Demystifying Search Engine Optimization: SEO Basics

Frank Isca
Posted by Frank Isca on January 13, 2022
search-engine-optimization basics

Taking aim at a moving target isn’t easy, and that’s exactly what you’re doing when it comes to Search Engine Optimization (SEO). In the digital marketing quest to organically reach the top of the Search Engine Results Page (SERP), you’re up against ever-evolving practices, algorithms, and consumer behaviors. 

Learning SEO is essential to getting yourself discovered by your prospects and even your current customers. It’s nearly impossible to completely master, but if you know the SEO basics, you’re off to a good start! Let’s demystify SEO and get you going with some actionable tips.

What is SEO?

SEO is the practice of developing and optimizing your content in ways that will put it toward the top of the list of search results when an internet user searches for a topic related to your content.

For example, an independent book store in Appleton, Wisconsin, will want to appear toward the top of the search results for a user who googles “Book stores in Appleton WI.” 

This is not the same as Search Engine Marketing (SEM), also known as paid search. With SEO, you’re aiming to be found organically without paying to be the top result for a specific keyword. In essence, an organic search result for a keyword is earned by demonstrating that you’re a relevant result for that topic. 

How Does SEO Work?

When someone types a keyword into a search engine, that search engine aims to return the best results, even taking searcher intent into consideration. Google is always scouring the web to find and “crawl” new webpages for indexing. These crawlers read pages’ content and will index them for later — when an inquiry hits enough related words that it deems it a relevant search result.

The desire for websites is to rank as high as possible in those search results! This is where keywords play a huge role.

But don’t stuff keywords into your content, a common practice in the early 2000s, to try to game the system. Instead, the copy should include natural placement of the keywords and related words and phrases.

Pro tip: any images on the page must be relevant to the topic and optimized with alt text to describe what is displayed in the image.

Here’s a bad example of SEO for the previously mentioned hypothetical book store in Appleton, Wisconsin that’s trying to rank for keywords such as “paperback books and hardcover novels in Appleton, WI”:

“You can find all the books, novels, stories, hardcovers, and paperbacks you want at the Appleton Bookstore in Appleton, WI. Here at Appleton Bookstore in Appleton, WI, all the novels, books, hardcovers, and paperbacks written by your favorite authors are available. Appleton Bookstore is located in Appleton, WI and stocks the books, novels, stories, hardcovers, and paperbacks you need!”

Painful to read, huh? Here’s a better example of SEO for the same fictional company and the same keyword:

“Looking for the latest mystery novel? How about that horror story you’ve been hearing about? Visit Appleton Bookstore to find the latest crop of hardcovers and paperbacks from your favorite authors! Our selection is so vast, you may even discover new writers to read! Visit us here in Appleton, WI and let us help you find the perfect book to accompany you by the glow of the fireplace this winter.”

Easier to read, right? All copy on a webpage should have a natural flow using keywords and related phrases in an unforced manner. The search engines have gotten savvy and intelligent, and can even punish pages if they practice keyword stuffing.

Learn More: 8 Must-Do Activities for Ongoing SEO Success

Other Factors that Affect SEO

It isn’t just the copy and images that need attention — the overall website itself needs to be performing at a high quality, too.

Make sure your site is mobile-friendly, since many modern internet users are accessing websites on their phones. When accessed, does your site load quickly?

Pages that take more than a few seconds to load can aggravate users and cause them to drop off and go elsewhere. The search engines notice this when it comes time to rank search results.

Are your pages clean and easy to read? A good layout free of clutter can help the page load faster in addition to providing a good user experience, giving you a chance at repeat visitors and a higher ranking.

Something else you’ll need to consider is where you and your competitors stand in search rankings. Use available tools, such as Semrush, to find which keywords your competition is using successfully and where you can find ground to gain.

Learn More: The Difference Between On-Page SEO and Off-Page SEO 

Actionable Tips to Begin Your SEO Strategy

  1. Start with creating and considering your primary buyer personas. These are semi-fictional representations of your ideal customers and an outline of their needs and wants as it relates to your products and services. You’ll want to figure out answers like these before moving ahead with your content and SEO strategy: 
    • What do they need? What are their pain points and challenges? 
    • What questions will they ask? 
    • What is your primary goal with your content? Awareness? Leads? Delighting customers? 

Hint: Get a free Buyer Persona worksheet in this set of Content Creation Templates.

  1. Once you know what your ideal customer will be looking for, conduct keyword research on relevant topics. Consider using long-tail keywords for increased relevancy. You want the right people to find you!
  2. Get the website in fast working order. Focus on one primary keyword per page to help reduce clutter. Tie each page to a goal, and keep that in mind as the page is developed. Keep everything clean and engaging!
  3. Make sure your content strategy supports your ongoing SEO strategy, which should be in line with your overall business goals. Everyone has to be on the same page! 
  4. Be aware of what’s happening in your industry and competitive space — what discussions are occurring, what movement is being made. Contributing thought leadership to your space can bring brand awareness and build authority, which gets rewarded in search rankings.
  5. Finally, assemble all the right resources. Have dedicated team members equipped with the right tools (e.g., Google Analytics, Google Search Console, Semrush).

SEO success is dependent on understanding searchers and their intent. Google is regularly updating its procedures, and your buyer personas won’t be set in stone as far as what they’ll need. That’s why there’s no set formula for SEO success. It’s always changing, and you’ll have to roll with the punches!

More SEO Tools and Details

The world of SEO is vast and immersive, and we’re just scratching the surface here! Visit our SEO Survival Guide online to uncover the secrets to making your mark using the search engines to your advantage. You can even download a copy of the guide for free! Click the link below and get exploring!

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Topics: Search Engine Optimization

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