and on-page content optimization.
  • Develop a content strategy that targets your audience effectively, guided by your keyword research.
  • Build relationships within your industry to enhance your off-page SEO with quality backlinks.

Remember, SEO takes time. It’s about building a long-term asset that brings sustained traffic to your site. Patience, persistence, and continual learning are your best allies in this journey.


Written by Pieter

November 5, 2023

Reading Time: 8 minutes

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