The Confusing World of SEO: Getting Started

Unclear with this whole Search Engine Optimization thing is about? While it is a complicated topic, and details could create a nearly endless article, this post will start you out with the most high-level understanding. That’s the only place to begin.

Search Engine Optimization is the effort of building up a web page’s “grade” with Google for the topic the page is about. The effort happens on a per-page basis, because that is what you are trying to rank on Google: web pages. As you impact Google’s “grade” for individual pages on a website, you impact Google’s “grade” for the website overall.

Note about “Google”: I am oversimplifying a bit (for your benefit) by the references throughout this article to Google. By “Google” I mean “search engines”. That includes Bing and Yahoo. However, Google has by far the largest share of the market, so that is why we oversimplify in that way.

So, when we refer to SEO, we are referring only to the relationship between your website and the search engines, not to online advertising or social media pages.

There are three components of SEO, each with many sub-components. We won’t get much into the sub-components in this article, as the point is for you to simply understand SEO at a high level. In addition to those three components that apply to all websites, local businesses and international businesses each have their own additional component (yes, with many sub-components we’ll save for another day).

1: Content on and Behind the Page

Website Content

The words, images, videos, and other resources you display on your website for the user to read communicates to the search engines what your site is about. The more content you have, and the more engaging the content (Yes, Google has ways of measuring this), the better for SEO. If you keep one fundamental in mind, you will understand search engine optimization much better: Google’s intention is to deliver to the searcher the best version of exactly what the searcher was looking for. You must understand your audience, their level of understanding of your content, and their common questions about your content, in order to create the best content.

In Google’s intention as described above, it then hopefully makes sense that the Google algorithm is searching for web pages on websites that are frequently publishing fresh content to quench your viewers’ thirst for information about your topic.

Coding “Behind” the Page

The other element to this component is the programming code on the web page. Fundamental pieces include items you may have heard of, like Page Title and Meta Description. There are others, but here’s how to understand the big picture on this element, also called “on-page SEO”:

  1. Filling in these SEO elements begins with properly-chosen keywords. Choosing keywords is complex, but good choices consider:
    • the outcome you want once that searcher lands on your page
    • the thought process of the searcher
    • how the keywords’ volume relates to what Google currently thinks of your site
  2. Each coding element has a purpose to Google and the searcher. They must be coded with both of those purposes in mind.
  3. On a page, and across a website, the coding elements should fit together like a puzzle. Defining that puzzle is too complex to explain here.
  4. To make these coding elements most effective, the competition’s coding must be considered. Search engine optimizers define competition not in the traditional marketing sense, but as those web pages that rank above you.

What You Can Do Now

To stay on Google’s good side, you need a plan in place to publish content regularly. Content that your customers or users would actually read, and maybe even share. Be realistic with yourself about this. Put yourself in their shoes.

2: Website Health and Readiness

Readiness for what, you ask? For the search engines to be able to read and crawl your site. For the website visitor to be able to read the page on their device of choice, without having to wait so long for the page to load that they click off out of impatience. There are additional, more complex elements to website health and readiness, but the idea is that it is usable to Google, and to humans. I would argue that User Experience falls in this category (although it also falls under Content). But also, understanding how Google crawls, and flags, is crucial.

What You Can Do Now

Google Search Console is a huge help in for testing and monitoring website health and readiness for Google, and the knowing what to do with the data there is a large part of this component of SEO. Sign up. At a minimum you will be collecting valuable data. If you want to play with it, you can always hire a developer or a search engine optimizer to help solve any issues.

3: What the Rest of the Internet Thinks

You may have heard that links coming into your website impact your search engine rankings. Links from other websites that are related to your topic, and that themselves have a good “grade” with the search engines, are, in fact, a major factor in your website’s search engine rankings. Beyond that, there are additional elements in and around those links that impact your Google “grade”. But the bottom line is this that you need to think about Public Relations in the traditional sense. It is good “press”. Stories about your company people care about, or others who find your content so compelling that they want to use it as a resource.

What You Can Do Now

If you want links that will improve your search rankings, you need to find a way to let others who care see your expertise, and unique “awesomeness”. Of the three components, this is the one that you can impact most without hiring a Search Engine Optimizer (although they can help you get more impact than if you ignore some of the sub-components not detailed here).

SEO: Getting Started for Local Businesses

The best thing you can do on your own is to create (or claim) your listings on Google My Business, Bing Places for Business, and Yelp. Fill in all the information you possibly can, including uploading fresh photos. While you cannot ask for, or incentive good reviews, you can ask for feedback. Getting reviews (and responding with a customer-service focus to unfavorable ones) is very helpful to your local online presence.

International SEO: Getting Started

The foundation of an international SEO strategy is authentic geography-specific content. A common mistake is to use an automatic translator. Even Google’s automatic translator is not a good choice. International SEO is costly… you need to create content that is unique to each location you want to target, and it has to be written in the necessary language by a real person fluent in that language and culture. This is why prioritizing in international SEO is necessary for success. Don’t spread your resources too thin across many locations. Focus on your top-yielding locations and put a real effort in.

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