A Simple Guide To Understanding SEO

SEO is complicated, but the idea itself is simple. SEO stands for search engine optimization: Optimizing your website for search engines. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? The complicated part is in actually doing it. That’s because the rules seem to change almost daily and you probably don’t know what all the rules are to begin with. If you’ve ever searched for SEO best practices before, you pulled up approximately 19 million results with SEO-related titles such as:

  • Do This
  • Don’t Do That
  • Always Do This on Tuesday
  • Never Do That Because Everyone Else is Doing That
  • You Were Doing This But Now That’s All Wrong So Do It This Way Now

It’s maddening, and it makes SEO seem like a battle that you can’t possibly win. But you can win it. In this post, we’re going to keep things simple and offer you a gentle introduction into the basic tenets of SEO. By the end of this post, you should have a solid understanding of what SEO is, why it matters, and what you need to do to get found by prospective clients.

Why Does SEO Matter?

Let’s start with a little trivia: In 1997, there were approximately 1 million websites in existence. In 1998, the amount doubled to 2.4 million. By 2000, there were 17 million websites. Now, 20 years later, there are almost two billion websites in existence.

Why does this matter?

Every time someone goes to Google or Bing to initiate a search, that person can potentially reach a billion websites (and exponentially more web pages).

My point is that the Internet, like the Universe, is huge and ever-expanding. SEO is important because without it, you’ll be flung to the outer portions of the Internet Universe where no one will ever reach you. Sure, your website might be indexed by the search engines, but if your target audience never sees your site, does it really exist?

Not really.

SEO makes sure that your target audience finds your website in a relevant search.

If you want people to find you online, it’s not enough to set up a website and go “online.” You also need to make sure of the following:

  1. Search engines trust you.
  2. You’re creating content that attracts your target audience.
  3. You’ve attached keywords that match search queries.

Let’s break down what this means.

Search Engines Trust You

Search engines have been hurt before by unscrupulous marketers who found a way to trick search engines into displaying their websites.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the terms “white hat SEO” or “black hat SEO”. Black hat SEO refers to the use of scammy techniques of gaming the system. For example, burying unrelated keywords somewhere in the body of your website. The result? The searcher is looking for one thing and ends up on a site about something else entirely, i.e. landing on a website about bed linens when searching for elephants of Africa.

Or, in another example of black hat SEO, stuffing your website with the same phrase over and over again to show that your website is about a certain topic. You may be doing it to secure a higher ranking but the result is a negative visitor experience on your website.

Black hat SEO is all about influencing search engines, often at the cost of alienating your actual visitors.

White hat SEO, on the other hand, is the technique of appealing to humans instead of search engines. Google, Bing, and all major search engines recommend that you take this approach when creating content for your site.

Search engines have actually gotten smarter over the years. Let’s use Google as an example. With each new update, Google gets more sophisticated. Not only does Google understand more of the intent behind a search query, it also understands what websites are most likely to provide a satisfactory answer to the user’s query. This is why certain websites get promoted and others don’t.

While no one knows all of the ingredients in Google’s secret sauce, we know that if website content is made for your user, it will rank well. Google is all about the user experience and making sure searchers find the best possible answer to their query as quickly and friction-less as possible. So it’s best to keep things human friendly; not search engine friendly. You can do that by making sure to include the basic elements that Google looks for in high quality sites, for example:

  • Human-friendly content that provides thorough and complete answers to potential queries
  • Fresh content that’s updated on a regular basis
  • A keyword rich title tag that communicates with search engines what your page is about
  • A keyword rich meta description which goes into greater depth about your topic and appears on the search engine results page (SERP) under the title and page link
  • Internal links that help search engines understand the “big picture” of your website
  • Sitemaps that help search engine web crawlers know how to navigate your site
  • No Adobe Flash and JavaScript (which can’t be read by search engines)
  • Mobile-friendliness because more users access the Internet from mobile devices than desktops nowadays
  • Descriptive elements and attributes on your pages

Create Content That Attracts Your Target Audience

What I’m about to say may shock some of you: Search engines don’t really care about website owners or creators. Each major search engine company is focused on providing its users with the best answer to their query.

If search engines were to return mediocre results to users’ queries, then their users would get frustrated, lose trust in that search engine, and eventually leave for another (better) search engine.

Now that you know the search engine company’s motivation, your task is to create content that satisfies the user’s query. Think about all of the potential questions your prospective customer may have. To do this correctly, you’ll need to map out the buyer’s journey, from awareness to consideration to customer to referral source.

If you run a mattress store, your buyer’s journey may look like this:

  • Is it time to buy a new mattress? (awareness)
  • What are the different types of mattresses? (consideration)
  • Why should I choose this mattress company over the competition? (customer)
  • Why is this mattress the best option? (referral source)

Ideally, you’ll create content for each milestone along the buyer’s journey. Each milestone may have several pieces of content, each pushing the buyer to the next logical step in the journey.

Use Keywords That Match Search Queries

A barebones website with your company name, address, and contact details won’t do much for your SEO. You need content that speaks to prospective customers and convinces them to consider you.

Keywords help you get found by your target audience. Your content should include keywords that match your prospective customers’ queries. In other words, if your target audience is looking for “handcrafted Amish furniture”, you should include this keyword phrase in your content, preferably in your title and meta descriptions.

The most effective keywords are long tail keywords. Long tail keywords contain two or more words that narrow the scope of queries you may rank for. You may be thinking, I want more traffic, not less. But consider this: Long tail keywords bring in higher quality traffic because these users are more tuned into what they’re looking for. It’s the difference between “shoes” (short tail keyword) and “hiking shoes for women” (long tail keyword). Sure, you’ll get fewer queries, but the ones you do get will be more likely to be your true, target audience.

We’re Here to Help

Would you like help optimizing up your website for search engines? We’d like to help. As SEO experts, we can drive more traffic to your site– and not just any type of traffic, the traffic that converts to customers. Let’s set up a time to talk now.

Read More On SEO:

SEO In 2021: A Marketer’s Guide

Local SEO Lo-Down

Zach Luse

Hi! I'm Zach the founder of Paragon Digital Marketing. I'm an adventure seeking entrepreneur with a passion for digital marketing and analytics. I've been knee deep in search marketing and web development for well over a decade, working with large corporations, small business and nonprofits. I'm certifiable... a certified sailing instructor, nitrox certified scuba diver, Google Adwords Certified, Google Analytics Certified, Inbound Marketing Certified and I aim to be a certified kite surfer soon.

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