By Shanon Roberts, on 14 July 2020
SEO is an essential marketing technique that is focused on bringing organic, non-paid traffic to your website by using high quality content to get to the top of a search engine result page.
Reaping the benefits of your SEO labor may be a bit of a slow burn at first, but once you’ve managed to achieve some results your success will be able to build upon itself.
In this article we’ll give a deep dive explanation for beginners about everything you need to know about SEO, including what it is, how to do it, and the major pillars of SEO. Let’s get started!
What is SEO?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. Essentially, it is what it sounds like. SEO is a marketing technique focused on optimizing your website to get it to rank as the number one result on the search engine results page. Through a number of tactics and tools, you can set your website up in a way that search engines understand and want to show to their users.
Think of SEO as both an art and a science.
It combines the creativity and ability to create high-quality, entertaining, enriching content that users value and come back to, while also basing that content on analytics and a strong understanding of your prospective customers.
It's important to remember that SEO is only focused on organic ranking. You can not pay to rank higher using SEO. The only way to rank higher on SEO is to ensure you're satisfying the search engine’s requirements.
Benefits of SEO
A strong SEO strategy can bring a number of different benefits to your business’s online presence and to your marketing strategy overall, including
- Increased invisibility and traffic to your website: The higher your website’s pages rank on Google, naturally the more traffic you’ll bring in.
- Improved website quality: As its full name implies, there are a number optimization tasks that you must do to your website to get it to Google’s high standards. By doing this, you’ll improve your website in the process.
- Build consumer trust: Search engine users naturally trust websites that are ranked on top as there is a sense that Google as somewhat “vetted” the pages that are showing.
- Established your brand as a topic authority: SEO involves a lot content creation and blog writing. Naturally, the more your write about a topic, the more people will turn to you as a source (but only if the content is high-quality, you can’t cheat with SEO.)
- Long-term technique: SEO may be a bit of a slow burn as a marketing strategy, but once is does start burning the flame only grows larger. SEO is a long-term strategy that builds upon itself overtime to make it more effective.
2 Types of SEO
When it comes to SEO, there are actually many different kinds, far beyond just two. However, in terms of SEO activities, there are two main types: On Page SEO and Off Page SEO.
On Page SEO are actions that you conduct on your own website to contribute to its ranking. This include content creation, use of keywords, proper use of headings, meta descriptions, and URLs. Oppositely, Off Page SEO are actions that you can take off of your own website to boost its ranking, like link building and guest blogging.
Throughout this article we’ll be focusing heavily on both On Page and Off Page SEO.
There are also two types of styles of SEO: White Hat and Black Hat SEO. White Hat SEO is based on using ethical, transparent, and “allowed” techniques to build your pages’ rankings. Essentially White Hat SEO is following and respecting Google and other search engine’s rules regarding website and position optimization.
On the other hand, Black Hat SEO uses shady techniques to trick the search engines in the goal of ranking quicker. While Black Hat SEO may work in the short-term, it does more damage to your website over time, and the search engines will penalize you.
SEO vs Content Marketing vs Inbound Marketing
When you’re first getting started in the world of SEO, Content Marketing, and Inbound Marketing it can be difficult to distinguish between these strategies. They all involve some content creation, keyword research, and utilize similar metrics, but they are three distinct concepts that build upon each other.
To visualize this idea, think of these three concepts as Nesting Dolls that build increase in size as you add to them.
Let’s start with Content Marketing. This strategy is focused on creating and distributing relevant and valuable content that attracts and retains the users’ attention, with the aim of driving them to be future customers. Content marketing encompasses a lot of methods, like blog writing, video marketing, social media, and even sometimes native advertising. But, content isn’t always enough to drive users to your website or convert them into customers.
This is where SEO comes in. SEO is focused on boosting the organic ranking of a website on Google using different techniques, one of which is content marketing. Bringing customers to your website is crucial to getting them to convert, but once they’re there what’s next?
The answer: Inbound marketing. This non-invasive marketing technique seeks to both attract, retain, and convert customers using a combination of many different marketing techniques, such as content, SEO, marketing automation, and lead nurturing.
In our Nesting Doll example, think of Inbound Marketing as the largest doll, SEO the second largest, and Content Marketing as the smallest. They all use a bit of the same methods, and certainly come from the same marketing family, but they are not fully complete on their own.
Understanding Search Engines
Before we really dive deep into what SEO is and how it works, it's important to first understand how search engines work and how they determine what to rank.
You might have noticed that I’ve referenced Google quite a bit throughout this article already. Why? Well, here are some key stats from SEM Rush:
- “In English, worldwide, 88% of searches on desktop are on Google. On mobile, that figure is a whopping 96%. Bing and Yahoo combined account for 1.5% of searches on mobile and 8% of searches on desktop.”
This means ranking on the other search engines is important as well, but Google will always be the main focus.
