SEO:A Beginners’ Guide

Keilan Sayer is a student at the University of Montana, who enjoys baking, biking, and occasionally writing a decent blog post.

Introduction

SEO Organization Components: Links, Content, Ranking, Search, and others

The world of digital advertising is constantly changing and expanding to incorporate new ways to achieve your goals. However, one method that has stood the test of time is known as SEO, which I’m sure many of you are aware of having arrived at my guide, eager to learn more. 

For those who wish to learn SEO, this guide will serve as a comprehensive compilation of the important concepts one should know about SEO, and what the future holds for this complicated tool. Even by understanding the basics, one can be well on their way to becoming savvy in the world of SEO. Now, any information is useless without practice, so I implore those willing to learn to be willing to do as well. If SEO is a topic that interests you and speaks to your goals, check out Moz’s Ultimate Guide to SEO , which provides more insight into SEO and how to get started, linked below. If you’re still with me, let’s get to the good stuff. 

What is SEO?

Computer with SEO written on it turning a keyword into results

Before we get into any of the technical details, I always find it useful to start with the basic details. I like to think of it as a building: take out the foundation and you’re going to have one unsafe structure. So, what exactly is SEO? SEO is short for “search engine optimization”, and is the process of increasing the quantity and quality of the traffic to your website through non-paid (organic) search results. Now, keep in mind, SEO is not Paid Search, in which companies will pay money to rank. This is a good distinction to understand to evaluate whether SEO is appropriate for you and your company to pursue rather than Paid Search. Alright, back to SEO. Quantity of results can only go so far, which is where the quality component becomes important. You may get thousands, even millions of people visiting you from all over the world, but what good will that do if they aren’t high-quality customers? Enter the quality component of SEO. Despite the naming convention of SEO, which sounds very centered around the search engine itself, SEO is really about the consumer’s needs. What the consumer is searching for, what is important to them, what phrases they search for. However, understanding the consumer is only one part of the equation. Before you can get to that, let’s talk about how search engines work and how to apply this knowledge to understanding your customers further.

How Search Engines Work

SEO word inside magnifying glass

When consumers search for a product/service that they desire to learn more about, search engines serve as an answering machine, providing high-quality results out of millions of pieces of content that serve as the best answer to the customer’s inquiry. This is done through 3 steps involving search engines: 

  1. Crawling: bots known as “crawlers” or spiders are responsible for searching across the internet for relevant pieces of content, discoverable through the link (regardless of content type). This is where it’s important to make sure your content is discoverable, and that all relevant pieces of content are actually accessible (I’m looking at you, login pages).
  2. Indexing: Once “crawlers” find a piece of content worth saving, the content is stored and processed into an index, which is a huge database of information they have collected over time that can then be provided to searchers when required. 
    1. Helpful Tip: If you want to see which of your sites have been indexed, type in site.yourdomain.com in the Google search bar. This will return all your sites that are indexed by Google.
  3. Ranking: The final step of the process, ranking occurs when search engines receive a search. Search engines will comb through all their indexed content for highly relevant content. Once deemed highly relevant to the search, this content then gets ordered in terms of relevance. This ranking is determined by a specific algorithm, and unfortunately for content creators, changes quite often. The concept of setting-and-forgetting is a thing of the past. Sites must be constantly optimized to meet ranking standards for certain searches. If you want to learn more about how to rank, check out Moz’s helpful “blueprint” for ranking, which goes 25 individual steps that will serve as a guide for those just getting into SEO.

Knowing these main steps of search engine processes is important to those practicing SEO because your content needs to be accessible to crawling, and indexing before there is even a possibility of ranking. Without accessibility to bots, your content is invisible. And after all that hard work you put into developing an amazing piece of content, you don’t want to be invisible, do you? I didn’t think so. Now that you have the Search Engines figured out, let’s talk keywords.

How to Rank: Master SEO Blueprint

Keyword Research

Key Words spelled out in block letters

Keywords might seem complicated to understand, but essentially they encompass your target market, and what your target market searches for to fulfill their needs. Understanding your target market will not only improve your keyword ranking but over time provide more value to your target market. Now, guessing is not the answer. Keyword research will help you understand what people are searching for, and how they want it. It is an extremely crucial step to SEO and will impact any step taken after. 

The first (and arguably the most important) step of keyword research is understanding the difference between what you want to rank for and what the customer is searching for. Sure, your business may want to rank for one keyword, but is that what your customer wants? It might not be the same. What is your customer searching for? How are they searching for it? What is their motivation? This is just a sample of questions you could ask to better understand your customer further. 

