SEO 101: Understanding and executing the basics
SEO can be so frustrating
A few days ago I was talking with a potential customer about their Google Ad strategy and SEO optimization practices. He was perplexed because over the past couple of months, his advertising costs had increased while clicks, leads, and revenue had all dropped.
As we looked over the metrics, I noticed some things that indicated his site and content wasn’t optimized for search, so I began asking about how they did SEO research and optimization. I quickly discovered that while their efforts were valiant, they were missing several critical components. As we discussed those missing elements, I could see that while he appreciated the insight, he was also frustrated. The effort – which had been considerable – to optimize both their ads and SEO was so incomplete that it had been, for the most part, an exercise in futility.
Understanding the value of SEO
What’s the purpose of search engine optimization (SEO)? Broadly speaking, when a page, post or site is optimized, it will show up higher on a search page when people are looking for relevant information. For example, a food blog with an optimized Chicken Parmesan recipe will show up higher in the search results for chicken dinner ideas. When someone clicks on it and stays at that site – either because they are making that recipe or they are browsing other recipes – that improves the search ranking, and they’ll show up even more often. This in turn will bring more people to the site. It will also lower your costs for any ads you’re running on that search network.
Back to the potential customer, it was great that he already had a good understanding of the value of SEO. What he and his team lacked was a process for keeping track of ALL the different aspects.
If you’re unfamiliar with SEO, here’s what’s important to understand:
You have to have long-term commitment
It would be foolish to think that if you optimized a page or post today, you would be at the top of the search results tomorrow. It can take a long time to rank and organically reach the top of the search engine results page (SERP). Patience is the key here.
SEO is not "set-it-and-forget-it"
Professional athletes spend countless hours each day exercising and doing drills to improve their performance. Similarly, search optimization is an ongoing process, and needs to be consistently performed to improve. However…
You shouldn't tinker with your SEO frequently
That’s right. Leave your SEO alone and let the search algorithms work their magic, but don’t leave your SEO alone. How’s your blood pressure right now? It’s all about finding balance, which I’ll explain below.
SEO should be viewed as an investment, not an expense
This is a change in mindset that makes it easier to deal with 2 previous points. If you see SEO as an expense, the whole, “don’t touch it but don’t ignore it” thing will becomes frustrating enough that many simply walk away. But if you see it as an investment – where you put in $1 and later take out $1.25 – it makes it easier to deal with the unique challenges of SEO.
It's an ongoing experiment
SEO is not an exact science where A+B always equals C. What works on one page may not work elsewhere, search engines are constantly updating their algorithms, and your competitors can publish new, updated, or better content. This can be a huge point of frustration – it’s easy to feel like you have no idea what you’re doing – so keep this in mind when you’re doing SEO work.
Managing a crazy juggling act
SEO might feel like a juggling act. As you focus on keeping all the balls in the air – which is hard enough on its own – random people pass by and either grab one of your balls, or add additional balls, or do both. In those circumstances, even the best juggler in the world will drop some balls.
Fortunately, there are tools and processes that can be used to simplify the experience and hopefully keep you from going insane.
SEO 101: the tools and tactics
With the right understanding, you can use the correct tools and implement the best procedures to reduce the chaos and frustration that can occur. These are the basics that we start with for clients for whom we do the work, as well as teach to clients who want to manage or understand SEO in their business.
Do keyword research BEFORE you create content
There are many keyword research tools out there, and you can spend a lot of time and money on them. For basic SEO strategy, there are three that we use, and all are free: the Keyword Planner in Google Ads, Ubersuggest, and a Chrome extension called Keywords Everywhere.
You should already have an idea of your topic, but that doesn’t mean that’s your keyword or phrase you want to rank for.
You can see to the right that with Keywords Everywhere, you’re given the monthly volume, cost per click (that’s the CPC), and competition for your keyword (lower numbers mean less competition), as well as a list of related keywords. Even if you’re not going to run ads, all of this information is useful. Of course, higher search volume is better. Contrary to what you might think, a higher CPC is usually better. If people are willing to pay more for placement with that keyword, it means they are having more success with that word. Competition can vary, but we usually shoot for low to moderate competition.
Next, install an SEO plugin
For WordPress sites, we recommend and use Yoast. With over 5 million installations, it’s a proven SEO plugin. While there is a paid version, the free version is all that most businesses need.
Installation and setup is straightforward and simple. Activate it and run through the brief tutorial and automatic setup, and you’ll be ready to start optimizing.
Create your on-page SEO
At the bottom of each page or post, Yoast provides an area to configure the focus keyword, meta/search data, and social sharing info. It also grades these, so you can see how relevant the content is for the keyword. Yoast evaluates the writing so you can see how readable the text is. We like to have a green smiley face for both reading and SEO, but don’t worry about getting a green circle for all the options. Once everything is to your satisfaction, publish it, promote it and let the algorithms work for you.
Avoid "keyword stuffing"
Back in the old days, search bots could read words, but they lacked comprehension. As a result, a tactic for ranking higher was to add in the keywords as often as possible, even if it meant the readability suffered (which it did – a lot). Now, those bots can comprehend, so if you use the same word constantly, especially where a pronoun would normally be, you’ll be penalized. You want to include the keywords often, but it needs to be natural. If in doubt, read it aloud.
Check your on-page SEO
This is the “leave it alone, but don’t ignore it” part. As a rule, you could optimize your on-page SEO on every page and every post 3-4 times a year. With a small site, that’s not that big of a deal, but as your site grows, so does the amount of time it takes to do this. A better way to monitor this would be with the Google Search Console, another free tool from Google. The Search Console will show you what keywords you’re ranking for and where you rank. When you see a drop or plateau in ranking, or if any errors appear, then you should go and optimize the SEO for that specific page or post.
Remember that it will take time to see results when you make changes, so again, give the algorithm time to work.
SEO takes a while to work, especially for new websites and small businesses. Patience is required, but there are tools that can help:
This process will put you far ahead of many businesses without consuming all your time
- Find a good keyword – One with high search volume, high CPC and moderate competition – then create your content.
- Use natural language. Don’t overuse the keyword.
- Use Yoast and follow its recommendations to optimize the content.
- Roughly every quarter, use Google’s Search Console to check for and maintain optimization
That’s how you as a business owner can do basic SEO for your site. Questions? post them in the comments for an answer.