So, how does Google decide what to rank and how? When Google detects new content, they do 3 important things: crawl, index, and rank. Let’s review what this means.
Crawling refers to when Google’s “spider” analyzes your page to assess what your content contains. Spiders are especially drawn to new content, which is why its important to constantly and consistently be updating your website and blog.
Links are crucial for crawling because it is how the spider arrives at your webpage. It navigates your website using your internal linking structure. This is why you always want to link to other articles in your blog content and why pillar pages are so important. You can also submit your sitemap to Google to get it crawled.
After Google has crawled your website, they will then Index it. Indexing is Google’s way of understanding and organizing the webpage. It stores information about the content, images, videos, keywords, etc. It will use all of this information, and more, to determine how to rank your web page in their search results.
After crawling (analyzing) and indexing (storing info) your website, Google uses this info to rank your website when someone makes a search.
It also takes in other ranking factors, like location, language, device, load times, site trustworthiness, content, keywords, etc. No one knows exactly how Google decides to rank their results, but there are over a 100 different factors being considered.
The most important thing we do know is that Google is looking to rank based on the user’s search intent. This means that while keywords are important, matching the intent of a user’s search is more important than using a certain keyword x amount of times.
The 3 Pillars of an SEO Strategy
There are many different ways you can orient your SEO strategy. At Cyberclick, we’ve identified 3 pillars that make for a strong SEO strategy: keywords, content, and website optimization.
We’re going to dive into these three different pillars and explain how you can work them for your own SEO.
Keywords are all of the possible search engine queries which may be relevant to your business and your customers. These are a pillar of SEO because they are one of the easiest ways to guide your content and attract users.
Grasping keywords, and key themes, allow you to understand the best words or phrases to use in order to help users find your content and go to your website. You can find the right keywords to use by creating buyer personas and conducting keyword research.
A buyer persona is a semi-fictitious representation of your ideal customer. In order to conduct proper keyword research, you must first understand your buyer personas.
Understanding your buyer persona will allow you to brainstorm words and phrases that relate to their needs, interests, pain points, concerns, and questions about a topic. This will directly inform your keyword research and thus your content.
You must take into account what types of searches or content your buyer persona will be interested in consuming. With that data, you can brainstorm a variety of keywords and themes that relate to their concerns. Using this insight, you can go into a keyword tool to see which words are viable and relevant.
Using tools like SEMRush and Google Keyword Planner, you can analyze different keywords and determine whether they are a right fit for your brand and buyer personas.
To determine what themes and words would work well, pay attention to the following factors when analyzing keywords:
- Keyword search volume: It's important to ensure that people are actually searching for the words you have in mind. If the keywords have a low search volume, then you may have to think of new phrases or topics of interest.
- Difficulty level: Here we are particularly interested in finding "gaps" that have a high enough search volume, but are not yet widely used by other brands. Words with low difficulty levels or competition, yet high search volumes are the ideal keywords to use for your content.
- Relevance: How relevant is the term to the industry in general, to our particular brand, and most importantly to our buyer persona.
It’s important to note however that when we say keywords, we don’t literally just mean one or two words. In fact, Using groups of related keywords, will help give our content a better shot at positioning in Google as well as provide more opportunity to answer a query.
This is why we are not concerned about mentioning one keyword x amount of times, because search engines do not work like this anymore. Instead, focus on key themes.
After determining what will attract people to your website, you then actually have to create that content. This leads me to the second pillar of SEO: Content.
As defined by Joe Pulizzi, content marketing is "a marketing technique for creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract and retain the attention of a well-defined target audience, with the aim of driving them to be future customers."
Within an SEO strategy, content marketing is used to attract users to our website. Think of content as the "bait" we use to attract new potential customers and it is directly based off of and developed from our keywords.
How to Create Good Content
Your content will do nothing for your SEO if it is not strong, valuable, and attention grabbing. There are endless amounts of content formats to choose from. In general, stick with content that is relevant and valuable to the consumer, yet sustainable to produce.
There is different content for different users depending on their stage within the funnel. The best content will be one that applied to the user during whatever phase of the funnel they’re in. This includes:
- Downloadable PDF
Good content generally has 6 main characteristics:
- It’s easy to read: Use short sentences and paragraphs, clearly organized ideas, and headings and sections.
- It’s original: Never copy content! Google penalizes duplicate content, and they know who the original is.
- It’s relevant: Your content must always be centered on the buyer persona’s needs, questions, concerns, pain points, etc.
- It’s SEO Optimized: Content is an art, but don’t forget about the science. Include the keyword theme multiple times. But, don't overdo it or become obsessed with how many times it has to be. Mention it naturally. Keyword stuffing will get you nowhere.
- It includes non-text elements: Include images, infographics, and videos when it can further the value of the content
- It’s valuable: Remember to always create content for the user. The more valuable your content, the more people will click on it and the better it will do. Content that is not valuable will ultimately not succeed.