So how do you find keywords that represent what your customer is searching for? The simplest and most efficient way is using a keyword research tool. My personal favorite, which is free to use, is the keyword planner tool, linked below with some other helpful tools. Not only will this tool allow you to see how many times that keyword was searched for on average in a month, but it also may help you discover other relevant keywords. For example, if you were typed in “golf”, it would show you not only that specific keyword and its related average monthly searches but also potentially “golf courses” or “golf near me”. Not interested in using one of these tools? A great method of finding relevant keywords is just to type in a potential keyword in the Google search bar and see what else pops up as relevant searches. PHOTO 

However, it can be easy to get caught up in the shiny numbers (i.e. the ones with the most search volume). Those keywords can still be relevant and important to rank for, but sometimes it may be even more advantageous to prioritize less searched keywords that will be less competitive, and therefore easier to rank for than those big shiny high volume ones. My teacher, Mario Schulze, encouraged us to pursue the long tail – the niche consumers that have less search volume but are more likely to convert. Same idea here. High volume search terms may also indicate ambiguous searches unrelated to your goals. Staying consistent with the “golf” example, if you are trying to promote a page specifically trying to sell golf shoes if you bid on high-level keywords, you may be showing up in searches for unrelated topics that might slightly match “golf”. 

People searching for the internet are searching in 5 different ways: 

  1. Trying to find information, such as what the weather is today, which unsurprisingly is one of the most searched for topics right now on Google. PHOTO
  2. Trying to get to a certain site/place on the internet, such as Amazon or even particularly this blog post you’re reading right now…. *cough cough* PHOTO
  3. Trying to accomplish a particular task, such as buying a plane ticket. Somewhere warm, I hope. PHOTO
  4. Trying to compare products and eventually find one that suits their specific needs, such as comparing cars based on their performance or characteristics. PHOTO
  5. Trying to find something local, like a trendy new local coffee shop named Foam Party (Into The Spider-Verse reference)

The most efficient way to tell if a keyword is worth pursuing is to use keyword tools to determine if they hold any value. Too often, as marketers, we can get stuck within our ego of “knowing what’s best.” What’s awesome about the internet is the ability to find real research from actual customers about what they search, and even better, what they don’t. So get searching!

Helpful Keyword Tools: 

  • Google Keyword Planner – most commonly used and easy to access. 
  • Google Trends – Trends of what people are searching for most currently. This tool is also helpful for determining seasonal fluctuations.
  • Moz Keyword Explorer – Keyword suggestions in a comprehensive report format just by creating an account!

If you’re interested in learning more regarding keyword research, check out Keyword Research for SEO created by BackLinko, which contains more helpful tips and tricks for getting started with keyword research. 

On-Site SEO

the word SEO next to a computer

After gathering information on exactly what your target market is searching for, now it’s time to focus on perfecting your actual site/sites. More specifically, creating content!

So where to start? Take all that valuable research you just gathered on keywords and apply them. Now, a word of warning before diving into the technical side. Yes, ranking is important, but so is providing quality content that provides an answer to what the customer is searching for. Unfortunately, odds are we aren’t smarter than Google, and Google has figured out a way to disregard low-quality content that doesn’t add any actual value to the searchers. 

Instead, create what Moz.com calls “10x content”, which are pieces of content that are ten times better than any other piece of content out there. It’s not an easy task, but succeed and the rewards will be bountiful. One trick that can help you create these amazing pieces of content is to “steal like an artist”. Look at competitors’ pages who rank highly for that desired keyword and see how their page is optimized. Then, do it just a little bit better, and you’re on your way to ranking highly. 

Now, besides content, there are some technical optimizations you will want to think of making to improve your page quality. 

Having links on your page is gold for having a site crawlers can recognize. Don’t go too crazy with the links. Limiting the number of links on your page to only those that are applicable is more beneficial than having thousands of links on your page. It helps pass authority between sites as well as helps users navigate through your site. 

Another technological factor is image optimization. Images are one of the number one reason your web page may be extremely slow. Ways to reduce slow images is through compressing your images or choosing resolutions that are acceptable, but not too high definition. Your website should also include alt text (alternative text). This text is used to describe images to websites readers. Images can also rank organically just through alt text, as crawlers do read that text in addition to regular text. 

Finally, as the last example (for the sake of space and your free time), another important technological factor to take note of is the URL building. Your URL itself needs to be clear as to what the page is about. Users are more likely to click on a specific URL that will fit their needs than one that contains ambiguous information. URL structuring is similar to all other aspects of SEO: make it simple so your users can understand it with ease. IT is important to keep in mind the need to incorporate specific keywords and avoid unfamiliar ID’s and symbols only the techiest of programmers would understand. 

