What is SEO?
SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” It means making changes to your website to help it rank better in search engines like Google.
When people search for something online, they usually click on the top few results on the first page. Higher rankings mean more people will visit your site. This is why SEO is important – it helps people find your website more easily.
How Do Search Engines Work?
Search engines like Google have programs called “bots” or “spiders.” These bots crawl all over the internet and index websites. They record information about sites in the search engine’s database.
When you do a search, the engine scans its database for relevant sites. It ranks them based on authority, optimization, keywords, and hundreds of other factors. The top ranked results appear first.
SEO helps improve your ranking for keyword phrases related to your business. Better rankings drive more free traffic to your site from search.
Organic vs Paid Search
There are two main types of search – organic and paid.
Organic search results come purely from SEO efforts. These rankings are “free” in that you don’t have to pay to appear there. Good SEO gets you better organic rankings.
Paid search is when companies pay to have their site appear at the top of results. These paid ads are usually the first few results above or below organic rankings. They have a small “Ad” label.
SEO focuses on improving organic search rank. Paid ads can also be useful, but that is a separate marketing topic.
Why Is SEO Important for Business?
SEO is extremely valuable for getting found online. Consider these benefits:
- Higher organic rankings drive more website traffic. If your site appears #1 for a term like “dog toys,” it will get thousands of visits per month.
- SEO traffic converts better because people are already searching for related keywords. This means they are more likely to use your services.
- National SEO can help build your brand and recognition. Ranking high for industry terms can boost authority.
- Good local SEO draws customers from nearby areas to visit your business location.
- SEO boosts visibility and awareness for new companies trying to be discovered.
- The more quality traffic SEO provides, the more leads and sales a business can generate.
- Unlike paid ads, the traffic from SEO is free once the work is done. The rankings will remain until new changes are made.
As you can see, SEO is extremely useful for being found by prospective customers. It should be a core part of digital marketing.
How Does Google Determine Rankings?
Google uses a complex, ever-changing system to rank web pages. While the details are secret, we know they use factors like:
- Relevance – Does the content match what people are searching for? Google wants pages that clearly answer the query.
- Authority – Sites with more authority, based on trust and link popularity, rank higher.
- Page speed – Faster loading sites are preferred over slow ones.
- Mobile friendliness – Sites that are optimized for smartphones and tablets are given a boost.
- Security – HTTPS encrypted sites are given a slight ranking advantage for being more secure.
- Coding – Proper HTML, site architecture, and other technical factors help Google index and rank pages.
- Links – The more quality sites linking to you, the more authority your site has.
- User behavior – Google monitors how visitors interact with results to gauge quality.
There are many more complex ranking signals. But optimizing for the factors above is a good place to start.
Key SEO Optimization Tips
Now let’s cover some proven tips and strategies to optimize pages for higher rankings:
Focus on High Quality Content
The best way to improve SEO is simply creating useful, informative content. Engaging articles and blogs that clearly explain topics are what search engines want to rank for users.
Some content guidelines:
- Write naturally for readers, not search engines. Don’t over-optimize with keywords.
- Create detailed, extensive posts with more than 300 words. 3,000+ words is even better.
- Answer questions and provide solutions a user might search for in your industry. “How to” articles are very popular.
- Use keywords naturally in titles, meta descriptions, image names, and a few times in the content. But don’t overdo it.
- Include visuals like images, charts, videos, and infographics where relevant.
- Publish new content regularly to give search engines fresh pages to index.
Optimize Technical SEO Factors
Technical SEO means optimizing aspects beyond just content:
- Fast load times – Compress images, optimize code, use caching. Slow sites get ranked lower.
- Mobile optimization – Make sure pages are mobile-friendly and responsive. Google prefers this.
- Secure hosting – Use HTTPS on your site for a ranking boost and better security.
- XML sitemaps – These tell search engines about all pages to be indexed.
- Robot.txt file – Prevents bots from crawling unimportant pages like search results.
- Page titles and descriptions – Keep these short and descriptive using keywords.
- Schema markup – Code that adds more context like reviews, events, etc.
- Clean architecture – Make site navigation simple with a useful information hierarchy.
While quality content is most important, optimizing these site-wide elements will further improve SEO.
One of the strongest ranking signals is the number of quality sites linking back to your pages. Google views backlinks as votes of confidence that your content is valuable:
- Reach out to partners and reputable sites in your industry to request backlinks. Offer to create custom content for them or pay for sponsored posts.
- Build links from authority sites by getting published as a guest author. Useful, unique content ideas work best.
- Watch for broken links on high-authority sites and suggest relevant pages from your site as replacements.
- Promote your content on social media and link sharing communities to drive natural backlinks. Helpful, viral content spreads further.
Focus on earning links from reputable sites with relevant audiences. Avoid low-quality networks promising quick backlinks. Google will likely penalize those.
Optimize for Local Search
For businesses with a physical location, local SEO is critical for driving new customers:
- Create a Google My Business listing with complete info like address, phone, photos, services, etc. This helps you rank in local pack results.
- Build local citations by registering your business on directories like Yelp, Yellowpages, Foursquare and dozens of others. Match all data.
- Include your city, state and country in page titles and content where relevant.
- Encourage customer reviews on Google, Facebook, and other listing sites. These build trust and relevance.
Ranking high locally helps new nearby customers find and visit your business. Make local SEO part of your strategy.
Measure and Monitor Results
It’s important to track SEO efforts over time to see what’s working well:
- Use Google Analytics to monitor organic traffic changes month to month. Compare traffic from all sources.
- Check Google Search Console for crawl stats, errors, manual penalties and index status. Address issues.
- Track rankings in incognito mode for target keywords to see where you rank vs competitors.
- Set up reporting in tools like SEMRush, Ahrefs, Moz and others to monitor rankings across keywords.
- Record ranking progress month to month. Review losses and tweak efforts to get back rankings.
- Look for opportunities in rising keywords your site ranks for but doesn’t target yet.
Adjust efforts based on the data to double down on what works and cut what doesn’t. SEO takes time but results improve.
SEO Basic Guidelines Recap
Some key guidelines covered in this SEO introduction:
- Focus on creating high quality, useful content that engages readers naturally.
- Optimize technical elements like site speed, security, mobile optimization and more.
- Build links from respected sites through outreach, guest posts and viral content marketing.
- Claim and optimize all local business listings, especially Google My Business.
- Track keyword rankings and site traffic regularly to guide efforts.
With some core optimizations, anyone can improve their website’s SEO and start climbing rankings. It takes ongoing work but the rewards are worth it.
Next Steps and Additional Resources
Hopefully this beginner’s guide provided a good simple introduction to SEO basics. To take your skills further:
- Read free SEO guides on reputable sites like Moz, Ahrefs and SearchEngineJournal for more tips.
- Take a free online SEO course like the one offered by Google Analytics Academy.
- For local SEO, read Google’s local search optimization starter guide.
- Use SEO tools like Ahrefs, SEMRush, Moz and Surfer SEO for detailed keyword research and backlink analysis. Most offer free trial options.
- Stay up to date with Google algorithm changes via resources like Search Engine Roundtable and Search Engine Journal.
- Try our other SEO tutorials covering technical site audits, link building outreach, and more.
The most important thing is to just get started! Implement some basic optimizations and review the results over the next few months. SEO success takes persistence, but the long term gains are massive.