Balance Between Content and SEO
Remember when I said SEO is both an art and a science? This is where that truly comes into play.
It is important to find a certain sweet spot between your content and how your optimize it. Content must always provide value to the user and it should not be solely about your brand, products or services, yet it must use the relevant keywords and themes your audience is interested in.
Content alone does not attract users to your website if it is not based in research and optimized. Think about what your audience is interested in and how you can create something attractive and with the potential to be shared, while also being easy to understand by Google.
Also, don’t forget to have a bit of fun with your content. It does not always have to be practical - It can also be entertaining or emotional, as long as it is adapted to the research you’ve done.
The Technical Side of Content
Beyond just producing content, maintaining and optimizing your already existing content is a key function within this pillar. There are the top key considerations you must keep in check when managing your content:
- Internal Linking: Within your articles, link to other articles on your blog and pillar pages, if, for example, you talk about a concept and have a related article. Remember, this is how Google’s spider arrives at your webpage.
- Pillar Pages and Topic Clusters: A pillar page is the basis on which a topic cluster is built. The pillar pages broadly cover a topic, and cluster content should address a specific keyword related to that topic in-depth. Pillar content is broad, blog content is specific.
Image source: HubSpot
- Off Page SEO: Off Page SEO are the elements outside your website that contribute to your positioning. Its main form is the creation of links from other websites to yours. As you can see below, off page SEO included a lot of content creation. Important points include:
- Link building
- Industry forums and blogs
- Social Media
- Video Marketing
- Guest blogging
- Backlinks: Backlinks, also called inbound links or link building, are links from external websites that link back to your website. They let Google know that you are trustworthy and authoritative.
- Guest blogging: So, how do we get backlinks? Writing articles for other relevant and authoritative websites not only can help build an author’s reputation but also allows you to create inbound links from a trusted, authoritative source. This is one of the best opportunities for an SEO specialist to build a backlink
You’ve done your research and created your content… now what? The final pillar of an SEO strategy is a Website Organization.
Website optimization is a broad term that I’m using to refer to technical SEO and on-page SEO practices that we must enact on a website in order to get the pages in the best shape for Google. This includes properly structuring content using headers, titles, alt text, creating mobile optimized websites, and taking care of loading times.
A lot of website optimization has to do with on-page SEO. While a big function of on-page seo is content, a large portion of it is technical stuff, including:
- Keyword strategy
- URL Optimization
- Title and Meta Description
- Structure of Page Headings
- Image Optimization
- Mobile Friendly Optimization
- Site Map
- Load Times
- High-Quality Content
- Content Optimization
Let’s dive into some of these concepts.
URLs should be easy to read and index by search engines. There are four simple rules for creating good URLs:
- Keep them short and simple
- Use only lowercase letters, numbers, and hyphens.
- URL must contain the keyword from the page’s content.
- Do not include years
Content Titles and Meta Descriptions
When posting written content like a blog article, you must always be aware of how you arousing the titles, headers (H1, H2, etc.), URL, and meta descriptions. Google takes these elements into account when deciding the positioning of a page because they make the point of the content clear to the search engine and users.
Be sure to organize your written content using the proper headings. An H1 heading should only be used once as your title. The H2s should include your keyword and be used only to organize major themes, and H3s and H4s smaller concepts. Quick test! Can you spot all of the different headings in this article?
It is important to use a variety of keyword themes in each header, when relevant to the section. This is especially important when it comes to key snippets and a great way to instantly boost your content to the top.
Search engine spiders can't "read" images the way a human would. Therefore, we need to help the spiders interpret them. Using the Alt Text of the image, describe the image using the keyword of the content. I recommend using the same keyword from the title and meta description.
Also try to keep images on the smaller size as far as file size. Try to only include jpg, png or gif format. JPG tends to be the smallest. This will help with loading times.
Because most web traffic comes from mobile searches, you must ensure your website is optimized for mobile use. In fact, Google does not rank websites that are not mobile friendly and their index is mobile-first.
Ensure your website offers a screen-friendly user experience for all sizes and fast loading times.
A page that takes too long to load results in high bounce rates and alienates readers. It can also make SEO positioning of a page worse, as Google will take this into consideration. Site auditing should be done and load times optimized on pages that are slow.
This is important for indexing. This can be done by hand through Google, but most blogging platforms automatically create this, such as Wordpress or Hubspot, among others. Remember to tell Google Search Console what your sitemap URL is and maintain it to keep it up to date.
There are certainly many, many more considerations, tactics, and techniques that are important in the world of SEO. This quick beginners guide is only serving as an introduction to this technique. If you would like to learn more, check out our other blog posts dedicated to SEO: How to Choose and SEO Agency, Beginner's Guide to Local SEO in 2020, and SEO & SEM: What is the difference and how to use them together.