Check out this awesome graphic by Backlinko covering all aspects of On-Page SEO, and what a perfectly optimized page contains: 

On-Page SEO

Importance of Link-Building

webpages linked together representing link building

So, you’ve learned everything there is to know about your target market and their searches ranked for keywords and optimized your page perfectly. You and everyone else with the same goal. So how do your customers choose you over everyone else? You build authority through link building. If you learn nothing else from this guide, take away these two top components to rank high in SEO: quality content and links. Now, these links can’t just be any links. Quality links are attached to quality sites, and spammy sites are attached to spammy sites. So what are links exactly?

Inbound links, also known as backlinks, are hyperlinks to other quality sites, intending to essentially rub their reputation off onto you. Moz qualifies them as the “currency of the internet”. Links are basically as if several people told you a restaurant was quality, you would be more likely to believe it. Same principle for links. 

Links should be healthy and of high quality, earned fairly. Again, Google is smarter than all of us, and will soon realize if you have unauthentic links. This is where quality content comes into play. The more high quality your content is, the more sites will link back to you, and the more “currency” you can acquire. The backlinks should also be related to your topic. You want links back from similar sites, not ones that don’t correlate at all to your purpose. These backlinks also send high-quality traffic to your site from those other sites linking to yours, so essentially, there is no downside to gathering backlinks. If you ever become rich and famous off of this essential guide, a backlink would be much appreciated.

As if the name didn’t give it away, Backlinko focuses on backlinks and offers a wide variety of resources that can provide insight into how to build a high number of high-quality backlinks. Moz also has a tool called Link Explorer, which allows you to access a plethora of research related to finding your broken links, or even being able to see your competitor’s links. 

Moz Link Explorer

Backlinko

Opportunities in SEO

search bar surrounded by various graphs and charts

Now that you’ve learned a small variety of insights that apply to any SEO process, what does the future hold for SEO? There are a few key trends to keep your eye on as you start this process of developing your SEO strategy.

 

  • Alternative platforms for SEO – Google Search isn’t the only platform SEO is going to be relevant soon. Platforms such as Amazon and Youtube are becoming increasingly popular for Search Engine Optimization. More and more people are searching for things on Youtube than ever before, as more and more useful content is being created on the platform. If you are currently trying to optimize a product page on Amazon, SEO is a useful tool to ensure your product shows up first based on relevant keywords. Google SEO is no longer the only option to optimize; the possibilities are endless!
  • Visual Search – Visual Search is becoming an increasingly used method of choice for searching on Google. With Google Lens, as well as other various platforms, customers can scan objects within the room and search based on that scan. Google Lens, as of now, can identify over one billion objects. Especially popular among younger individuals, consumers like the ability to visualize exactly what it is they are searching for. To optimize for visual search, use descriptive file names as well as the alt text for images. Authority is also extremely important, as always. 
  • The Dominance of Video – Video streaming is at an all-time high. Online video will make up 80% of all online video traffic by 2021, which is not as far off as it sounds. When consumers search, depending on the search, video snippets will appear at the top. Title, description, and tags are important for Google to understand what your video is. Transcripts over videos can also provide value to Google. 

Want to learn more about future predictions for SEO? Check out Moz’s SEO predictions for 2019 and beyond, a post that discusses all the potential surrounding SEO.

This guide does not hold all the answers necessary for you to understand SEO, but it is a great guide to reference if feeling lost or unsure about where to start. I hope this guide has helped you realize what a necessity it is to have a basic understanding of SEO to be able to rank organically and successfully. The best way to understand SEO is through trial and error, practicing to figure out what works and what doesn’t. So go put those new SEO skills into action!

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

  1. Hi Keilan,

    This is a nice piece on SEO. You covered most of the bases. Two areas that are critical to keep in mind is the taxonomy or site structure of the site. You alluded to this in the On-Site when talking about Links on pages (interlinking). Contextual linking is very important for helping the bots understand the interrelationship between pages and or posts. However, we also have our Classifying Links, i.e. Nav Menus.
    Proper menu structure is just as important if not more.

    The other area which I think should have been mentioned is the absolute importance that a site is Mobile-Friendly. The majority of the sites I look at have at least 50% mobile traffic and most more like 60% plus. Mobile is crucial.

    And with Mobile has to come speed. You mention Images and there is no doubt that improperly scaled and overly sized images can slow a site. However, if you take almost any site and run it through a tool such as GTMetrix or Google PageSpeed you will see that the images, for the most part, are not the problem. It is too many calls to the page, overuse of Javascript, no caching, no compression, Poorly arranged CSS, HTML, etc.

    Just a few things to think about in case you were going to freshen this and republish once again.

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