A Beginner’s Guide to SEO

What IS Search Engine Optimization?

You want to grow your business, and you understand that having an online presence is a vital part of building your brand. With the hundreds of steps involved in moving into the digital world, you may be intimidated and confused. This is why we have created this guide to help you understand everything involved with search engine optimization - SEO for short. 

SEO is the process of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results. Search Engine Optimization plays a major role in managing your website and creating a steady stream of people to visit your site. There are many moving parts   in SEO. Everything from the words on your page to the way other sites link to you on the web can impact your SEO. Performing SEO work on your site can sound and feel like a daunting task. However, if you know just a few basic principles, you can get miles ahead of your competition.

Why is SEO Important?

When searching for anything on Google, how often do you scroll to the bottom of the page? Probably not very often! Nowadays, it's not enough to just have a website in our digital world. People need to be able to find your website. If you are on the second page of google, they most likely won't.

Technology plays a huge role in our lives nowadays, 93% of all online experiences begin with a search engine. Your website is a great opportunity to gain customers and share your brand with the world. Having a well-built and distinguished website can heavily influence a user's decision on whether to go with you or one of your competitors. Additionally, a website that ranks within the top three listings on Google also has a much higher chance of attracting customers and clicks.

In fact, The top 3 Google search results get 54.4% of all clicks. When people search for something relevant to them, and they see your website in their search results, they are going to click and be drawn to your page. 

Part One: How Do Search Engines Work?

We use Google so much that we can take it for granted. How do they even work? The three things that Google does when you perform a search are Crawling, Indexing, and Ranking.

Crawling is when google scours the entire internet, looking over the code and content for every URL they find. This is the discovery process in which search engines send out a group of bots to find updated and new content. The type of content varies, it could be a single page, a picture, a video, or a PDF. Regardless of the format, content is discovered through links.

Indexing refers to the process of organizing and storing the information collected during the crawling process into a database so that it can be easily searched and retrieved. The information stored in the index includes the content of each page, the relationships between pages (as represented by links), and metadata such as the title and description of each page.

Finally, and most importantly, Google then Ranks the content that it has found and stored. The most coveted spots in the rankings are the top 10 results.

Part Two: Relevance and Authority | The Pillars of SEO

So now that we understand how a search engine works, you may be asking yourself what criteria Google uses to rank websites for these searches. Why does one website appear first, while another isn't even on the first page of results?

While there are many different factors that google uses to rank search results; the two pillars of SEO are Relevance and Authority. If you understand how to increase your site's relevance and authority, you’ll be off to a great start!

What is Website Relevance?

Relevance refers to the degree to which a website's content matches the keywords or topics that users are searching for.  A website with highly relevant content is more likely to appear at the top of search results, as search engines aim to provide users with the most relevant information. 

How to Increase Website Relevance: The key here is to answer the questions that searchers are asking. To answer the questions that people are asking you need to create high-quality and original content, with plenty of keywords, that is easily crawled and indexed. We will go into more detail about these things later. 

What is Website Authority?

Authority refers to the perceived credibility and expertise of a website by Google. A website with high authority is seen as trustworthy and authoritative on a particular subject and is therefore more likely to rank higher in search results. 

How to Improve Website Authority: Authority can be established through four main factors; quality backlinks, quality content, traffic, and time. Backlinks are links from other websites that go to your website. An example of this would be a wedding photographer who is linked to by a wedding blog. High-quality backlinks tell Google that other websites trust your website, which increases your authority. We mentioned quality content above in the relevance section. In order to KEEP that relevance and build authority, you need to avoid spammy content. In other words, make sure your content isn't unhelpful, unwanted, or annoying. Your website needs traffic. If no one is going to your site, Google won't find it authoritative. Lastly, gaining authority just takes time. The longer you stick around, the more Google trusts you.

Part Three: On-Site Optimization

On-Site Optimization refers to changes made to the design and content of a website to improve its ranking in search engines. This includes optimizing the website's structure, content, images, title tags, meta descriptions, and more, all done with the goal of making the website more attractive to search engines and users. Key elements of on-site optimization include:

Optimizing Your Keywords

Using relevant keywords as much as possible (without keyword stuffing, more on that later) is vital to optimizing your on-site SEO. The most important places to have relevant keywords are in the title tag and meta description of your web pages, the content of the actual webpage, and within the URL structure of all the pages on your website.

Structuring Your Content Appropriately

H1 and H2 tags are HTML tags used to indicate the headings and subheadings on a web page. They help to structure the content to make it easier for both users and search engines to navigate a page. The H1 tag is typically used for the main heading of a page, while H2 and H3 tags are used for subheadings.

Optimizing Website Images

The process of optimizing images includes adding descriptive file names, crafting alt text descriptions, and compressing file sizes to improve page load time. Google has prioritized alt-text descriptions to help make the internet more accessible.

Using Mobile-Responsive Web Design

60% of web traffic now comes from mobile devices. Ensuring that your website is optimized for viewing on mobile devices makes sure you are not losing out on that traffic. Your website should be coded properly with appropriate media queries making the website viewable on all devices. The goal of this code isn't to make it look the same on every device view, but to ensure the user has a great experience on every device type. 

Monitoring Your Website Load Speeds

Website speed is an important ranking factor. No one wants to wait for a slow website, so why would Google? Once you've compressed your images, invested in mobile responsive design, and optimized your keywords, it's time to see how quickly your beautiful webpages can load. A great tool to test your website speed and see what issues your website might have is GTmetrix

Part Four: Off-Site Optimization

Off Site Optimization refers to activities that are performed outside of your website to improve its visibility and ranking on search engine results pages. Some common off-site optimization techniques include:

Managing Your Google Business Profile

Google Business Profiles are the directory Google uses for all local businesses with a physical location. This directory is attached to Google Maps and populates the data for your listing including phone number, directions, and website URL. Start by claiming your business on Google by going to business.google.com and filling out your local business profile. 

Staying Active on Social Media

Be sure to create profiles on popular social media platforms. This does not directly help you rank but helps build links as well as domain authority for the website. Posting regularly and staying active on social media will help drive website traffic and allow you to boost on-site metrics.

Listing Your Business in Online Directories

Try to load your business into as many high-authority online directories as possible. This will drive website traffic and build domain authority as Google tracks your name, address, and phone number. Consistency is the key to this factor. Make sure the categories and business information are the same. Here is a list of great directories to be a part of.

Part Five: Keyword Research

Keyword research is an extremely crucial aspect of SEO. This is the process of identifying the keywords and phrases that potential customers search for to find products or services like yours. The goal of keyword research is to determine what keywords people are already using to search for the types of products or services you offer. Then, you can optimize your website and content around these keywords to improve your website's ranking in search results.

For example, a company that sells Air Conditioners needs to do keyword research to find out what customers are searching for. Are they searching for an "air conditioning unit" or "ac unit"? While these are very similar, they are different enough that finding out the answer to this question should influence the content on your site. 

There are many tools that you can use to help you with your keyword research; Google Ads Keyword Planner, Semrush, and Ahrefs are three of the most popular. These tools will help you identify keywords, analyze their popularity and competition, and choose keywords to target for optimization. The process of keyword research helps to ensure that your website is tailored around the right terms, increasing the likelihood that you will be found by your target audience when they perform a search.

Part Six: The User Experience

While learning about SEO, it can be tempting to become too focused on tailoring your site to bots, crawlers, and the google algorithm. But you don't sell your goods or services to an algorithm, you sell to people!

Your site needs to work well for human beings, not just robots. This is important for the people that end up on your site, and Google actually encourages websites to focus on the user experience first and foremost. Google will penalize a site's rankings for creating a poor user experience.  Below are some factors to consider when thinking about the user experience for your website. 

Don't Keyword Stuff Your Content

Keywords are very important to the relevance of your website. However, there is such a thing as having too many keywords. This is called “keyword stuffing,” and it creates a poor user experience. If you partake in Keyword Stuffing, not only will the actual people looking at your site go somewhere else, but Google will penalize your site with lower rankings. Below is an example of what keyword stuffing would look like for a landscaping company.

At our landscaping company, we offer the best landscaping services in the landscaping industry. Our landscapers are experts in landscaping and can help with all of your landscaping needs. We are the best choice for landscapers and we guarantee you will be satisfied with out landscaping services. Contact our team of landscapers today to schedule your next landscaping service and get the best landscaping in town.

If you were looking for landscaping services and you read this, you would probably find that it is hard to read and provides no useful information. In the end, you would probably look somewhere else for services. While this site might rank well initially for the "landscaping" and "landscapers" keywords, eventually Google will catch on and drop this site from their rankings for keyword stuffing.

Create a High Quality Website

The quality of a website can be measured in many ways, but we like to say that the most important metric is what the viewers think of your site. If your color palette is hard to look at and harsh on the eyes, your bounce rate will be significantly higher. Focus on the feel of the site to make sure it is enjoyable to look at, simple to navigate, and easy to understand.

Hiring a professional designer to build your website is extremely important if you are wanting a professional site that will get you results. If the site doesn't load quickly or in a mobile-friendly environment, people won't like it and Google will track the metrics and take note for the next time they show your listing. The goal of website quality is to drive conversions. Higher conversions show Google that a website is high quality and gets users where they need to go.

Lastly, your copy on the page needs to be written in a simple and easily understandable message. All of these factors come into play to generate website quality.  With a high-quality website, on-page times will go up and bounce rates will go down.

Have a Secure Site

Your website should have appropriate security measures in place to protect user data and transactions. Your site should be served over HTTPS and not HTTP for improved security and privacy protection. It should be free and clear of spammy links and viruses. It should also not have any broken links. This is important because a broken link stops a webpage from being crawled and indexed.

Lastly, Remember to Enjoy the Journey!

Search Engine Optimization can feel like a complex and intimidating field, with endless algorithms, ranking factors, and technical terms to wrap your head around. We just covered a lot of information, and this is just an overview for beginners! However, it's important to remember that everyone starts somewhere, and the most important thing is to keep a curious and open mind!

Rather than feeling overwhelmed, approach SEO as a learning opportunity and take things one step at a time. Focus on just one of the basics first, and then gradually expand your knowledge as you gain confidence. To start, maybe just focus on-site optimization. Once you feel like you have a good grasp on that, you can move on to a new area. By being curious, asking questions, and constantly seeking new information, you'll be on your way to becoming an SEO expert in no time!

Rinard Media Staff, Joey

Post Author:

Joey Walker